Mellow Mummy: Baby-Led Weaning - Feeding by Instinct : Taking life as it comes...

Tuesday 23 March 2010

Baby-Led Weaning - Feeding by Instinct

Until I started writing this article, I had never once read a book, leaflet or a tutorial about 'Baby-led Weaning'. I had heard the buzz-word mentioned online and by my local mummies; I knew roughly what 'BLW' was about but I wasn't about to let anyone 'teach' me how to wean my baby – you know me, I very much like to go with my instincts as a Mummy.

Lara is 9 months old and sometimes people (usually those with older children) raise an eyebrow when they see or hear the things I let her eat. Last week, while enjoying an evening curry with colleagues, we started chatting about whether our children enjoy curry too РI pointed out that lentil dal, or chicken curry with chapatis are some of Lara's favourite meals. I was asked how I pur̩ed the chapatis!!! When I pointed out that I just let Lara eat them whole, it was suggested (admittedly with a sense of humour) that I was a bad mother. Hang on, if we eat curry and chapatis, why can't she?

To me, feeding Lara has always been about letting her fit in with how and what we eat. Mr & Mrs B love food; we love eating (perhaps too much) and we love talking/thinking/socialising about food. We want Lara to enjoy food as much as we do. Since well before we started weaning her, Lara has taken her place at the dinner table each evening to enjoy the social aspect of mealtimes. When I serve food for myself and Mr. B, it doesn't seem to make sense (in terms of time, effort, money and practicalities) to set to and prepare a totally different meal for Lara. At most dinner times, Lara will eat what we eat. In some cases that means that I have to subtly change my normal recipe to cater for Lara's needs. At other times (perhaps if we are having a particularly special meal) I will take time out to make Lara a different meal, or a slightly different take on ours. We follow a few sensible guidelines; no added salt or sugar, no low-calorie fat replacements, no nuts for a few more months, likewise honey, shellfish and some fresh fish. I have also been warned against citrus fruits and kiwi, and reminded to always chop choking hazards (such as cherry tomatoes and grapes) in half lengthways. In general however, we eat our evening meals as a family.

I had never intended taking the BLW approach. It just kinda happened. I was given a guide to weaning in my NCT classes and after 2 weeks I realised that it was clearly written for a baby with a MUCH smaller appetite than mine, and so I decided to go by instinct alone. When I went back to work, Lara was 7 months old and was happily eating finger foods. It was clear to me that if I wanted to have any free time at all in my evenings, I was going to have to ensure that Lara could eat the same meals as us, so that's what we did.

One of the reasons why I had never looked further into the 'theory' of Baby-led Weaning was that I got the feeling it was too prescriptive. BLW is an approach that generally recommends (as do the government) that you don't start to wean until 6 months and, when you do, most BLW resources seem very against the idea of spoon-feeding. Every baby is different. If I had waited until 6 months then I would probably have lost my mind. By 17 weeks Lara was stealing food from me and I was physically exhausted trying to keep up with the milk feeds she was demanding. I started weaning but couldn't offer finger food because she wasn't developed enough to feed herself – I had to spoon-feed her and I still occasionally do. If we eat things that require a spoon, so does she – I just don't let her loose with the spoon yet! The 'no spoon feeding' rule is too rigid for me.

Baby-led weaning, as an instinctive approach rather than a prescriptive one, has worked for us. We did it without guidance, based purely on instinct, both Lara's and mine. It requires great confidence in your baby's ability (you'll be surprised how much they can chomp even before they have teeth) and in your own ability to tell when they are struggling. I don't know Lara's boundaries – she does, and it's up to me to offer her tastes, textures and shapes which challenge her without stressing her out so much that she loses interest.

The ONLY area where we struggle is lunchtimes with the childminders. I always provide a main meal for Lara at lunch but I tend to err on the cautious side with the childminders and I am still providing mashed foods for them every other day. The reason for this is three-fold. Firstly, I don't feel that I should expect them to have to teach my child to eat, to have to worry about her ability to cope with the food I provide, to have to push those boundaries I told you about. Childminders simply don't get paid enough to do that (plus, they usually have other children to look after too so they can't provide the 100% attention that it often requires). Secondly, it is a big ask of Lara to handle two main meals by hand each day. If I know that she has eaten a large, easy lunch, then I don't need to worry so much if she struggles with the food I provide her for dinner. Over the coming weeks I will be providing more challenging foods for the childminders to feed her. Finally, I feel like it part of my adventure with Lara. Learning to explore new foods, to gain new culinary experiences – that's something I don't want to share with the childminders!
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