Friday, July 18, 2014

Our Adventures in Baby Led Weaning

Ever since Grey hit 4 months, he instantly started reaching for our dinner plates and grown up cups. It was almost like a second nature to him to want to try our food. I had only given him breast up till then and had not really given any other foods much thought though I knew I would be considering most solids until he hit 6 months, anyway! 

But one day, out of curiosity, he reached for my pork chop-and I let him gnaw on a piece. I was a little worried to let him try it since it was spiced. After a few minutes, he started going at it! At that point, I took it away because he was actually tearing off pieces with his little gums and I was so worried that he might choke.

To our amazement, he threw the biggest fit we had ever seen when we took the piece of meat away! We handed it back and lo & behold, Grey was calm as ever. We knew at this point that our son was a great candidate for BLW or Baby Led Weaning. 

Baby-led weaning is, it must be said, a somewhat cheesy term for just letting your infant self-feed. You cut food up into manageable sticks and offer it, they eat. It’s really pretty simple. The key difference between BLW and traditional weaning, when you think about it, is in the order that children learn to eat. With a puree, they learn to swallow first and then chew, which works fine until they meet a lump. With BLW, the babies learn to chew first and swallowing might come some time later.

It’s ‘baby-led’ in the sense that you let them do what they need to do while they’re learning, and as the parent you resist the urge to get wound up in knots about how much they’re eating, whether they like the food you thought they’d like and whether it’s smushed into the nearest curtain. The main thing is… it’s all good clean (messy) fun.

As far as benefits go, here are ten of the top benefits of BLW:

It’s enjoyable!
  • BLW babies look forward to eating; they enjoy learning about different foods and doing things for themselves
  • Playing an active part in mealtimes and being in control of what to eat, how much to eat and how fast to eat it make eating more enjoyable; the opposite can make mealtimes miserable
  • Being able to watch their child learn about food, without any pressure to ‘get her to eat’, means that mealtimes can be enjoyable for parents too
It’s natural
  • Babies follow their instincts to eat when they’re ready – just like any other baby animal
  • BLW uses the skills that all healthy babies are developing in the second half of their first year to help them to explore food at their own pace
  • BLW allows babies to follow their instincts to use their hands and their mouths to find out about all sorts of objects, including food
Learning to enjoy and trust food
  • With spoon-feeding all the tastes are puréed into one; BLW babies can discover different tastes and begin to learn how to recognise foods they like
  • BLW babies are keen to try new foods; they rarely become ‘picky’ eaters or suspicious of food as toddlers – probably because they are allowed to use their instincts to decide what to eat and what to leave
  • Enjoying a broad range of food is good for babies’ long-term nutrition as well as their enjoyment of eating
Learning to eat
  • BLW babies learn to manage different shapes and textures of food from the very beginning, so they quickly become skilled at dealing with a broad range of foods
  • Handling food himself and then putting it in his mouth helps a baby to work out how to manage foods of different sizes, shapes and textures
  • BLW babies learn how to move food around inside their mouths and how much they can safely put in; they tend to bite off small pieces to chew, whereas older babies who have been spoon fed often over-stuff their mouths when they are first allowed to feed themselves
  • Learning to chew effectively makes it more likely that babies will get all the nutrients they need – and it helps digestion too
  • Practising chewing as soon as they are ready helps babies to develop the facial muscles that will be needed as they learn to talk
Learning about their world
  • For babies, play is essential to learning; they learn about concepts such as less and more, size, shape, weight, texture and gravity just by ‘playing’ with their food
  • Because all their senses (sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste) are involved when they feed themselves, babies discover how to relate all these things together for a better understanding of the world around them
Reaching potential
  • BLW babies practise hand-eye coordination every time they use their fingers to take food to their mouths
  • Gripping foods of different sizes and textures several times a day improves babies’ dexterity
  • Allowing babies to do things for themselves helps them to learn and gives them confidence in their own abilities and judgement
Being part of family meals
  • Being included in family mealtimes, eating the same food and joining in the social time is fun for babies
  • Babies copy mealtime behaviour, so they naturally move on to using cutlery and adopt the table manners expected in their family
  • BLW babies learn about how different foods are eaten, how to share, wait their turn and how to make conversation
  • Sharing mealtimes has a positive impact on family relationships, social skills, language development and healthy eating
Developing healthy eating habits
  • Allowing babies to choose what to eat from a range of nutritious foods, to eat at their own pace, and to decide when they’ve had enough helps them to develop natural appetite control. This may be an important part of preventing food conflicts and obesity when they are older
  • Because they are involved in shared, healthy meals from the beginning, BLW babies are less likely to choose unhealthy foods when they are older (or to need separate ‘kids’ food’) and are therefore more likely to be better nourished, long term
Easier, less complicated meals
  • Puréeing food is time-consuming and fiddly, and can be expensive. With BLW, it just isn’t necessary. Provided the parents’ diet is healthy, they can easily adapt their meals for their baby
  • Eating out is easier too. BLW babies are used to eating round the table with adults and they enjoy ‘grown-up’ food – so families aren’t limited to restaurants with a ‘kids’ menu’
  • With BLW everyone eats together; the grown-ups don’t have to spoon-feed the baby while their own dinner goes cold and everyone is part of what’s going on
No mealtime battles
  • When there is no pressure on babies to eat, there is no opportunity for mealtimes to become a battleground, so problems such as food refusal and food phobias are much less likely
  • BLW respects babies’ decisions about what to eat (or not to eat) and when to stop eating, so there is no need for games (“Here comes the train!”) to try to fool a baby into accepting food she doesn’t want or to ‘trick’ toddlers into eating healthily
  • The whole family can enjoy stress-free meals together, meaning relaxed parents and happy children

Last night, we decided to give BLW a full on go! My son will be 6 months in a few days (sigh) and so we figured it was time to try it! I do still plan on breastfeeding for at least 24 months (or until he decides to wean), but as for dinners, I believe we will starting doing BLW every evening to get him used to the real thing. Besides, he alwayssss grabs at our plates and it is a constant battle when he cannot eat what we do!

His first BLW meal was a siroin, baked potato cubes, and corn on the cob. He did soooo well! He was obviously learning his gag reflex when he started making those coughing noises, but do not be alarmed-this is them learning to swallow. Just make sure that you are watching them like a hawk and not giving them very big pieces to chew on. I actually chewed on the steak a bit-being the paranoid mama that I am-just to make things a little safer! The baked potato cubes were baked to softness-not too mushy-and the corn was boiled. He absolutely had a blast!

To make sure your baby is ready for BLW, there are a few cues to follow:

  • Your baby shows interest in food and family meal times.
  • Your baby can sit without support.
  • Your baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (pushing solid foods out of the front of the mouth).
  • Your baby is ready and willing to chew (though he or she may not have many teeth).
  • Your baby can pick up items with the thumb and forefinger (pincer grasp) as opposed to using the whole hand (palmar grasp).

Baby led weaning is one of the #1 things I wish I knew about starting with my first kiddo. One thing left out here is about how babies have little to no lipase in their body. (What the pancreas makes to break down the fats in food to be absorbed into the body). There are negatives to starting your baby too soon. I will 100% do BLW with Isla because of this.
Photo Source: The Alpha Parent

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