My little guy has just passed the six month mark, and his personality is really starting to show. Overall he’s a pretty chilled out baby, and very social and friendly, and he just LOVES food! I’ll be honest, I wasn’t expecting him to love food this much, this early! He’s actually a bit obsessed with food (hmmmm….wonder who he gets that from?).
My initial plan was to exclusively breastfeed him until he was at least 6 months old, however as early as 3 ½ months he was showing clear signs of wanting to eat – he would take a swipe at whatever I was eating and bring it straight to his mouth, and whenever he saw food on the table he would just stare and stare at it. I started feeding him some purees and he loved them, however he still wanted to have whatever we were eating.
I recalled a lactation consultant mentioning something called ‘baby-led weaning’ where you follow the baby’s cues as to when to start solids, what they want to eat and how much. But the most interesting thing about this practice of feeding was that you just offer them whole pieces of food (i.e. no purees) and let them feed themselves (i.e. no spoon feeding). She even said you could give your baby a piece of steak! “But won’t they choke?” I asked…”Nope, they just chew away on it and they’re fine” she replied. I still didn’t quite believe it as I’d never heard of a baby going straight from breastfeeding to eating steak!
After a couple of weeks of feeding Bodhi purees and him getting fed up with me trying to spoon feed him (he would grab the spoon off me every time) and still wanting what we were eating, I decided to give baby-led weaning a go. I won’t lie, I was quite nervous and a bit skeptical at first to be giving him whole pieces of food when he had no teeth and no idea.
The first foods I gave him were whole pieces of avocado and banana. He found them tricky to grasp at first but eventually got them to his mouth and he took a bite out of the banana (with no teeth) and tried swallowing it – he started gagging and retching. It gave me a bit of a fright, however luckily I’d read and had been warned that this was quite normal and they have a natural gagging reflex which brings the food back up and will prevent them from choking, so I was relatively calm and just watched him carefully and he brought it back up. Surprisingly it didn’t put him off trying to eat more! Later on, I realised that he was trying to swallow the foods straight away because drinking breastmilk and purees only require swallowing, no chewing needed. If you think about it, milk and purees teach how to swallow before baby can chew, whereas baby-led weaning teaches baby to chew, before swallowing. Over the next couple of days I tried it again and he had a few other gagging incidences and I was ready to give up. But then suddenly he stopped gagging and I noticed he was mushing up the food in his mouth! It was quite amazing – it was clear he was starting to learn that he needed to do more to the food than just swallow it. On top of that, it was amazing to watch his motor-skill development as he learnt to pick up foods of different shapes and textures and bring them to his mouth himself.
Now I lay out 3-4 different foods at a time in front of him and he can sit there for ages, absolutely fascinated by their different colours, textures and flavours. He now can very happily sit at the dining table with us for an hour and just eats the same food that we do (slightly modified), and he feels like he’s a part of family meal times. Furthermore, I don’t have to specially prepare anything for him, I don’t have to spoon feed him either – I just eat my meal at the same time he feeds himself, saving me time. It’s made feeding times so much more fun and interesting for him, and us.
His current favourites are slices of avocado, pear, sticks of cucumber, lightly steamed fingers of apple, carrots, pumpkin and orange kumara, pork ribs (he goes crazy for them!), broccoli florets (not kidding!) and yes, steak! He will suck and chew on a piece of steak until all the juices have been sucked out of it and it is grey and limp. He’s also had salmon, chicken, lettuce, tomato, and asparagus. So far, asparagus has been the only thing he hasn’t liked. His asparagus face was pretty funny!
So if you’re interested in this way of eating, look up baby-led weaning and give it a go. There’s lots you can read up on, but here are a few key things to know:
- Make sure baby is NOT hungry when you do it (i.e. make sure they’ve had their milk feed whether from breast or the bottle) or else they will get frustrated and angry with not being able to eat much, and they won’t enjoy the experience.
- Make sure baby is strong enough to sit up in a high chair and support themselves upright (leaning back increases the risk of choking)
- The foods need to be finger or stick shapes, so that baby can grasp it and have a ‘handle’ – avoid foods that are of choking hazard shapes e.g. whole nuts, cherry tomatoes, grapes etc (these have to be cut in half). Peel fruit like apples or pears as the skins can be a bit tough.
- Don’t give foods that have added salt or sugar – if you’ve cooked things with sauces or salt on it, you can wash it off under water e.g. just wash a piece of meat under the tap to remove any sauce or saltiness. Babies don’t need any salt or sugar!
- Only offer the foods, don’t force them or pressure them to eat anything, or hold it in their mouth.
- I think it’s a good idea to check their mouths quickly after an meal, just in case they’re hiding any little bits of food in their cheek pockets – once I found a sneaky piece of uneaten broccoli in Bodhi’s cheek.
- Be prepared for mess, it’s part of the game sorry. But hey, it can be fun! Just invest in some good bibs and maybe a plastic mat
- I recommend you familiarise yourself with the difference between gagging and choking (look up some videos on YouTube) so you are confident with what is normal and what’s not. And know what to do in the off chance your baby does choke – choking is a potential hazard with both whole pieces of foods and purees, so you should know what to do regardless of whether you practice baby-led weaning or not.
There are heaps of other benefits to baby-led weaning, including long-term benefits. Researchers reckon this way of feeding is associated with lower obesity rates because they learn to regulate their appetite at a younger age. It’s also associated with less picky eating and a lower risk of eating disorders. For me, it has been great because it feels more natural and is much more fun and convenient for all of us!
Click on the images below to check out what my little guy is eating!
To be doing what I am today is a dream come true. It all started when I was 12 years old. I was watching TV after school one day and Jamie Oliver was cooking up a storm on The Naked Chef.