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Monday, October 24, 2011

What is Baby-Led Weaning Anyway?

Do I follow the baby-led weaning philosophy? It’s not like I sit my baby in the high chair and frantically shovel food down his throat at breakfast, lunch and dinner. I read his cues, and if he seems hungry while I’m eating, I feed him. But I do feed him store-bought baby food.

I mentioned when I wrote my post entitled "What is Attachment Parenting Anyway?" that I don’t like labels. It’s partly my own insecurity; because I don’t fit into any one label, I find it hard to attach labels to my parenting style. I have also found that trying to subscribe to any one label as a mother has interfered with my own intuition. For example, when Baby T was younger, I read so many books on sleep that I completely lost my own natural rhythm as a mother. It was like I completely forgot how to do anything without consulting a book.

A similar thing happened with Baby T and his eating habits. He was never a big eater. He never showed signs of wanting to eat like reaching for my food or trying to grab my fork as I ate. So I wasn’t too concerned with giving him food. I had read a lot about baby-led weaning and talked to a lot of my friends about it, and I figured since he was going to be six months old at Thanksgiving, I could mash up some sweet potatoes or offer him a green bean to nibble on. That could be his first taste of food.

Well, I broke down and gave him some mashed avocado when he was about five months old. I was antsy and ready for another milestone. He didn’t thrust it out, but he wasn’t into it either. He just wasn’t a great eater. I would give him some homemade purees every few days, and he would eat a few bites, and that was it. No big deal—something else to do, but I wasn’t pushing three square meals on him or anything.

Then, I started to read more about baby-led weaning. Everything I read said not to give purees; if my son could sit up and use his pincer grasp, he could handle small pieces of table food. So when he was seven months old, I gave him a French fry. (I know—not the best option, but we were traveling and at a restaurant).

He gagged on it. I thought he was choking, stuck my finger down his throat, lodging the piece further down, so then I freaked out, tried to get him out of the high chair, he was belted in… the whole scene ended up with me sweating, heart pounding.

After that, I decided to go back to purees. The problem was, he wasn’t really swallowing them. He would let them dribble to the back of his tongue and then he would gag. He gagged on everything after that, and eventually, he would close his mouth when I tried to feed him, because I think he had developed an unhealthy relationship with food. After all, if food made you gag, wouldn’t you stop putting it in your mouth?

I felt like a failure. I had failed at baby-led weaning, and I had failed at purees too. I ended up with a picky eater, and eating is our biggest challenge. It has become a power struggle, which is something I never wanted to happen, but if he doesn’t eat well, Baby T is a mess.

Fast forward to Little M. (It’s nice to have some experience to go on the second time). I wasn’t going to feed Little M solids until he was at least six months old, but at four months, he was following the fork to my mouth with his eyes and trying to grab it. I couldn’t eat in peace. This little guy wanted some!

So at four and a half months old, I gave Little M some baby food that I had left over from Baby T. He gobbled it up. He had no tongue thrust reflex, and he swallowed it without pushing any out. I continued to give him food every few days, but then I ran out of purees. So when he was about six months old I made my own purees, except I’m lazy. Instead of putting the food in the blender, I would mash it well with a fork.

He gagged.

I made him rice cereal, just to see what he would do.

He gagged.

He wouldn’t eat anything but thin purees and he was starting to get irked at me for trying to give him food that made him gag. I was upset. Little M, who I thought would be a good eater, was just like Baby T. I resigned myself to this fact, and decided to just feed him the store-bought baby food. I would rather have him not fear food and eat well than worry about whether I was following the tenets of baby-led weaning.

Here’s the thing, though: I didn’t sit Little M down and force feed him with a spoon. I didn’t look at the clock and feed him breakfast, lunch and dinner, and I nursed him when he seemed hungry. But I would let him play with a spoon and a bowl next to his brother as his brother was eating. I would put purees in his tray and let him go to town.
Little M helping himself to some pureed green beans

Little M loved it. By the time he was eight months old, he would get cranky in the afternoons if he hadn’t sat down to at least one “meal.” He grabbed the spoon from me hungrily when it was loaded with food, chomped on it when it wasn’t, and threw it when he was finished.

I listened to him. If he wasn’t into eating, I didn’t force him. I let him lead the way—with store-bought purees.

I feel confident with the way I listened to my baby and fed him the way that felt right. I didn’t follow the philosophy of baby-led weaning—at least, not the way it is labeled. But I let my baby lead the way and tell me what he was ready for when he was ready. I let him play with his food and feed himself. I let him experiment with the sippy cup and water.I let him experiment with different tastes and textures.

And now, at nine months old, he eats anything I put in front of him, whether it’s pureed or not. He eats table food cut into tiny pieces, purees, and crackers. He’s not really a fan of the French-fry-shaped food, though, which is what many baby-led weaning proponents suggest you give them.
Carrots and quinoa--Yum!

Did I fail at baby-led weaning? No. I feel like I’m following it, actually. I’m letting my baby lead the way, and I’m glad that I listened to myself instead of trying to conform to another label that just wasn’t right for me. It’s another lesson in mommyhood, and how important it is to listen to yourself, your children, and your family above all else.


melissa said... Best Blogger Tips

I am a firm believer in the idea that there are no one size fits all parenting approaches. It sounds like you found a way to do "baby led" weaning that suits your family. Thanks for the reminder that not doing it by the book doesn't mean doing it wrong!

Jet's Journey said... Best Blogger Tips

LOVE IT! Once again, you so eloquently described what (undoubtedly) many of us feel.

BLW is tricky, as we're finding out. J had his first "solid" 1 week shy of 6 months - an overly ripe avocado. He gagged, we all mildly freaked out, and so we waited some more.

We experimented, tested, and played but mostly wanted J to be independent! Exploratory! Happy! So when he's into some food, we have at it. If not, we don't. The main thing is that we want avoid stress and pressure, while instilling a love of food and exploration.

So far, so good.

Lauren @ Hobo Mama said... Best Blogger Tips

Nice! I am determined not to feel so guilty about not following philosophies to the letter of the law this time around. Sometimes with Mikko we'd serve purees and I'd feel like I was failing — but who cares?? I think it's great that you followed your baby's lead!

Promise not to tell on me, considering he's still 5.5 months old, but I let Alrik chew on my melon rind the other day after I was finished. He lurved it.

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