Monday, May 27, 2013

Baby-Led Weaning: An Introduction

The hubs and I decided that we wanted give the baby-led weaning method a try with Turtle, so I thought I would do a little premise on the topic. It isn't a widely used method, but I would say that is because most people aren't aware of what it is and how it works. And, maybe it just intimidates them a little bit.

What is it?
To start, baby-led weaning (BLW) is a method of introducing solid foods. A lot of times people tend to think it involves just weaning off of breastfeeding. But, it is a little more involved than that. It is the slow process of changing from 100% breastmilk (or formula) to solid foods. It is also skipping the puree step. And, it is giving the reigns completely to the baby, that is to say it is led by the baby.

Yes, I am saying that I do not plan on pureeing any fruits and vegetables for Turtle. And, no I do not plan on spoon feeding her. We plan on skipping baby cereals altogether. Although, that is what I had planned on doing before I heard about BLW.

What I will be letting Turtle do is explore food at her own pace, and in her own way. I present her with real whole foods that she can easily handle - mainly fruits and vegetables cut into sticks, but also cheeses and meats. You want sticks big enough for her to pick up and bite, not small pieces of food. Then it is up to her. She can taste it and touch it and suck on it and no doubt make a huge mess. But, that is how she will learn about different tastes and textures, and how to feed herself.

The reigning feeding method is to start purees by 4 months and work up to super chopped up finger foods by 6 months. But, research is coming out that says it isn't a good idea to introduce solid foods that early. The World Health Organization recommends waiting to start solids until 6 months of age. Breastmilk or formula is the best thing to give a young baby. Their digestive system is still developing and the easiest way to get nutrients to a baby is breastmilk or formula because they cannot properly get all the goodness out of solids. And, babies are at a higher risk for developing allergies if given foods prior to 6 months.

The thing is that the research and evidence is still new and isn't widely known. Turtle's pediatrician recommended waiting until 6 months to start solids, she said it was in the best interest of the baby. I was already strongly opposed to starting prior to 6 months so there was no resistance on my part. But, I'd be willing to bet that if I had wanted to start purees sooner she would not have objected. And, I have nothing against Turtle's pediatrician. I just don't think that there is enough of an effort being made to educate parents about solids.

I actually hadn't found that out until I had pretty much made up my mind to try BLW and was reading the book. What really made me take a look at it was that I kept reading about how adventurous the kids turned out to be with food. I am not an adventurous eater, I like my box. But, I don't want that for Turtle. I would love for her to try anything and really give it a chance. The blogs on BLW and the posts from parents who loved it convinced me to buy the book.

I read it cover to cover and it sold me. The simplest solution is sometimes the best. Instead of struggling to spoon feed a baby that is in no way interested and end up with a toddler who only eats chicken nuggets, why not let the child be in control. You keep presenting them with healthy good foods, they can try it all and eat what they want. If something gets passed over keep presenting it in a new way, which ties in to the Bringing Up Bebe book I enjoyed as well. If they end up disliking something it won't be because of a power struggle.

If you are at all interested in giving baby-led weaning a look I would highly recommend picking up a copy of Rapley's book. It is very good at addressing all your concerns - the big one being, won't she choke?  The simplest answer is she might. Just like she might with anything that goes in her mouth. She will, however, gag. It is part of the learning process and you should be ready for it, mentally because you don't need to do anything about it. You should dust off your infant CPR skills though, no matter which way you introduce solids.

There are a few other reasons that we decided to go with BLW also. It is easier than purees. I don't have to steam and process and store and spoon anything. It is great practice for fine motor skills. By giving her the control I will help her build a relationship with food that won't be about power struggles. She will learn to regulate her food intake herself because she is allowed to actually stop eating when she is full. Studies done on BLW say that it lowers the chances of obesity, leads to a lower BMI, and healthier food choices later in life. All good things in my book.

When to start?
In the book there is a check list of the signs that baby is ready to start on solids. First, you want her to be able to sit upright with little or no support - you should never feed a baby that is not upright. Second, she should be able to grasp things and bring them to her mouth efficiently. Third, you notice that she is chewing on her toys and everything else that she can get close to her mouth. Fourth, she shows interest in food. Even after you see all of these signs of readiness, the last and most important sign is that she is hitting that 6 month mark. You want your baby to be ready physically and digestive-ly.

Turtle has 1, 2, 3, and 4 checked off. We are just waiting on that 6 month mark now.

A rundown of how you go about BLW:
After you check off all the signs that baby is ready, you are ready to start. You will need a high chair or your lap. That is it. No special equipment, apart from the actual food.

You want baby to not be hungry. Breastmilk or formula will be the primary source of nutrients for the first full year. Eventually baby will learn that solids are a form of sustenance, but not right away. So, if she is hungry give her breastmilk or formula. After she has eaten and is in a good mood, then get her to the table to share in a family meal. One of the benefits of BLW is that you feed baby what you are eating, as long as it is healthy and can be shaped for her to grasp.

So, maybe you want roasted sweet potatoes for dinner. Cut them, roast them, let them cool, and then give them to her. Eat your roasted sweet potatoes and keep an eye on her, but let her do her thing. Babies are naturally curious about everything. They want to do what you are doing. If you are putting sweet potato sticks in your mouth, she will want to do the same.

And, that is about it. Don't add any salt to the foods you prepare. Stay away from nuts, egg whites, and honey. Talk to your pediatrician about any food allergies that run in the family. Don't give small food pieces to her right away (like blueberries), she'll grow into them. Start with soft foods cut into sticks. Be prepared for her to not eat anything, and don't try to talk her into it. Remember, she is in control. Be prepared for a big mess. Don't feed her processed food. Aim for the simplest, healthiest whole foods - lots of veggies and fruits. And, finally remember that gagging is not choking. Always talk to your pediatrician before starting any solids, and discuss if BLW is right for your baby.

More information, and links:

I am excited to get started, and a little nervous. There will most certainly be a follow up stay tuned. And, maybe wish me a little luck.

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