Thursday, 15 May 2014

The truth about Baby-Led Weaning

If you have children, you're probably accustomed to the constantly shifting rules of acceptable parenting... Your baby should sleep on her stomach, NO WAIT HER BACK. Breast milk is all your baby needs, NO WAIT VITAMIN D SUPPLEMENTS. Your baby should sleep in a crib, NO WAIT YOUR BED, NO WAIT HER CRIB, NO WAIT HER CRIB BUT YOUR ROOM.

I think most of us eventually figure out that we just gotta do what works - short of, say, leaving our babies at home alone while we go out for beers.  (I would never do that.  Probably.)

Regarding solid food, Hubby and I adopted a baby-led weaning approach.  Essentially, we skipped the cereal and purees and jumped straight to finger food, for a two reasons:

1) we hate cooking, so preparing separate baby food was a traumatic thought; and,

2) we liked the idea of her feeding herself alongside us, rather than us shovelling food into her face.

This approach has to do with our general laziness, but also to do with acknowledging that Fraggle is a person with independence and free will.  But mostly the laziness thing.

And so I bring you: the truth about baby-led weaning.

("Truth" is a relative term, as in: it's my truth, and I'm no expert.  But I assure you it isn't false.  Or at least I wouldn't lie.  About this.  Although, there is a distinct possibility that the absence of adult interaction has skewed my view of reality.)

Tip #1 - Read the book
But maybe buy it used. If you're already on board with the whole my baby should just feed herself philosophy, then you don't need the propaganda.  The book spends a lot of time convincing you how crazy you are if you don't choose baby-led weaning, with very little time teaching you how to actually implement this genius idea.

Tip #2 - It's messy, get over it
Hubby dislikes Fraggle's grubby food fingers and the pile of sloppy mess spread across her highchair and caked onto the floor.  I could care less.  I just hand-bomb that goop like it's my job (because it kind of is).  I take one cloth, wipe her face and hands, then her chair, then the floor.  One cloth, moving on.

Tip #3 - She didn't choke
Each parent has a certain level of comfort with certain things.  I'm (irrationally?) afraid of jolly jumpers, but choking doesn't worry me.  I might be unfit, but I trust her gag reflex to push out any food that isn't quite right.  If it worries you, stick with purees.  But keep in mind that by six months, rugrats are far more capable of eating and digesting solid food (rather than at four months, when babies used to start cereal).  Also, I actually think learning to chew before swallowing is helpful. I suspect switching from puree to solids is challenging.

Tip #4 - Don't expect too much too fast
As with all of my parenting decisions, I second-guessed myself hourly.  For six weeks, I watched Fraggle chew a ton of food but swallow very little, while her cohorts inhaled giant spoonfuls of mashed goodness.  HOWEVER, by the time she grew two teeth (around eight months) and figured out what we were trying to accomplish (um, eating) she was feeding herself large volumes of hamburgers, avocados, and sweet potatoes and LOVING IT - while my friends were trying to sneak peas into their babies' yogurt.  Also, be patient for the pincer grip, which may actually develop quickly with lots of practise.  Like all aspects of baby-raising, it gets better precisely when you think it never will.

Tip #5 - Roll with it
Some people prefer a hybrid approach - some finger food, some sauce.  The book will tell you that makes little sense, and I think I agree.  Jumping back and forth seems like an unnecessary and confusing endeavour.  The bottom line is that after a few weeks, Fraggle was eating more than she would have been otherwise, and we were all happier.  Just do what your baby seems to want.  For example, Fraggle likes those store-bought puree packets.  This works for me because it tops her up after dinner and I don't have to make it.  It works for her because she can just suck the mush out herself, as much as she wants, and then throw it on the floor to spray across the room.  Win-win?

Tip #6 - What to make and how to make it
The book claims you can give your baby whatever you're eating.  I'm here to tell you that isn't exactly true, at least for the first few months.  Just don't get discouraged.  The little turd will be eating you out of house and home before you know it.  For some more detailed observations, read onward.  Otherwise, however you decide to feed your offspring, good luck and have fun.  Or get a nanny.  Whichever.

The Details

It was a bit of a pain at first, but still not as bad as blending food (in my opinion).  For example:

  • I had to prepare our food without salt and without bottled/jarred/canned sauces. A life without mustard is a travesty. 
  • I had to cut it into finger shapes. 
  • I had to cook it longer.
  • I had to take it out sooner so it would cool. (I still have to do that.  Obviously.)
  • Eating away from the house was a bit trickier, messier at least. 
  • At first there was a lot of food she simply couldn't manage. It was too small (like peas), or too awkward (like tortillas), or impossible without a spoon (like soup).  
  • Another annoying bit: she doesn't eat an entire anything, so a tupperware container stocked with half-eaten oranges and tomatoes lives in my fridge.  
However, there are ways to make food that works:

  • In the early days, leave the peal on fruit to make it easier to hold, like bananas, avocados, and oranges.  Just wash them well.  
  • The microwave is handy.  Zuccinni sticks cook quickly when they're wrapped in wet paper towel.
  • Meatballs are a godsend.  I make dozens, freeze them, and warm them before her meals.   
  • She learned to pull apart chicken and turkey breast early on.  I cook, cut and freeze.
  • Pork remains difficult to chew, but I suspect that has to do with my terrible chef skills. 
  • I found one brand of frozen burgers with minimal junk added.  Thanks to George Forman this was an awesome quickie meal.  If you make your own, make them very loose so they're edible. 
  • Eggs!  (Read the latest on eggs, but basically, they're safe).  Mix them with lentils for iron (but beware of gas) and cook them omelette-style, then slice.  
  • Carrots and apples are a myth.  They never get soft enough to chew, even when cooked.  Bell peppers and non-ripe pears presented the same problem until she was old enough to pick them up in tiny pieces to swallow whole.  
  • When in doubt, spread cream cheese on it.  This is also good advice for life in general.
  • Soft cheese like Havarti is easier than Cheddar. 
  • For someone who doesn't like making food, I seem awfully willing to peel her grapes. They're easier to eat and the skin actually does worry me as a choking hazard.  I slice them in quarters and then the peel comes right off.
  • Roma tomatoes are good in early days, sliced in hand-held pieces.  
  • Asparagus is easy to hold and the tips are easy to eat if they're soft.  The stems are too stringy so get ready to eat the remnants yourself. Also, beware of smelly baby pee.  
  • I steam sweet potatoes, but in hand-held slices with the skin for easy gripping. 
  • Cauliflower is softer than broccoli but both are good because they have a built-in handle.
  • Rice was impossible until she got older, but now it works - especially the next day after it's been in the fridge because it sticks together.
  • She loves berries.  Strawberries (if they're mutant ones) are big enough to slice long for easy gripping. Smaller berries need to wait for pincer skills. 
  • Pineapple strips. Mmmm. 
  • Penne noodles aren't bad in early days.  
  • She learned to pull the little green beans out of the stalk.  She's a genius.  
  • She likes frittata (potatoes, veggies, eggs, cheese). Just chop everything to the necessary size.
  • Mushrooms were impossible until she could eat them in small pieces because they're too rubbery (but I used to chop them up tiny in her omelettes).  
  • I never found a good baby cereal in cookie form, they are all impossible for her to eat.  It doesn't matter anymore because now she eats oatmeal on a spoon mixed with fruit sauce, but for a while there I was super pissed.  
  • Some people claim to make healthy muffins mixed with baby cereal.  I don't know who these people are.