Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It turns out, we are having solids week here on H + L. A while back I said something about baby led weaning on twitter. Kristen mentioned that she has been feeding her boy Dax that way, and I jumped on the chance to ask her to write us a guest post and tell us more. Thanks Kristen!

So we've all been feeding our babies however we've managed to for some months. By wizardry, by divining for water, by panning for gold, by osmosis, our babies have grown into plump or lean miniature humans who can sit up and look us in the eyes. And now for whatever reason, we're in a hurry to feed the baby our scraps of dinner, to try on cute bibs,
to perfect family recipes and calibrate our wee ones to its texture and flavor, to do more laundry and get on our hands and knees to wash the floor, ahem... or to labor over perfect mixtures to freeze for effortless afternoons to come, to show our baby what our lives really
revolve around, real food.

Enter Baby-Led Weaning, or BLW.

Celia touched on BLW in her Monday post -- and I'm here to add my own experiences regarding BLW.

Let's start by explaining what this BLW is. Contrary to the way it sounds, BLW is not "weaning" in the typical sense; it simply means to start the weaning process and leave the weaning entirely up to the baby. It can take weeks; it can take years. The crux of BLW is
essentially that you start off baby on whole foods rather than spoon- feeding him or her, and in this way allow the baby to explore texture and self-satisfaction, as you offer him or her as much food as he or she is interested in eating at each offering.

Many BLWers will also cite the signs of readiness for baby to start eating: Sitting unassisted; Tongue-thrust reflex is gone; Pincer grasp is present; & the baby is 6 months of age.

All of the signs are intended to minimize the risk of choking on food, as a baby that presents all signs are technically ready to chew and swallow food on their own. From everything that I've read, the guideline of 6 months is to both ensure the other signs of readiness and also that the baby's digestive system has been given sufficient time to mature from what is called "open gut," a period of time during which "spaces between the cells of the small intestines will readily allow intact macromolecules, including whole proteins and pathogens, to pass directly into the bloodstream," to "closed gut." However, there is a dearth of authoritative information on this subject, so it's left open for mothers to debate.

I have been thinking about how to write about BLW and the truth is that at 15 months of babyhood, I don't care much about BLW. But that in itself became kind of interesting to me. As with other parenting choices, the time they are relevant in our lives is so short comparatively. By the time we feel confident about our decisions, it's time to move on. BLW might just be another thing to feel weird about, or to feel strongly about only to not care a few short months later when it seems like everyone's babies are eating big chunks of food.

In our own experience, my son, Dax, did not express much interest in solid foods until he was 12 months old. Furthermore, he was completely inept at swallowing even the softest chunks of sweet potato. An alarming and embarrassing scenario: Eating dinner with my sister and her friend with a 9 month old baby, I gave Dax a chunk of tofu to everyone's encouragement. This resulted in Dax gagging and puking milk all over me at the dinner table. He was 11 months old. When he was 9 months old, my friends with 7 month olds were feeding their babies whole black beans and seeded bread. But we stuck to food processed in a handheld food mill, or food served in a mesh feeder, or honestly just nursed, because that's what felt right most of the time. Our pediatrician wasn't concerned and the LLL (la leche league) leaders assured me it was okay. When 12 months rolled around, it was like a switch turned on, and Dax started eating table food vigorously. That's just how he rolled!

purees vs whole foods

I would like to clear up one misconception about BLW. I feel like too much emphasis is placed on the wholeness of food. In my opinion, it is more about self-feeding and letting the baby dictate the quantity of food eaten. Even though I milled Dax's table food, I would stick it to his broad wooden spoon and let him feed himself. (Much to my mother's dismay, Dax would never let us feed him, and has only recently tolerated me shoving food in his mouth.) It is totally possible to both perfect your soft babyfood concoctions and and also practice BLW.
Yes, the spoon will end up on the floor. Often. But guess what -- this happens all the time with older babies anyway, so get used to it!

Or conversely, don't worry about it. If your baby isn't showing a lot of interest in actually eating, it's totally okay. However you've been feeding him or her so far is more than sufficient. Solid food is not as calorically-dense as breastmilk & formula; a little milk goes a
longer way in terms of weight gain and nutrient delivery than a chunk of sweet potato will. Even fatty foods like avocado and tofu are less suited for the task of growing a human brain, so there's no hurry.

But I will admit that despite the quickening of laundry loads and extra prep and cleaning, feeding babies is fun and BLW is a pleasant way to do it. Dax's delayed appetite coincided with the start of berry season, and every time he jammed a summer raspberry into his mouth it was like watching a coin tossed into a winning slot machine. I kept a mental tally of how many berries he had consumed as if to hold the nutrient-content of his little body a little closer. He was choosing to eat this food, and it was a good choice. Maybe in some way BLW is about that -- Beyond exploring texture and taste, it is about facilitating choice independently early on and reinforcing that behavior. That's the beauty of baby-led weaning that can be hard to grasp in the moment, especially if that moment seems to take too long
-- The baby leads us, and we guide them by simply following.

1 comment:

  1. what a great post! yes, truly, it comes down to the fact that our babies are all individuals, and what works for one may not work for another. cheech is determined to feed herself, which i think is fantastic. i do help her guide the spoon a bit though, and even with my assistance, it still manages to end up gooped on her eyelashes and smeared in the most unexpected places. but alas, that is the charm!