I said I’d write about this ages ago but I have been so busy with starting up businesses and voluntary ventures (more on these later). And I now have a toddler (how did that happen?!) so things have been a bit hectic! I wanted to talk about baby led weaning because I love it and although it’s becoming more mainstream a lot of people still don’t seem to have heard about it or are worried about doing it.
As you’ve probably gathered from my previous posts, I am very baby/child led in everything I do with Tulip. I’d heard a bit about baby led weaning before I was even pregnant and it just seemed to make sense to me. When Tulip was a few months old, my husband and I both read Baby-led Weaning by Gill Rapley to get more prepared for what was ahead. She explains the history of weaning and I found it so fascinating. What I gathered from it was that everyone used to do baby led weaning (although of course they didn’t call it that) but when doctors started telling women to breastfeed on a schedule instead of on demand, the women’s milk supply of course dropped so they were having to introduce solids much earlier. Since a 3 or 4 month old cannot handle solids in the same way a 6 month old can, they were having to purée the food to feed it to their babies. This stuck for decades and even though the official recommendation is to wait until 6 months to introduce solids, many parents still think they need to start with purée. A lot of people worry that if they just give their baby real food, they risk choking. However, they are actually more likely to choke if they’ve been given purée because they only learn to swallow. With baby led weaning they learn to chew and then swallow. It’s important to realise that babies have their gag reflex much further forward than adults so the food will come out if needed before going too far down. It’s also very important to understand the difference between gagging and choking. I’ve heard many parents say they’re baby kept choking when really they were gagging. Gagging is perfectly normal and is a part of the baby learning how to eat.
Baby led weaning is literally just about giving your baby the foods you’re eating and letting them decide for themselves if they want to eat any of it and how much. It is not possible to do “a bit of both”. If you are putting the food into your babies mouth in any way, that is not baby led. A combination of purée and finger food is simply what they call traditional weaning (I find this funny as baby led weaning came long before “traditional” weaning).
One thing many parents think and I myself thought was that you have to wait until exactly 6 months to the day to introduce solids. But my husband pointed out to me that is said in the book “around 6 months” and that it’s more important to look out for the signs of readiness. A lot of parents (myself included) worry about the virgin gut and so think it’s best to wait until exactly 6 months to be on the safe side. But I’ve come to realise that’s not baby led. If you’re baby is showing all the signs of readiness and wants to eat food, let them! It’s been suggested that there is a link between showing physical signs on the outside and the gut being ready on the inside. This makes a lot of sense to me. We ended up starting two weeks “early” because Tulip was ready and as someone pointed out to me, there’s not a switch that flips in their gut the day they’re 6 months old! Equally, if you’re baby isn’t showing all the signs at 6 months, leave it a bit, they’re not ready for solids.
I’ve found with eating solids, just like other things, is a new skill the baby is learning and it can take time. I’ve heard so many parents say “we’ve been doing baby led weaning for 2 weeks but he’s still not really eating anything, just playing with the food”. To me that’s like saying “he’s been walking for 2 weeks but he’s still not running marathons”. You don’t push your child to learn other skills quicker so why should eating be any different? At 14 months Tulip “still” doesn’t eat a full meal really. Sometimes she just has one bite and is then done. She prefers snacking. But I’m not worried. She’s happy and healthy. Just like I trusted my body to make enough milk for her, I trust her body to figure out when she’s hungry and eat what she needs. I see no need to ever stop being baby/child led.