When Petra was six months old, she started to seem interested in solid foods, and I began to do research about how to introduce them to her. Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is a term that springs up on natural parenting books and parenting message boards. It was always totally confusing to me what, exactly, this was.
From how I understand it, the baby led weaning concept has two main features. First, you don’t grind and puree anything, you just mash it and cut it in small pieces. Secondly, you let your baby choose off a plate what she wants instead of spooning it in her mouth.
I wondered what all the hype was about baby led weaning, as this is how people all around the world begin feeding their kids solid food. Most people throughout the world don’t purchase little baby food jars and cereal boxes, and, if they do, they almost always supplement it with solid foods. Making your own baby food wasn’t invented by the hippies.
“What if my baby chokes?”
This seems to be the biggest concern that many Western parents seem to have with baby led weaning, and, yes, this is a justifiable concern when feeding your little baby anything but a puree. But to me, it seems that babies learning how not to choke has less to do with how old they are and more with experience eating. If an eight month old was just introduced to finger foods for the first time, you are still going to have to watch her carefully to make sure she doesn’t choke. Proponents of baby led weaning say that letting babies always feed themselves makes them less likely to choke, because they aren’t going to put food in the back of their mouths, which is a risk for a parent feeding their child.
Secondly, baby led weaning is messy. Really messy. And we were traveling through this time with Petra. It’s one thing to let your baby play and experiment with eating solid food at home, quite another to do it at a restaurant or in a hotel room. That’s not to say that spoon feeding your baby purees isn’t messy, but at least you have some control over it. Being on the road also meant that we didn’t have easy access to a washing machine either.
When it came down to it, as with almost everything in our parenting we used multiple methods when introducing Petra to solid foods. We had a baby food grinder with us that we purchased in a natural food store in the US. We used it occasionally, especially with cooked carrots and some fruits when Petra was little, but by the time Petra was ten months old we were done with it. We gave her some of the boxed cereal but preferred “real” food. Most of the time we let her eat a little of whatever we were eating. Sometimes we spoon fed her a little. We did whatever was easiest for all of us in that moment. We tried to give her one new food at a time to let her adjust to it, and in case she had a reaction to it. Mostly though, we just picked out whatever was appropriate for her that we were eating, cut it into sizes she could eat and put it on a plate in front of her.
One advantage of being in Central America was that foods were easier to mash up that many of those in the USA. Instead of cooking and mashing apples into applesauce, we just had to take a fork to a mango or papaya. There were just a lot of soft, mushy food around.
Here is a list of Petra’s first solid foods:
A little later she was eating beans, yogurt, shredded meats and chicken, peas, potato, cantaloupe and watermelon.
Introducing solid foods and allergies
Also, Petra’s pediatrician in Maine had sent her off with a list of foods to avoid such as cow’s milk, wheat, peanuts, eggs, strawberries, citrus fruit, tomato, chocolate, and honey. It was interesting to me, then, to find that in Central America, these things weren’t avoided at all for babies — in fact, many were encouraged first foods. Honey and wheat cereal is one of the first foods given to babies in Latin America — they actually come prepackaged together as baby food. In point, many people found it extremely weird that I wouldn’t let Petra eat honey. However, it seemed to me that being a little cautious and waiting on giving her some foods was worth it, as avoiding them wasn’t too difficult.
By the time Petra was one year old, she was eating everything from pancakes and watermelon to shredded chicken and tortillas off my plate. The peanut barrier was broken when she was around 14 months by my husband sharing an ice cream cone with her. All without any major choking incidents. The baby led weaning method had apparently worked.
I’d love to hear from all you mothers out there, how’d you introduce solid foods to your babies? Have you seen how other mothers around the world do it?