Monday, August 31, 2009

Baby Led Weaning

We're back from our big trip. Still getting ourselves and the house organised but we had a great time and Phoebe changed loads. More about that later.

One of the big changes is that Phoebe hit the 6 month milestone and is now being weaned. We started her on solids when she was about 5 months old but just put food in front of her and let her play with it and only really did this a few times. On her 6 month birthday we started feeding her a meal a day (apart from the following day which was our big party in the UK) and over the last couple of weeks we've gradually built up to two or three meals a day.

Despite all of the Annabelle Karmel recommendations we decided to follow the Baby Led Weaning (BLW) philosophy popularised by UK health visitor Gill Rapley. The basic idea is that you let the baby feed itself. It really is as simple as that. No pureeing or spoon-feeding.

According to Rapley a baby will be unable to feed itself food that it is not capable of chewing and safely swallowing and digesting, provided a few basic precautions are taken, such as not offering food that could be easily swallowed whole and choked upon, such as peanuts. The baby is offered a selection of food and chooses what she wants to eat and how much. Food is not forced down the baby's throat and she can explore a range of colours, tastes and textures. Babies are less likely to choke because they are feeding on finger foods earlier when the gag reflex is further forward on the tongue. They are more likely to be able to regulate their appetite and tell when they are full. They are less likely to become fussy eaters because they choose want they want to eat, having explored it with their hands and eyes first, and avoided any mealtime battles. The first few months between 6 and 12 months of age is all about learning to eat and having fun and most of the baby's nutrition comes from its milk feeds at this time any way. Rapley says that our tendency to feed babies purees and mash comes from solids were started at 3 or 4 months when most babies are unable to sit up never mind feed themselves. Now WHO recommendations are to exclusively breast feed until 6 months, an age when most babies are capable of handling finger foods. The main guideline is to provide food that is shaped so that the baby can grab it with enough sticking out one end of their fist for them to place it in their mouth.

We have had immense success with this over the last couple of weeks. Phoebe often just has whatever we're eating but I also steam organic vegetables just for her. She's had carrot, broccoli, cauliflower, roast beef, chicken, kangaroo steak, Weetabix (known as Weetbix here in Australia) softened with milk and shaped into fingers, toast with avocado, pear, melon, plum, strawberries, salmon amongst others. I have attempted some spoon feeding as I was concerned she wasn't getting enough iron after encountering a few green nappies. I tried yoghurt and baby oats but the experience was less than fun for both of us. Rather than eating together I had to feed her and then me (or vice versa). As she still hasn't figured out that she can satisfy her hunger with food rather than milk I am still doing just as many breastfeeds so I felt like my entire day was taken up with either breastfeeding her, preparing her food, attempting to feed it to her and then clearing up afterwards before having my own meal and starting the cycle again. And boy... the mess!!

The experience was no more pleasant for her. She really didn't want to be spoon-fed, preferring to grab the spoon from my hand and chew on that. And I tried the old two spoon trick but try feeding a baby whose mouth is full of spoon. She couldn't have been less interested in the food I was trying to give her, a stark contrast to the enthusiasm with which she feeds herself.

So I've ditched spoon-feeding altogether for a few weeks until she is better able to handle a spoon herself. I'm amazed at her progress in such a short time. She's able to bite bits off and chew them, spitting out any bits that are too big for her. With meat she just chews and sucks the juices. This morning for breakfast she had slices of fruit, for lunch she had home-made fish fingers made with salmon, pumpkin and sweet potato. They just crumbled when she grabbed them but she still managed to scoop up the bits with her little hands and shove them in her mouth. She's working on her pincer grip. Tonight she had kangaroo steak, celery, broccoli and carrot. She also tried a slightly cooked cherry tomato but we decided that the skin was a bit of a choking hazard.

For more information and recipes google Baby led weaning or BLW. There are a number of blogs and forums devoted to the subject. Surprisingly, despite my bringing Rapley's book along to a get-together and enthusiastically summarising the main points to my mum friends, none of them have chosen to go down this road (although Lucie is keen when Amelie turns 6 months in a couple of months time). They all diligently bring out their little freezer pots of pureed vegetables every week. But then, their babies are all very neat and keen spoon feeders.

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