Guest Post: Baby-Led Weaning

This post is by my little sister. She recently introduced me to baby-led weaning and we are just starting it out with Alexandra. I love the concept, so I asked her to write about it, and then gave her a hard deadline and started nagging reminding her regularly. She also writes over at myrtlebird.

Eating family dinners is very important to me. Growing up, that was the one time of day our whole family came together. We had sit-down dinners every single night without fail. There were no special kids’ meals (my mother cooked delicious and complex meals every night—I have no idea how she did it), no microwaving your own Chef Boyardee if you got hungry early (not having a microwave helped on that front), and pretty much no leaving the table until everyone was done eating and talking, unless there was some serious homework that needed to be done. Those were formative hours spent at the dinner table, and I am determined to provide the same for my family. But planning ahead and following through have never been my strong suits, so when my baby was ready to eat solid foods,  I couldn’t imagine how I was going to put dinner for three on the table every night (not to mention breakfast and lunch). 

Earlier in the year I had purchased a blender because I knew that’s what people did—they made delicious and healthy purees that offered their babies a variety of colors and nutrients. Peas, sweet potatoes, avocados, squash….all wonderfully nutritious, and all things that I had never prepared for myself. Let’s be honest: if I had gone that route, I would have pureed things with gusto for about three days before I got too lazy to clean off the blades or run the dishwasher or until the fresh produce started to rot and breed fruit flies (see composting disaster). Then what? 

Luckily I found the book Baby-Led Weaning with this advertisement on the cover: No Purees, No spoon-feeding, no struggle! Right away I was hooked. I can’t say it better than the book itself, so here are some excerpts:

“This is what typically happens in BLW:
— The baby is included in family mealtimes, where she watches what others are doing and is offered the chance to join in.
— Nobody “feeds” the baby; when she is ready she starts handling food and taking it to her mouth herself (at first with her fingers, and later with silverware).
— To start with, food is offered in pieces that are easy to pick up (babies soon learn how to handle a range of sizes, shapes, and textures).
— It’s up to the baby how much she eats and how fast she eats it. It’s also up to her how quickly she moves on to a wider range of foods.
— The baby continues to have milk feedings whenever she wants them, and she decides when she is ready to begin reducing them.”

What I really like about BLW is that it gives the baby independence and autonomy at mealtime. BLW “makes picky eating and mealtime battles less likely (when there is no pressure on babies to eat, there is far less opportunity for meals to become a battleground)”. It’s important to me that the baby grows up to appreciate food as a blessing and to never use it as a tool for getting attention or control. I have known several people who, as late as college, could not stop eating when they were full because they felt compelled to finish what was on their plate. They said they had been raised to clear their plates as kids and as a result had no sense of when to stop otherwise. Other than being forced to take three bites of creamed spinach every night*, my sister and I were never made to keep eating if we were not hungry. Dinner was presented: if we were hungry, we could eat; if not, then not. I can assure you that there were battles at the dinner table, but they were almost never about food.

We started BLW at six months and the baby took to it immediately. It was as if she had been sitting down to meals her entire life. She tries anything we put in front of her and she looks at us back and forth as we converse. She has no idea that she is learning how to eat or that she is any different than we are. Sitting down to dinner as a family is my favorite part of the day. BLW even makes going out to restaurants easier because I don’t have to bring a special snack for her or hope that there is a kids menu. She just eats pieces of whatever I order, and I am forced to choose healthier options for myself as a result. So far it’s working great, but my husband points out that we have only been doing this for three months and we really have no idea how it will turn out. 

A couple behaviors (for the parents) that I’ve found helpful in this endeavor are:

— Place food in front of the baby and then be patient. If she eats it, great, if not, no problem. We don’t expect her to eat any amount—we don’t even hope that she does. It’s totally up to her. There’s no disappointment or frustration that way. Besides, for the first few months, most of the “eating” is really “playing”. Not a whole lot gets into their mouth but they have a great time exploring new textures and colors.
— Assume that it is natural for a child to eat food. It’s good that they eat, yes, but it’s not a “good job”. They are supposed to eat. As soon as they are praised for eating, they have the power to disappoint by not eating. 

*nobody else in my family remembers this.