Helping your baby to love good food

{Images: Sophie’s first ever meal at 6 mths; tucking in to some summer fruit at 8 mths}

Our little girl is due to celebrate her second birthday in just a few short months, but somehow, i’m not ready to let go of the ‘new mum’ tag. Just when you think you’ve got it sussed, around every corner is something new and unknown to tackle, but I guess thats what parenthood is all about – you never really get to take your training wheels off!

I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say that Sophie LOVES FOOD! She has a very healthy appetite and will try anything she is offered. Is this just by chance, good genes or something we have or haven’t done with her?

I am a little reluctant to provide too much in the way of advice when it comes to food and feeding, as I know its such an angst ridden topic for a lot of mums. I feel strongly that all babies (and their parents) are such individual beings and what works beautifully for one, may not work for another. I think there is room for a lot more flexibility and intuition when it comes to many aspects of caring for our babies. As parents, we need to trust that we know what’s best for our own child and to feel good about our decisions, without making too many comparisons…

‘Often the worst enemy of mothers is other mothers…women must stop comparing themselves and their babies’ – Dr Vijay Roach

With that in mind, I would like to share our experience in the hope that new parents (or anyone planning to be, one day) might consider a somewhat alternative approach to introducing their little ones to the world of food, or at least think more carefully about it and be prompted to find out more…

Baby-Led Weaning

Initially, I had visions of filling my freezer with all manner of gourmet purées and lovingly prepared baby-friendly concoctions (á la Annabel Karmel) ready to be accepted with great delight by my little one. However, these illusions were promptly shattered, when at 5 months (the prescribed time) I launched in to offering my various mushes with much enthusiasm, only to find that they were met with equally enthusiastic protests, pursed lips and spitting out of food! After a few days of this, it really got to me – it certainly wasn’t the way I had hoped Sophie’s relationship with food would begin and the frustration was quite distressing – there had to be a better way? It was at this time that a friend from my Mum’s Group whispered in my ear about a method she was trying with her son called Baby-Led Weaning, and as I was open to anything I rushed out and found the book the next day and never looked back! Here’s the low down…

Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett.

Baby-Led Weaning is the definitive guide for parents who want to skip purées and begin self-feeding from the start of the weaning process. Originally published in early 2009 in the UK, Baby-Led Weaning already garnered legions of advocates and practitioners. It is written by Gill Rapley, a public health nurse for 20 years and the mother of three who originated the theory of baby-led weaning while pursuing her master’s degree, and journalist Tracey Murkett, who followed baby-led weaning with her own daughter.

With Baby-Led Weaning, young eaters will be able to participate in family meals from the start, experiment with food, develop hand-eye coordination and chewing, and learn to love a variety of foods. By following their baby’s cues, parents will encourage natural development in their child and raise healthy, confident eaters.

The BLW approach immediately resonated with me (and fitted in perfectly with our Équilibre approach to food, too). It meant that we were able to relax and delay solids until Sophie was 6 months, and developmentally capable of feeding herself with proper finger sized foods. No purées, no ice cube trays, no food processor, no potato masher, no baby rice, no weird fruit and veg combos…what a relief!

The authors of the book have put together a handy pdf leaflet summarising the approach and steps you need to take (complete with safety information) Download here

{Images: First spaghetti at 9 mths; A recent alfresco breakfast – 20 mths}

We have had nothing but a good experience and great results from using BLW with Sophie, and would wholeheartedly recommend it. Here are a few points to keep in mind:

  • Don’t worry about how much your little one is actually eating at first as they are still meeting their nutritional requirements from their milk feeds. Its all about fun and experimentation until they are 12 months and eventually they will learn to take in what they need. Provide a variety of food at each ‘meal time’ (not too much or it can become overwhelming) – if they eat it, great, if not, that’s ok too!
  • You don’t need to even think about those horrible little jars of processed baby foods, and what lurks within them – the approach encourages cooking from scratch as much as possible which can only be a good thing.
  • Mess is inevitable – don’t, whatever you do, fuss over it as it sends the wrong message. A practical, washable IKEA highchair and a plastic mat are a good place to start. Have a giggle and take lots of photos!
  • Remind yourself of the difference between choking and gagging – it can be nerve wracking at times, but babies have a well developed gagging reflex that is much higher up than in adults. Sophie only gagged on a handful of occasions and it didn’t seem to bother her in the least. The risk is actually less when they are in control of the food rather than having it put in their mouth involuntarily by a spoon.
  • The book tends to overemphasise the value of family meals – which is not always realistic or practical due to parents schedules and baby’s sleep time – try to sit down together as much as you can but don’t feel guilty if you can’t.
  • The book tends to adopt a ‘this is the only way to do it’ stance, but we feel that there is room for some flexibility and somewhat of a hybrid approach if thats what you are comfortable with. In fact, Sophie has recently discovered that she can get a lot more food in if we spoon feed her, so we are currently trying to dissuade her from this new found practice! Its always a work in progress…

For more information visit the BLW book website and the UK based site called Baby Led Weaning with practical advice, a blog and forum for discussion. I also welcome any questions on our own BLW experience.

More tips to come on bringing up foodie babies in the next post!

4 Responses to “Helping your baby to love good food”

  • Naomi Isaac:

    Thanks for the info Nicole, I had thought about the baby lead weaning for Jasper as he is very much ‘in love’ with his food. I think we will be giving it a crack and see how he goes!

    • Nicole:

      That’s fantastic to hear Naomi, we have found it to be a far easier, common sense approach to take. Relax and enjoy the ride with Jasper! Let me know how you go? x

  • Jen Tasker:

    Hey Nic – I sooooooooooooooooooo (is that enough o’s) wish I’d known about this with Sydney. I totally hooked into the Annabel Karmel book (it was all the rage 5 years ago) and feel I’ve done a huge disservice to myself and her. I tried things much more differently with John, but when I say “different” I mean I didn’t cook the stuff from scratch a la Annabel, but I bought organic baby food from the health food store in California! Currently John doesn’t eat a single veggie unless I “hide” it (and after a year, I’m still putting a fresh or steamed veggie on his plate every night and he won’t go near it – or if he does he tells me he doesn’t like it) and the only veg Syd touches are carrots and broccoli (random). I am still often making two meals a night – one for them and one for us – but its slowly getting better. And of course they both don’t like the same things….

    Anyway, Mary, my sister, has done the BLW with her daughter (now 14 months) and the kid eats more variety and better than my two. Love it!

    • Nicole:

      Thanks for sharing Jen – you did the best you knew how with the information that was available (and readily accepted) at the time…who’s to know what kind of ideas will be in vogue another 5 years from now? Still plenty of time for you to develop your two in to fabulous foodies!

      I’m interested to hear that your sister in the US used BLW – is it a widely accepted idea over there now? I know its been big in the UK, but is still pretty much alternative here in Aus, although growing in acceptance, i’m happy to see!