So, now Ella is 6 months old, she’s more than ready for the next eating stage…solids!!!
Typically, babies go through eating in stages. Milk, to puree, to mushy, to lumpy, to solid. But, having read a few books, something that kept coming up is baby led weaning.
This skips straight to the solid, so no pureeing or mashing. You essentially give baby what you eat, give or take the odd thing. You just put the food on their highchair tray and they help themselves. So, it’s worthwhile at first giving them things that are easy to grab and big enough to leave a bit poking out for them to chomp on, while they are learning and developing. Eventually, they’ll be able to pincer grip a pea and release it in their mouth!
It is apparently a bit of a myth that babies can only manage purees. In fact, the pureeing thing came about as a result of the worry that babies should be eating a certain amount to have enough nutrition, when in fact breastmilk or formula will give them more than enough nutrition up to about the age of 1 year!
Baby led weaning has a few advantages:
1. It improves coordination – babies feed themselves rather than you feeding them so they soon learn how to get things with ease in to their mouth!
2. They are less likely to overeat – because they are not being fed, and are feeding themselves, they can easily manage when they have had enough
3. They are less likely to be fussy eaters when older – because they make their own decision about what to eat, try lots of different textures, and eat pretty much what they’ll be eating as a toddler, those that have been baby-led usually are much less fussy
4. It’s easier – you don’t have to spend hours prepping purees for the week! You just give baby what you have, or an easy alternative if that’s not appropriate
5. Eating becomes a positive rather than negative experience – when a baby’s first experience involves being ‘force-fed’ some will dislike mealtimes. Baby-led lets them get on with it themselves, and eat at the table with you, so it’s a much more positive experience for them
The key with it is that you continue to give them the same amount of breastmilk/formula they had previously. When they start to eat more solids, they will naturally have less milk and choose themselves when to drop milk feeds. So, there’s no need to worry if they don’t actually eat anything and just play with the food at first. It’s all good learning for them!
So far, it’s been fab watching Ella suck the juice from some gammon, or chomp on some carrot! She’s even had a go at pasta bolognese. I did try to feed her some baby porridge, but she grabbed the spoon off me and fed herself. Granted, a lot of it went on her face and dropped off the spoon, but each time she has the spoon, she gets better with getting it to her mouth. I just preload the spoon for her! It’s also much easier when you eat out. Ella just has a few things off my plate. She loves chips!!!
Her first meal was Christmas dinner! She seemed to really enjoy being able to actually get involved in mealtimes!
Granted, there are a few downsides. Baby-led babies will not eat as much at first as those who start off with purees. So, you do still have to carry on with the milk feeds too, which can feel like all the baby ever does is eat! It also leads to more mess at first while they get to grips with it. Ned has quickly learned to take station at the foot of the highchair!
And the worst thing has to be the gagging! Babies’ gag reflex is much further forward in their mouths, to stop them choking. As a result, as soon as solids touch that magic spot they gag. At first, Ella ate nothing. She gagged on everything, which isn’t pleasant to see. But there’s a huge difference between gagging and choking. The food is no where near the back of her mouth when she gags. And it teaches her how to manage her food so that she can chew it some more and then swallow it when it’s ready to be. Puree babies will gag too when it comes to eating the solid stuff. In fact, it’s suggested that puree babies might be more likely to choke as they haven’t learnt as young about managing the food in their mouth. Gagging doesn’t bother Ella at all, and slowly it’s becoming less common. After she’s gagged and brought the food forward to chew again, she laughs! It’s just one of those natural processes!
She also hasn’t got any teeth yet so can’t really bite a big chunk of anything anyway. She just gums at it til a bit breaks off, so generally it’s already mush by the time it comes to swallowing it!
I know some people around me probably disagree with my decision to wean in this way. Or probably think I’m some kind of weird hippy mum who has to do things different. But, after reading up on it, it just sounded like something I wanted to give a go. I figured if it didn’t work out, I could always do the puree route instead. But so far, so good!