When Eleni was about 5 months old, we decided to try a little bit of baby oatmeal cereal mixed in with breast milk. She wasn’t super keen. We weren’t discouraged, didn’t put pressure on her, and were definitely content with her only eating breast milk (to be honest we still are.) Our motto with Eleni’s eating is “If it’s before age one, it’s just for fun!” This has helped to keep the pressure off, and made our food journey with her less stressful and more playful.
Since the oatmeal cereal we’ve been playing around with different purees and mashed up foods but the child simply won’t be spoon-fed! She does not want it. She will clamp her mouth shut and you cannot open it! Again, we have not made this a stressful thing for us or her – I want her to enjoy food as much as I do. At this age of her life when she really doesn’t need fruit and veggie purees, I’m not going to force it.
One thing I was surprised by however was how much she absolutely loves chewing on raw baby carrots (under very close supervision of course). Not only does it feel amazing on her gums, she seems to really like the taste. I really think that she loves the independence of being able to feed herself too. This weekend as I was watching her chew away on a little carrot and then occasionally pick up one of her wafers to gnaw on I was reminded of something I had seen during my research when I was pregnant – Baby Led Weaning. (SIDE NOTE: ‘Weaning’ has a different meaning/connotation in America than it does in other parts of the world. When I talk about ‘weaning’ I am not referring to taking Eleni off of breast milk and encouraging her onto foods completely. I am talking about simply ‘adding complementary foods’ to what she’s already consuming)
The general concept is to allow the baby to feed herself right from the start of the weaning process. It encourages them to develop healthy portion control habits, a healthy appetite for most foods, but also the ability to distinguish between their likes and dislikes. With pureed foods babies learn to swallow first, and then they learn how to chew later on. With Baby Led Weaning (BLW from now on) babies learn to chew and then swallow – helping them to eat safely and causing less of a disruption later on when inevitably you have to introduce your child to ‘real’ food. Very often at this stage, when breast milk (or formula, if that’s what you’re using) is still the number one source of nutrition the baby will just chew on her food and learn about textures and tastes, not even swallowing anything until she’s ready – which could take a little while! This is the stage that Eleni is in. We’re introducing the idea of feeding herself (which she loves) and she’s learning how to use her gums and her two little teeth, even though she is not really swallowing any of it. By starting her on this journey now, it really doesn’t matter whether she swallows her food or not because her main (and at the moment, her only) source of nutrition is from my milk. So the pressure is off, there is no stress or coercing her trying to get her to eat – we’re just having fun!
What about choking???!!! This was really my husband’s number one concern when I approached him with this idea. And he was totally right to be worried about that – we need to constantly be checking and rechecking to make sure we’re doing the right thing for our baby! So I did a little more research, and what I found makes a world of sense. I’ve already talked about the process of babies learning to chew first and then swallow with BLW, and as with anything in life – use your common sense! It is so important to make sure that the food you’re giving your baby is not something she is likely to choke on easily and that when you give food to your baby you don’t just walk away – you need to watch her at all times because accidents do happen. Many reliable websites that I’ve looked at insist that babies are actually less likely to choke with the BLW approach because they have control over what they’re putting in their mouths and how far back it goes. As long as your baby is sitting upright while eating and is monitored closely, the risk of choking is very minimal.
So far Eleni has had hard boiled eggs (I don’t really want to get into the whole ‘allergy’ thing right now), a crust of Naan bread and a strawberry, on top of chewing on baby carrots and some organic spinach/kale/apple wafers. I am excited to keep introducing her to new foods, and to watch her love of food develop over the years. If you’re interested in taking this approach with your baby, feel free to comment on this post – I would love to answer any questions that I can and provide support!