We have had a few comments recently about how well the little guy eats. Literally…how well he handles his food in his mouth, his hands…his hair! Actually he is becoming a lot more accurate at meal times, so much so that the shower curtain covering up the floor has been lifted.
It got me thinking back to the reasons why I chose to take the baby led weaning path (BLW), or more accurately, why I let my guy choose his own food destiny with BLW. You can read my tips on getting started here.
Before I start, I have to say that I am of the camp that exclusive breast milk up to six months is essential. As parents, it is our duty to protect the delicate gut lining of our precious bundles. Starting to wean before six months can upset the fragile balance of gut flora that is protecting their digestive system while it fully develops. Too many people confuse a growth spurt at around four months with a hungry baby, instead of the developmental milestone that it is. Around this age babies may need less sleep than you are accustomed too, they want to explore their world, and they are interested in watching you eating, but they are not necessarily hungry. It can be challenging, but you are still producing enough milk to totally fulfil their requirements, however big, hungry or wide awake, just maybe bigger feeds from you more often.
That said, BLW works for any breastfed of bottle fed baby, the principles are the same.
I never want to let my little guy feel left out at a meal time, I never want to trick him into eating just one more mouthful, I don’t want to stress him out or pressure him to eat anything he may not like and I have no real desire for him to wean him quickly from my breast. BLW addresses all of these issues…here are my favourite reasons to hopefully convince you to give it a try.
Babies learn through play, they explore, touch and taste almost everything that crosses their path. Food should be no different, you can let them play with it, explore the textures, temperatures, shapes and tastes. This way, they can start to distinguish different flavours, they can pick out things they don’t like, and they can eat at their own pace.
Because BLW babies are allowed to explore food themselves, they are less suspicious of food and more willing to try new foods. They can stop eating when they have had enough and they can demand more if they are still hungry. This means they learn about their own appetite from an early age and will hopefully carry this through into healthy eating habits later in life.
By six months, the digestive system is more likely to be able to tolerate anything, so there is no need to follow the outdated rules of one new food at a time. This means food can always be exciting, tasty, varied and never bland, mushy and boring! The only limit might be your cooking skills!
You all get to eat together. Even if its just you and baby, you can eat your meals hot, together, and enjoyably. Baby can learn about conversation and table manners at the same time as learning about food. There is no need to feed baby, and then entertain baby while everyone else tries to eat and he will never feel left out at a meal time.
Progression happens naturally and safely. At the start of the BLW journey, very little food actually goes in, most ends up in a gummed up mess back on the table or floor. Slowly the gag reflex moves from the front of the tongue, further and further back. This happens as the baby learns to move food around and break food down into manageable pieces before finally swallowing. This natural progression is the safest progression.
No more revolting bland mush, no ‘baby food’, just one meal suits all. Meal times become easier, you can create one meal, be it traditional, exotic, experimental or a family favourite. You can adapt a little portion for baby if you like things particularly spicy or salty but you get accustomed to lowering your salt intake pretty quickly.
Imagine someone coming at your face with a garden shovel full of food. They hold it really close to your face so you cant focus on what is piled on the end of the shovel. They try and get the shovel into your mouth and you try and push the shovel away to see what you are being forced to taste. This must be what that teaspoon of food seems like to a little person. Scary.
Stop the slop!!
Read my tips on getting started on your BLW journey here!
Baby led weaning is the most fascinating, inspiring and entertaining activity…for adults! Still, after four months, I watch in awe as my little guy handles grown up food…as he shovels way too much in, gags a little and then sticks a bit more in for good measure. He loves to play and learn and food is no exception to this.
I wish more parents had a positive experience of the first few scary months of BLW, but I often hear of parents abandoning ship because it is too scary or too messy.
I have created a list of a few things to get you started and help you feel more confident in committing totally to the BLW experience. As you get started on your journey, keep these tips close at hand to remind yourself that you and baby are in complete control…
Have confidence in yourself. This is the single most important piece of advice I can give. Brush up on your first aid, attend a red cross course or at the very least, know what to do in an emergency choking situation. Learn the basics of back slaps to bring up a lodged piece of food, and understand the process of checking airways, breathing and circulation. Armed with this knowledge you can take a much more relaxed approach to BLW. Look here at the Red Cross site for many great tips
Relax. Once you have confidence in your ability in a sticky situation, and trust that your baby knows what he is doing, then you can relax and pass the calm vibes onto your little one. At the start of my BLW journey, I used simple yoga breathing techniques to relax, release and let go of any tension in my body. I kept that calm feeling throughout every early meal until it became natural to both me and baby.
Trust in your baby. Your baby has been born with a gag reflex and it starts way further forward on his tongue than on yours. This reflex is your friend, the sound of retching or heaving are his way of dealing with an object and keeping him safe. Try not to interfere while he deals with the object himself, but be at the ready to step in if he can’t handle it
Bibs. Double up, I use a long sleeved coverall with a smaller dribble bib on top to fit close around the neck. You will not be so worried about staining the clothes underneath and again you can sit back and relax while chaos take over in the high chair. Tip: Cut the bottom half off of old baby grows and use them back to front as full coverage bibs!
Cover the floor. Buy a cheap shower curtain and let the food rain down! Pop in in the washing machine, shake it out after a messy meal, pick big bits up and give them back to baby, and relax in the knowledge that your flooring is protected!!!
High chair. I took my high chair for granted until I tried out a friends contraption! Make sure it doesn’t have a fiddly harness or tray that locks too tightly around your baby, you need to be able to whip them out quickly and easily if they become distressed. Look here at the Ikea Antilop, great value, and easy to clean, great for BLW. Look here at the safety 1st baby highchairs, plastic free, able to grow with your child, fairly easy to keep clean but slightly more expensive.
Gagging is good. as I mentioned before, it is your babies way of clearing a blockage or learning that trying to swallow something before breaking it down isn’t such a good idea.
Silence is not good. look to see if they have panic on their own face, or look like they are silently struggling to bring something up. This is definitely your cue to step in and manually give a helping hand.
Let them get back to it. However shaken up you feel, don’t pass your anguish on the baby. Let him get stuck back in straight away so as not to start associating anything bad with his eating.
Know that milk is still the main source of nutrients. Please try not to stress over the quantity of food on the floor, or the amount he is actually eating. Food is still just for fun in this phase, once you take the pressure off getting food into baby, and let him take his time over meals, he will become better equipped to understand his own appetite, not what you think his appetite should be.
Eat together, don’t stare. Whenever possible, eat at the same time as baby. DO NOT sit and stare at him eating, as fascinating as it may be. Let him see you chewing and swallowing, watch from the corner of your eye, chat and laugh. How would you enjoy a looming figure watching you, praising you and getting involved with your plate of food!!!
Don’t overcrowd the tray. My guy likes to eat from a white china plate, he can see the food clearly and knows where and what he wants to reach for. Try adding food slowly to the high chair tray.