I’m sure you realize that jarred baby food mixtures lining the baby aisles at Target are exclusively a modern phenomenon.
While the companies that manufacture these products spend a heckuva lot of money to have you believe that their small jars are the perfect marriage of nutrition and convenience, I am here to tell you that it’s a big fat lie. The modern baby food industry is neither healthy nor convenient.
If you want to go the route of pureeing everything in sight and mashing things together in bizarre flavor combinations and spoon-feeding them into baby’s mouth, hey – who am I to judge? You go right on ahead with your awesome pureeing self. But for all of those mamas who simply don’t know that there’s another way – this post is for you.
You do not have to buy food in jars from stores in order to feed your baby. You also don’t have to replicate that process on a homemade scale. There’s an even simpler way.
Mothers throughout history did not have access to Heinz baby food in jars, “conveniently” labelled by age, containing gloopy blends of random foods that no grown person in their right mind would willingly consume of their own volition.
So what did they do?
Well, first of all – they almost always breastfed. Breastfeeding is the historically normal way to feed a baby. Even today, the World Health Organization recommends that a baby be breastfeed up to two years and beyond (As of right now, Canaan is 20 months and quite fond of mama’s milk at wake-up and bedtime).
Beyond that, what do you do? Many people think of weaning as the end of breastfeeding (or formula if you use it), but in actuality, weaning simply refers to the beginning of the introduction of foods beyond milk. So when baby has her first taste of solid food, the weaning process has begun.
But the baby food sold in stores is not actually considered a very healthy choice for babies. Highly processed, often using fillers and undesirable added ingredients, it is one of those things that is fine in the grand scheme of things, but let’s not forget to set our standards high and stay true to them as we are able.
Nonetheless, even the sad state of nutrition and the unnecessary ingredients are not the primary reason for why we chose to do baby-led weaning. It is actually an entirely different philosophy of food for babies altogether.
So then: what is Baby-Led Weaning, anyway?
image via flickr cc
Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) defined
It is simply allowing the baby to eat table food on his own timetable and of his own volition. It doesn’t involve spoon-feeding pureed homemade foods into his mouth (except for the obvious exceptions, like applesauce, which many BLW parents allow babies to attempt on their own anyway), and it doesn’t involve weird orange-ish or greenish coloured mixtures in a jar from a store. It is intentionally respectful to his personhood and his choices.
It goes a little something like this: make dinner. Serve the family. Place a bit on baby’s tray. Watch him explore and enjoy. The end.
Why it’s great
1. Easier and more convenient.
The baby explores and feeds himself while you eat your own food. “Puree Homemade baby food” doesn’t have to be on your to-do list any more than “puree homemade grown-up food” does. You will probably also experience less mealtime battles, as the baby is respected to take control of what goes in her own mouth (out of the selection you provide).
2. Regular food is far more enjoyable than pureed food.
I had extensive jaw surgery when I was in high school. Both of my jaws were broken and repositioned using titanium screws and plates. I couldn’t eat for months. At first I had to have totally liquified food.
Imagine your Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Now imagine it all in the blender, with water to thin it out. Mmmmm – appetizing, no? Actually, it was disgusting. I hated every second of it because it tasted NOTHING like turkey dinner. I could barely choke it down. I am naturally thin, but I went down to 92lbs after surgery because I lost the desire to eat.
As I can testify: a steady diet of pureed baby food denies the pleasure of the incredible array of textures and colours that are in our foods, and that’s a misfortune indeed.
3. Helps build an appreciation for a large variety of textures, colours, and tastes.
Baby-led weaning allows baby to decide when he is full, helping him develop a healthy sense of satiety.
Many studies have actually found that forcing a child to finish their plate no matter what can contribute to over-eating habits later in life, from not being allowed to develop and listen to their own sense of when they’ve had enough.
4. Goes along nicely with a Real Food philosophy.
You don’t need cereals (we avoid grains for the first year, minimum) and jars of factory-processed purees. Gnawing on a chicken leg, gumming pieces of fresh peaches in the summer, mushing around some chunks of avocado and licking it off your fingers… baby-led weaning encourages and celebrates all of that.
It coincides perfectly to the Real Food philosophy of eating food in its natural form as much as possible, without adulteration or factory processing.
5. Helps practice hand-eye coordination.
Babies who are allowed to practice baby-led weaning are likely to more easily develop hand-eye coordination, and be able to be self-sufficient in feeding fairly quickly.
My youngest (we did BLW with 2 out of 3 of our kids) has been feeding himself anything and everything since he was 14 months old. He was almost exclusively breastfed for a long time – he was not interested in eating solids until after a year old – but once he got started there was no stopping him.
Because he was given a spoon and bowl from the start, he was able to do things like successfully feed himself a bowl of chili at 15 months old.
Tips to Remember:
- Big hunks of food are best to start, not small diced pieces, while the pincer grasp is still developing.
- Never leave baby unattended!
- Be prepared for mess. Remember that playing with food as a baby is an important pre-cursor to a healthy food relationship later in life.
- Young babies typically have a built-in reflex that pushes food out of the mouth from the back of the throat to prevent choking. Exploration is an important part of the process.
- Remember to avoid the common choking hazards in the first year, like popcorn and nuts, etc.
How to Know If Baby is Ready?
If baby is sitting up, reaching for things in a coordinated fashion, developing the pincer grasp (picking things up between the thumb and forefinger), and showing a great interest in the food, then she’s probably ready.
If she can’t get it into her own mouth easily, she’s probably not ready to eat it.
So, let’s say you make a lovely roast chicken with mashed potatoes and broccoli for dinner. Set the table, set the serving dishes before your family, and carve your chicken. Place a few chunks of chicken, a couple pieces of broccoli, and a blob of mashed potatoes on a plate, and put it on your baby’s tray. Or, if you’ve been around the baby-loves-throwing-food block a time or two before, you’ve wised up and will place those foods directly on baby’s tray. (Ha! Mama wins this round, babycakes.)
It’s simple, intuitive, and a complete joy to watch. A baby experiencing the many different foods that our world has to offer, and slowly falling in love with them, is an amazing thing to witness.