Your baby is now 6 months old and ready to enter the world of solid foods. So, is it going to be purees or baby-led weaning (BLW) for her?
A term coined by Gill Rapley, who co-authored Baby-led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods, BLW is a form of feeding that's all about giving your baby control over her food. You let her play, explore, and figure out that food belongs in her mouth. It’s also about letting her develop her own motor skills to place the food in her mouth, and learn to swallow it.
Explains paediatric dietitian Meave Graham, “Your baby observes and is offered the chance to take part in family mealtimes. Foods are placed in front of your baby. She can handle and explore the food, then bring the food to her mouth to taste in her own time.”
The alternative to BLW is the traditional form of introducing solids which involves cooking (if needed), mashing or pureeing different foods, and spoon-feeding baby, so as to introduce her to new tastes and textures.
Mum of two Jacintha Loy, had two very different experiences when starting her kids, Marlene, 1, and Trevor, 4, on solid foods. She is a firm believer that Marlene is a better eater because she took the BLW route.
“With Trevor, I went out and got a steamer-blender, and printed out charts of recommended first foods,” she shares. “I was extremely diligent with making sure he tried out a new type of puree once every three days, and I made batches of purees and froze them in small portions.”
Despite all her hard work, she says that Trevor would usually take a taste or two, make a face and spit it all out. “That was ok. I read you need to let them try new foods at least 10 to 15 times before they accepted it, which was what I did,” she chuckles. “I don’t know how I had so much patience, but I just persevered,” she adds.
“She would hold the food in her hand, try to stuff some into her mouth, or just squish it with her fingers.”
Unfortunately, she feels that Trevor is now quite picky about what he eats, “He doesn’t eat much, and hates most veggies,” she sighs. “A lot of the time, I still have to spoon food into his mouth to force him to eat.”
With her daughter Marlene, Loy says she just felt she couldn’t go through the whole pureeing process all over again. “To be honest, I was so tied up with an active toddler, that Marlene’s 6 month-mark came and went, and it only occurred to me that she was 6 months old when she tried to grab a piece of rock melon that I was munching on one day,” Loy laughs.
Loy was amused by Marlene’s fascination with the piece of fruit and decided to let her hold it. To her delight, Marlene brought it to her mouth and started gumming it. “She absolutely loved it! I had heard of baby-led weaning before that, but only then did I actually think that maybe it would work.”
Instead of bringing out her old steamer-blender and going through her list of foods to puree, Loy joined a BLW Facebook group that shared experiences and recipes. “Reading other mums’ experiences got me excited to try something new with Marlene,” she adds.
So, while she was still spoon-feeding her first born, she would sit Marlene on her high chair with the family at the dinner table, and place bits of food on her plate. “It could be steamed broccoli, bits of carrots or potatoes. I would shape rice into little balls so she could handle it. She would watch us, intrigued. She would hold the food in her hand, try to stuff some into her mouth, or just squish it with her fingers,” says Loy. “Sometimes, she would make a face, sometimes she would ask for more. All the time, she would make a mess!”
But that made meals fun, Loy adds. While she felt stressed and anxious feeding Trevor as a baby, she finds that mealtimes with Marlene are a lot more light-hearted. “She looks forward to food, something Trevor never did. I really, really hope this means that she won’t be picky in the future!”
Not all mums are fans of the BLW method, though. Stacey Teo, mum to Charlotte, 3, says she gave it a go when her daughter was 6 months old, but didn’t succeed.
“The idea appealed to me because I can’t wait for my daughter to be able to self-feed! It’s an important skill and I thought BLW would help her along,” she shares. “I would cut up all the pieces of food – we tried things like apple slices, bananas, carrots, even pasta pieces, but she never – not once – tried to put it in her mouth.”
“I thought there was something wrong with her for simply refusing to put food into her mouth.”
Teo recalls that Charlotte would play with the food, then completely lose interest. “I tried to be chill about it, but after two weeks, I started worrying that I was delaying her introduction to solid foods, so I caved and made some pumpkin puree.”
Her daughter took to it immediately. “I was relieved because I thought there was something wrong with her for simply refusing to put food into her mouth. “I think maybe BLW does work for some babies – but not all,” Loy adds.
Still undecided if BLW is the way to go? This pros and cons list may help:
- No pressure Bubba can progress at her own pace, says Graham. She also learns to self-regulate and not overeat.
- In control Your baby is given the opportunity to develop her fine motor skills and hand-to-mouth coordination.
- Exploration Junior gets to interact and explore the tastes and textures of different foods.
- Less hassle Purees are time consuming – it’s easier to feed your munchkin the same thing you serve others.
- You relax Your baby feeds herself, so you can eat at the same time!
- Insufficient iron Certain foods may be omitted from your little one’s diet, notably, iron-rich foods that are necessary after 6 months.
- Suitability Not all babies take to BLW.
- Enough food If junior has not mastered her pincer-grasp, she may not be able to eat enough via BLW.
- Sodium If your baby is taking the same food as the rest of the family, you need to watch the sodium levels.
That said, Graham notes that parents can opt for a combination approach. “As well as allowing your baby to explore finger foods, mums and dad may also opt to offer some foods from a spoon,” she says. A spoon can also be given to the baby to encourage her to dip into the food, and if she wishes, bring it to her own mouth. “It doesn’t have to be a case of one way or the other. A combination often works very well,” Graham advises.
If you are thinking about whether to take the BLW route, or spoon-feeding, you need to be sure that your little one is ready. Here are some signs that your sweetie is ready to start solids, according to Graham.
- She seems dissatisfied after a milk feed and is constantly hungry. She may start to demand more frequent feeds.
- She may also show an interest in food – by reaching out for food items, or by watching others with interest while they are eating.
- She is chewing and dribbling more frequently.
- She is able to sit up with support and has strong head control.
Graham recommends that you start with “stick-shaped” pieces of food, including fruits and vegetables, crusts and toasts, large pasta shapes, and long strips of meat.
It’s important never to leave your baby alone with food.
Safety is of primary concern when you are feeding your baby – so it’s important never to leave your baby alone with food.
Choking is different from gagging. Choking happens when something completely or partially blocks the airways, while gagging is a safety mechanism that safeguards against choking. Many babies gag when they’re learning to manage solid food in their mouths, which is a way of helping them to learn to eat safely, notes Graham. “It teaches them not to overfill their mouths or to push food too far back before they’ve chewed it.”
Graham also shares the following safety tips:
- Make sure your baby is sitting upright when eating, and is not leaning back or slumping in a chair.
- Keep whole nuts out of reach.
- Offer larger fruits such as apples, in big pieces.
- Cut small fruits like grapes and cherries in half (lengthwise for oval shapes) and remove any stones or pips.
- Remove the skin from sausages, and gristle and bones from meat and fish.
- Don’t let anyone else put food in your baby’s mouth, including helpful older children.
It’s important to realise that feeding your baby can be a slow and messy process, so forget about aiming for perfection. What you’re going for is a fun and learning experience for your young ‘un and yourself!
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