Now that Charlotte's been on solids for a few weeks, I thought I would do a quick little post about our chosen style of feeding. Rather than go the "traditional" cereal and puree route, we (after much research) decided to use the Baby Led Weaning (BLW) approach with Charlotte. At first, I think it was difficult for people to swallow (pun intended) and some questions were certainly raised about the approach. Since most of the people who interact with us on a regular basis read this blog, I thought it would be a perfect avenue to answer some questions and to talk a bit about how this whole thing works.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is essentially allowing your child to self-feed and control what and how much (s)he eats. Between 6 months (when babies usually begin eating solids this way) and 12 months, the emphasis is mostly on exploration: discovering tastes and textures of a variety of healthy foods. Solids remain a complement to breast milk or formula until after one year of age.
Most babies begin "eating" this way simply by picking up foods, licking, sucking, squishing, etc. Over the course of a few weeks/months, the baby starts chewing and swallowing more food.
Do you cut up the food?
We give Charlotte whole foods in manageable pieces. This means that we don't cut things into "bite-size" pieces right now because she, developmentally, cannot manage those pieces. Right now she still grasps things in her fists, so we ensure that most of her food is in "stick" or "finger" form or large enough so the food sticks out of her fist and she can gnaw on it. Some foods we pre-load onto a spoon or a fork and allow her to feed herself that way. Once she develops the pincer grasp (picking up objects between her thumb and forefinger) she will be able to eat "bite-size" foods.
Won't she choke?
This is probably the biggest concern we've encountered. Watching a small baby eat whole foods is, understandably, nerve-wracking. The thing is, most people confuse gagging with choking. The two are very different. Many babies do gag when they are learning to eat and that makes many people fear that the baby is about to choke. However, a young baby's gag reflex is different than ours. To trigger our gag reflex, an object needs to be very far back on the tongue close to the airway. In a young baby, however, the gag reflex is triggered much closer to the front of the tongue. Therefore, when a young baby gags, the object isn't as close to the airway as we would think. Gagging is actually a good thing when a baby is learning to eat. Gagging prevents a baby from choking. It teaches the baby how much food can safely be put into the mouth and how to move the food around his/her mouth. Once the gag reflex is triggered a few times, a baby learns how to keep it from happening again.
I have watched Charlotte closely and have seen her, just in the last few weeks, take major strides in how she manages the food in her mouth. I have watched her gag on a piece of banana, move it up to the roof of her mouth, and then push it out with her tongue. I have watched her fill her mouth with a large piece of english muffin and get frustrated when she realized she couldn't fit any more into her mouth until she figured out what to do with the piece that was already in there. She is really learning what she can and cannot handle.
She has no teeth! How can she eat "real" food?
Anyone who has ever had a teething baby gum on their finger knows just how strong those gums can be! A baby doesn't need teeth to eat. Some babies don't get teeth until 10-11 months, but they are still able to eat food. A baby's gums work perfectly to mash up the food to prepare for swallowing. Of course, we help Charlotte by preparing her food in a way that she can manage (i.e. steaming hard veggies).
Aren't babies supposed to start on cereals, purees, and other "easy" foods?
These recommendations come from the time when many babies (like those in my own generation) were fed solids around 3-4 months. Babies at that age aren't ready for whole or "real" foods, so starting them on easily-digested rice cereal and bland purees was recommended. However, with BLW, a baby does not begin eating this way until (s)he is ready for food. Sitting up unsupported, reaching for objects with ease, bringing objects to the mouth, chewing on objects, etc. are all signs that a baby's digestive system has matured enough for solid foods. I also believe that this is a more logical way to introduce a baby to eating. Rather than eating purees and learning how to swallow before learning to chew, Charlotte now needs to learn how to mash up the food by chewing in order to be able to swallow. Once the baby is developmentally ready for food, the possibilities are endless!
But shouldn't babies be fed bland foods? Won't spices and flavours be too much for them?
Actually, this isn't true. Many babies LOVE flavourful and spicy foods! Charlotte, just the other day, sucked all the sauce off a piece of pizza crust. Spices and strong flavours will not harm the baby's digestive system. In fact, allowing babies to experience different tastes, spices, and flavours actually helps them become less fussy/picky eaters later in life!
So what does she eat?
Whatever we're eating (within reason)! She can pretty much have whatever we are having, with the exception of certain foods. She cannot have honey (raw or cooked), whole milk, whole nuts, popcorn, whole grapes (basically anything that poses a choking hazard), and we also do not want her eating junk food (french fries, cake, chocolate, fast food, ice cream, etc.). If we are eating safe and healthy foods, Charlotte can have it too!
If the baby is feeding herself, how do you know that she's eating enough?
As difficult as it can be, we need to trust babies more than we do. A baby will know when she's full just like we know when we're full. Before a year old, babies get the majority of their nutrition from breast milk or formula. Solids are a compliment to their milk diet. As a baby gets older and their nutritional needs become greater, you will notice the baby consuming more solid food and decreasing their milk consumption. Babies will not intentionally starve themselves. Trusting your baby's appetite is a large component of BLW.
Watching Charlotte these past few weeks has been so much fun. Over the last few days, she has really begun to chew more and swallow more food. She has tasted everything we have put in front of her (except chicken breast) and has definitely developed preferences for certain things. So far, she loves roasted chicken, broccoli, english muffins, scalloped potatoes, arrowroot cookies (who doesn't?), and pasta. She has also started using utensils - and well! We offered her scalloped potatoes on a pre-loaded fork; she missed her mouth the first time and that was it. Now she guides her fork into her mouth like a pro!
Hopefully this has shed some light on how we're choosing to feed our daughter. So far, we are all loving it. Boyd and I can eat our dinner without one of us fighting a spoon into her mouth while dinner gets cold. Charlotte gets to join us at the table and share the food we are eating. It's such a relaxing atmosphere for meal times. Sure it can get quite messy at times, but I really wouldn't want it any other way!
And, what we're all really here for ... pictures!!
Showing off while eating her toast ;)
Enjoying some corn on the cob.
Somebody loves her broccoli!
Eating her scalloped potatoes with her fork.
Now ... who's hungry?