01 May 2011

Adventures in Baby-Led Weaning: Introduction

Dominic is approaching the six-month mark. That magical age when he begins the journey into the world of solid foods. The beginning of the end of our breastfeeding relationship (more on that). Time to begin replacing his feedings of nutrient dense breast milk with nutritionally void, iron-fortified rice cereal!

Wait a minute. That doesn't make sense.

Rice cereal, like all refined carbohydrates, breaks down into sugar in the body, raising blood sugar and insulin levels. Chronic high levels of insulin contribute to obesity and diabetes. Not to mention young babies lack intestinal amylase, the enzyme required for the proper digestion of grains. So we probably won't be stocking up on Gerber rice cereal, or any baby cereal for that matter. Unfortunately just about every pediatrician and well-meaning grandparent in the country advise rice cereal as the first food introduced to an infant, sometimes as early as two months. The only reason I can imagine for this is that rice cereal is the least likely food to cause an allergic reaction and/or the mistaken notion that after six months (or two months) milk (whether breast milk or formula) isn't enough to sustain a growing baby.

The latter is simply nonsense, of course. But enough about that.

I've had a lot of time to think about how to start Dom onto solid foods. Before he was born I bought Cooking for Baby, a cookbook full of wholesome recipes and tips for starting solids. We knew right from the beginning that we didn't want to feed him commercial baby food. It's full of preservatives and added sugar and the organic baby food requires a small loan to purchase enough for the first three months. So we planned on making our own purees from foods we regularly eat (flavors he would have likely been exposed to through my breast milk). Sure, it's a little extra work, but it seemed worth it.

I didn't take into account how much of a lazy mom I am.

Yes, lazy. Why? Let's review my parenting decisions over the past six months:

  • Breastfeeding: No bottles to wash, no powder to measure, no cans to open, highly portable, always the right temperature, and (after the initial 2-3 months) so easy. Definitely lazy.
  • Co-sleeping: I don't have to get up out of bed when Dom wakes in the night, no worrying about waking him up to put him down in a crib, no need to sleep train. The ultimate in laziness.
  • Babywearing: No need to lug a stroller or car seat around (those bucket seats are heavy!).
  • Cloth-diapering: OK this one is admittedly more work than disposables, but I don't have to go out and buy diapers when I run out, so it's kind of lazy.

There are a few others that are slightly more controversial, so I'll leave them for another post. But you get the picture. So why on earth did I think that I possessed the motivation required to not only prepare separate meals for Dom, but also to puree, label, date, and freeze the individual portions for later use?

Luckily for me I soon discovered baby-led weaning. No purees, no cereals, no "baby food". Just give them table food and let them at it. Perfect!

Obviously, there are guidelines. You can't hand your kid a bag of Fritos and let them go to town. And you probably want to avoid peanuts and honey for the first year. But the essential principle still holds true. Babies can feed themselves actual food around six months (or later depending on the child). Nutrient content is important, of course, but he still receives all the calories and nutrients he needs through breast milk, so no need to obsess over whether he's "getting enough" (had to obsess enough about that in the first weeks of breastfeeding). We can focus on letting him try a wide range of flavors and textures without pressure. It's the perfect solution for us!

First, I should explain the use of the word "weaning" in this context. This method of infant feeding is based on a book by the same title published in the UK, so the word means something slightly different than what we in the US consider weaning. Here it means the cessation of breastfeeding, but in the UK it means the introduction of solid foods (so the cessation of exclusive breastfeeding). So we're not talking about the end of the breastfeeding relationship, although starting solids does signal the beginning of such a process, as solid foods will eventually start to replace breast milk as the child grows.

So how do we know when he's ready to start rubbing mashed potatoes into his hair? Here are some of the signs to look for:

  • Your baby shows interest in food and family meal times.
  • Your baby can sit without support.
  • Your baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (pushing solid foods out of the front of the mouth).
  • Your baby is ready and willing to chew (though he may not have many teeth).
  • Your baby can pick up items with the thumb and forefinger (pincer grasp) as opposed to using the whole hand (palmar grasp).

The last one is debatable, I think. It's sufficient if he can grasp an object accurately and bring it to his mouth. Pincer grasp is more important for smaller bits of food, like peas. Dominic is already showing some, but not all of these signs. He becomes transfixed on our actions whenever we sit down to eat, has begun imitating the way we chew, and can grab fairly accurately. I'm not sure if he's lost the tongue-thrust reflex entirely and he can't sit up unassisted yet, so he probably won't be delving into a plate of spaghetti the day he turns six months (this coming Thursday), but I'm sure it's not far off.

It's a fairly relaxed approach to starting solids and quite different from the way most of us are accustomed to feeding babies. The basic principles of this approach are:

  • At the start of the process the baby is allowed to reject food, and it may be offered again at a later date.
  • The child is allowed to decide how much he wants to eat. No "fill-ups" are to be offered at the end of the meal with a spoon.
  • The meals should not be hurried.
  • Sips of water are offered with meals.
  • Initially, soft fruits and vegetables are given. Harder foods are lightly cooked to make them soft enough to chew on even with bare gums.
  • Foods with clear danger, such as peanuts, are not offered.
  • Non-finger-foods, such as oatmeal and yoghurt, may be offered with a spoon so baby can learn to self-feed with a spoon.

Remember, milk is still the main source of nutrition, so solid foods are offered more for exploration than for nourishment. Food before one, just for fun!

As Dominic approaches this new stage in his development, I plan to chronicle our experiences with this method in a series of posts (including pictures). So look forward to some sloppy shenanigans in the weeks to come!

1 comment:

  1. I also joke that my parenting choices (breastfeeding, baby-wearing, co-sleeping, baby-led weaning) stem from laziness. LOL I don't think Charlotte actually had a true pincer-grasp when she started solids, but was sitting well unaided, had lost the tongue-thrust, was imitating us and interested in food, and had a very accurate grasp. She's now 13 months, and still gets most of her nutrition from breastmilk, but also eats quite a bit.

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