3 reasons not to do Baby Led Weaning:
- The mess
- The waste
- The naysayers
but more on that shortly…
Family meal times are important moments in any family with a desire to be closely connected.
The kitchen is often the heart of a home and that’s definitely true in our house. Our main door opens into the kitchen, it’s where we greet visitors, where Pickle waits for her Papa to come home, where we often play, cook and eat together.
Meal times are an opportunity for a pause to the busyness of the day, for us to come together as a family. To share good quality eye contact, to reconnect and to be heard. It’s important for us that meals times feel good. We know in the years to come that they will be important scaffolding in the structure of a close family.
I’m sure that many of us set out with high ideals for ‘Walton’ style family dinners. My clients and peers over the years have shared stories of their dining rooms morphing into savage battle grounds where the humble carrot is taken up as the sword, the broccoli gets beheaded onto the floor and family members are lucky to escape with their lives – or at least their clothing, intact.
I have to admit that I don’t have the best memories of meal times when I was young either, they were never really a joyful affair. That is probably why I feel so strongly about creating a different feeling for our family now. I also know from years of experience in the team building industry that the simple act of sharing a meal can have a magical bonding impact on the most disparate of teams.
Any mum would likely agree that feeding children, particularly toddlers isn’t always the sugar coated fairytale we’d like it to be. I really do think there is an easier way than the route that may have been passed down from so many generations before. I believe that a baby-led approach to parenting, especially weaning, if done well, can make a monumental difference to how children approach food and eating. I am not a dietitian or nutritionist, just a mum who has used this approach and seen it used successfully many times. I addition to what i’ve set out below I would recommend you read Gill Rapleys baby led weaning book if you want to follow this approach for yourself.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning is an approach to weaning your child from milk to solids that lets them feed themselves when they are ready, from the very start of weaning. Essentially its a no mush approach to feeding that supports your baby’s natural development, so they begin to wean when they are physically ready to. Gill Rapley coined the phrase and wrote a great book of the same name which will get you well on your way.
What does it mean in practice? – The basics
Waiting until your baby is ready:
- When they can sit upright unsupported (not in a bumbo or other device)
- When they can take food and put it to their own mouth fairly successfully
- When they start to show an active interest in food.
Having your baby with you at meal times in the way any other family member would be included.
Offering your baby a balanced variety of the foods that you are eating in a way that makes it easier for them to access it and caters to their development stage. I.e starting with large pieces of softer foods that are easy to grip and chew without too many teeth so they can get used to moving food around in their mouth. Including foods from each food group at each meal.
Why we love baby led weaning.
It puts your child in the driving seat, gives them responsibility, power and choice which all contribute to self esteem and gives them the opportunity to control an important aspect of their life in a positive way.
It teaches your child to trust their body and recognise their own signals for being full. Essential in these times when eating disorders and obesity are a growing concern for many young people.
It helps babies learn to manage a variety of foods in their mouth from early on, reducing the risk of choking and also helps develop jaw muscles needed for chewing and speech.
It gets babies used to a variety of foods early on and doesn’t restrict them to “sanitised’ baby versions, making it more likely that they will continue to eat those foods down the road.
It saves time, money and stress in the short and long term. Because your baby eats the same meals as the rest of the family you don’t need to spend half your life in the kitchen preparing separate meals and freezing purees.
Essential elements of Baby Led Weaning
- Offer a balanced selection of food at every meal time.
- Trust that your baby can regulate the nutrients that he needs (provided you always offer a balance), i.e never force your baby to eat and allow them to stop when they want to.
- Give your baby solid food, ideally the same food that you are eating (with low salt and sugar and cooked appropriately) ensuring you take precautions against choking hazards and potential allergies.
3 things that get in the way of successful baby led weaning
- Worrying about how much your child has eaten. They will not starve themselves and get the vast majority of their nutrients from milk for the first year anyway.
- Commenting on how much or how little your child has eaten or praising/scolding for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ eating.
- Cleaning up too soon or worrying about the mess.
Key things that support a baby led approach
- Let your baby control their intake and the pace at which they eat.
- Offer a variety of attractive interesting food at each meal, without overloading them with too much choice.
- Give them cutlery but don’t worry if they don’t use it.
- Eating together as a family.
- Plan your meals to ensure you can achieve the balance and to reduce stress.
Things you can do to encourage enjoyable and stress free mealtimes.
- Make proper time and space for meals and eat at a table, not in a rush or in front of the TV. We go as far as to make a ceremony of at least one meal a day with candles and sometimes music.
- Relax and save talking about family worries for another time – anxiety interferes with digestion and can set up negative associations with eating for little ones.
- Remove other distractions from the table, no TV, laptops, phones, toys etc. The focus should be on the food and each other.
- Keep the conversation light and focused on the positives. You can use it as an opportunity to discuss highlights of the day or what you are looking forward to in the coming week. This is helpful even with babies who can’t talk as they will be picking up on the vibe whether they understand every word or not.
- Eat slowly and consciously, be comfortable with silence. It may provide a much needed break in the day for very young children from too much noise pollution or excess stimulus.
And finally to the downsides:
The mess and the waste– yep there’s no avoiding it really. Baby Led Weaning is a fairly messy business and food can get wasted. Depending on what you serve up, there’s a chance that a lot of it will end up in their hair, down their front and all over the floor.
There are ways to reduce the mess and clean up operation and to limit waste.
- Limit the amount of food on their tray at any one time. Less will get thrown and you can determine what they fancy and offer more or less accordingly.
- Avoid using plates or bowls that are not stuck down in the early days as these just get flung about – it’s amazing how far yoghurt can travel at speed.
- Avoid wheatabix – it sets like cement! although is known as a bit of a baby led weaning right of passage
- Use a clean splash mat so that dropped food that’s not too smushed can be returned to the high chair tray for another go and it can be easily wiped clean after meals.
- Cut the food into easy to handle sized pieces and don’t over cook vegetables so they don’t automatically squish on contact.
- Do naked lunch – in the early days we would strip the Pickle down to her vest or nappy at meal times to avoid worrying about yet another change of clothes.
- Eat outside. Great for the summer when it’s warm enough you can just hose down the high chair and not worry about the mess.
The mess does reduce as they get more competent. I have noticed that baby led weaners’ learn to use cutlery and master drinking from cups a lot faster simply due to the amount of practice they get early on.
This may be the biggest challenge for some wanting to try an alternative approach. Particularly if you are regularly around parents or grandparents at meal times who are used to doing things the old fashioned way. You may find yourself inundated with comments about the mess and have to handle their projected fears about your baby choking or playing with their food.
It can help to talk through your planned approach before hand and casually go over the basics. Explain why you are choosing to do it, reassure them that it’s a safe approach and if anything will reduce the likelihood of your baby choking as they will be learning early on how to manage all sorts of consistencies of food. Most importantly encourage well meaning family and friends to limit their comments about the way that your baby is eating or how much or how little they are managing to eat – especially within ear shot of your child. If necessary avoid too many meal times when your child will have an audience, at least until a good routine is established.
Remember, if you have confidence in your choices about how to feed your child, or any other aspect of parenting for that matter, then other people are more likely to trust and go along with your decisions.
There are loads of great resources on the web for Baby Led Weaning recipies and advice. Baby Led Weaning.com is a great place to start.