Baby Led Weaning
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the term, it’s exactly what it sounds like: the baby leads their own weaning experience. You make them more or less what you feed yourselves as adults, put it in front of them and see how they get on.
When it comes to raising a baby, new parents often tend to be paranoid, and I definitely fall into this category. And if there’s one subject sure to make any new parent worry more than most, it’s eating. Choking is a huge and real fear for adults, let alone infants, and the nervousness is completely understandable. We want to wrap them up from danger for as long as possible, and while we can’t be spoon-feeding our children meals of a yogurty consistency as they enter their twenties, it’s understandable to want to do so for as long as possible.
This fear puts off many parents from giving Baby Led Weaning a go, so how did we come to settle on it? I’ll admit, the concept made me nervous at first. At six months old, they’re just too young to cope with lumps, right?
This, in fact, was the argument that convinced me to go for it.
We have to introduce them to real food with differing textures at some point, and sooner rather than later (like in their twenties). When we introduce them to food, everything is new — the concept of flavours, of there being something in their mouths beyond spit and their own fists. So they’re concentrating, trying their hardest to get their heads and gums around this new and clearly important experience. By giving them traditional baby food, we’re teaching them that all food is the same consistency, that it’s effectively easy and little concentration is required.
Early on, babies have a gag reflex that activates much further forward in the mouth than ours, and we’re wasting it. Then, when they’re maybe entering a stage of complacency, we begin to trick them by slowly sneaking in semi-solid lumps to catch them out.
Obviously this isn’t deliberate, or even as dangerous as I’ve just made it seem — like most people I was brought up on baby foods. But I want to point out that it’s easy to describe the idea of baby food as just as big a threat to our kids as Baby Led Weaning.
That’s what convinced me personally to give it a go, but is it the advantage I’d use to sell it to others? No. What then, for me, was the major selling point?
Honestly? It’s bloody funny.
In the first week of my daughter’s weaning, I lost count of the number of times I ran out of breath laughing at her efforts, and the spectacle had lost none of its hilarity by the time my son took the plunge.
They’ve honestly been some of my favourite moments of parenting so far: watching them tackle a sprout as if they were giant apples, trying to quickly pick up spilled water with their fingertips, being covered head to toe in Bolognese sauce.
Okay, that last one might not sound too appealing to everyone, but hear me out. I’ve witnessed the stresses of spoon feeding when the parents are starving too, but have to go through the time-consuming task of feeding as much of a jar as possible to an uninterested baby — while their own meal goes cold.
With Baby Led Weaning, however, you can eat the same meals at the same time and let them do the work, refining their fine motor skills as they do. We just put what was effectively a sheet of tarpaulin under the highchair and let them crack on. The clean-up afterwards was straightforward compared to actually having to feed them.
They don’t take in much at first; they’re still getting milk, so to begin with it’s little more than exploration. But the rewards of getting it right reveal themselves soon enough, and they’re more than capable of eating the toughest of foods. They might look like they only have gums, but at a couple of months old my daughter bit me on the nose, and I can promise you the teeth are not lurking far beneath the surface.
There are health benefits, too. For a start, you only begin weaning at six months, when their stomachs are developed enough to cope. Many baby food companies push for weaning before they’re ready, and they’re not always as healthy as we assume. If you’re making the meal yourself, it’s easier to be aware of exactly what’s in it. But it isn’t just healthier for the baby — we ended up adjusting the meals we’d make for the whole family to ensure they were healthier. The difference in our salt intake as parents must have been huge.
And they enjoy it. This was probably the most important benefit for our two. It was something new they were doing for themselves — it wasn’t something being done to them, but their first taste of genuine independence. At this point they were struggling to sit up unaided, but here they were: the most crucial goal in their quest for survival was being fulfilled, and they were doing it on their own.
There are millions of right ways to raise a baby, and every parent has to do what suits them. But for us, Baby Led Weaning was fun, safe and easy, with the developmental benefits happening hilariously right before our eyes. I’d highly recommend it.