From guest blogger – Sioned Bannister
When the time came to introduce my baby Isla to solid foods, I was pretty excited. Mainly because I love, love, love food, of all shapes, sizes and varieties, so I was really hoping that Isla would take after me and enjoy exploring a new food-filled world. And, after five solid months of breastfeeding, I think we were both ready for some new tastes and experiences.
I loved the concept of Baby-Led Weaning because it just seemed to make so much sense to me. Why limit a baby to pureed carrot and apple, when they’re capable of eating much more solid food straight away, and at their own pace?
So just what is baby-led weaning? It’s basically a way of introducing solid food that lets your baby feed herself. There are no spoons and no purees so the theory is that it’s easy to feed the baby what the rest of the family are eating, and it takes advantage of babies’ natural curiosity when it comes to food. Advocates of Baby-Led Weaning believe it allows babies to explore more tastes and smells, encourages independence and decision making and by allowing your baby a bit more control over what they eat it reduces the chances of a fussy eater later on, as well as the risk of obesity.
Isla was 5 months old when we started introducing food. I’d sit her at the table with us at mealtimes and place a few slices of soft fruit or fingers of well-cooked vegetables in front of her.
It helps if the food is finger-shaped because babies will be able to grasp it easily. She was soon swiping food from the table and trying (although not always succeeding) to shove it into her mouth. Even though she only had two small teeth then, it was amazing to watch her chomp and mash the food between her gums.
I found that Isla was keen to try anything I put in front of her. Some things she spat out at first, although I often found that if I tried again a few days later she would more than likely try it then.
For the most part, deciding what to give Isla was easy – strips of vegetables, fingers of toast or pitta, finger veg like green beans or asparagus or slices of meat or omlette and as her pincer grip improved in the following months, she could start to pick up pieces of scrambled egg and clumps of rice.
The only thing I found about Baby-Led Weaning was that it was sometimes difficult to give Isla what we were eating – a spaghetti bolognese, curry or shepherds pie for example. So I decided to mix it up a bit and tried her with some spoon fed spag bol, and she loved it. It wasn’t long before she was grabbing the spoon from me, eager to feed herself more.
Although this diversion with a spoon wasn’t sticking strictly to Baby-Led Weaning, using a variety of feeding techniques has worked for us as a family, and that’s the most important thing I think. Isla’s a great eater who loves a huge array of different foods, and so far hasn’t shown any fussy tendencies.
There’s a huge amount of information out there about Baby-Led Weaning, but here are my tips for happy meal-times:
- Wait until your baby is ready – she should be able to sit up, and should be showing an interest in food (staring or grabbing at food on your plate for example).
- Don’t worry if they don’t eat much. Babies won’t starve themselves, and just like adults they want more some days than others.
- Make mealtimes fun – your baby will probably pick up on your signals if you’re stressing about what they eat and how much mess there is, so try to not worry too much about either, and have some fun along with your baby.
- Try lots of things – I was surprised that Isla loves strong tasting food like curry, mackerel fish cakes and asparagus, but she does! So long as you bear in mind the usual weaning guidelines that babies shouldn’t have too much salt, sugar or any whole nuts (and cut foods like cherry tomatoes, grapes or olives in half first), then babies can eat pretty much anything!
- Don’t stress about following all the rules, or worry about “exclusively” doing baby-led weaning. If you want to experiment with finger food and some spoon fed foods then go for it. You instinctively know what your baby is ready for and what they’ll accept.
- It could be a good reason to overhaul your own diet – I now make food with much less salt and stock so that Isla can eat what we eat, and I don’t even notice the difference. We also eat a better variety of food than we used to because I want to give Isla tastes of as much as possible. Her grandparents marvel that Isla eats foods they have never heard of!
- And enjoy it! I think your love of eating good food and setting up good mealtime habits will rub off on your baby, so have fun, relax and enjoy.