Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Baby-led weaning

Thank you so much for so many totally lovely and encouraging comments about my book and my blog everyone. Keep them coming! Last week I said I was pondering over whether to start Bella onto solids or not. Well I was not quite accurate. She had already tried mango, some porridge (oatmeal) and she had a good old chomp on a dried apricot. I was actually wondering whether or not to continue. She is only just six months and we live in a country full of exotic diseases. Perhaps I should wait a little longer?

I had hoped to delay the whole food thing with Bella for as long as possible. For her own good, and out of general laziness on my part, I decided I would just watch and wait until she was absolutely ready, without any encouragement from me. But about two weeks ago I got the impression she was definitely trying to tell me something.

The fact that she started feeding almost continually throughout the night might have been a sign, but then again she could have been teething, or just needing more breast milk, not necessarily solid food. When she became able to sit up unaided (wobbly so), something we are advised to wait for before introducing solids, I knew at least that she had got that milestone under her belt. Bella has always put everything in her mouth, but when she started launching herself violently towards our plates and forks at meal times, I admit I became a little curious, but still not convinced. Babies like to explore with their mouths. The idea that this means they are actually hungry and want to eat food seems unlikely to me. It is not as if they know what food is or how it will make them feel. No, it was the day I dressed Bella in Jemima’s old yellow dress and saw that it fitted her perfectly, that clinched it for me. I have photos of Jemima in this dress. She is one-year-old and has just taken her first step. It drops below her knees and she, a taller than average toddler, wore it well into her second year. Bella is six months, I have no idea how much she weighs or what centile she is on, but I now have a hunch she is very, very big – in a long and narrow sort of way.

So I gave in, exhausted, and decided to offer her some food. I put a bowl of porridge, a spoon and a peeled banana on the tray of her high chair and resigned myself to the long, messy road ahead. Bella looked down, took the spoon, shoveled up some porridge and put it straight into her mouth. This girl is a natural. It took Jemima months, nay years, to learn how to use a spoon. Since that day, (after a couple of days rest while I lost my nerve and puzzled over whether or not to continue), Bella has toyed with spinach, courgette, apple, pumpkin, toast dipped in tomato soup, toast dipped in celery soup, carrot, yoghurt and banana. It is all going in. Sadly the evidence is in her nappy, gone are the days of toffee-scented poo. I am mourning the end of an era, loving having Bella eat with us at each meal, and am making a big effort to feed her just as much breast milk as before (during the day at least – she is welcome to sleep through anytime she is ready.) And, as you may have guessed by the long list of foods, I am doing this the baby-led way. I.e. no mashing, no freezing, no ice-cubes, and very little spooning into mouths…

When I was five months pregnant with Jemima I heard an interview on Woman’s Hour with the Deputy Programme Director for the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative, Gill Rapley. She had just completed a study on ‘Baby-led weaning’. (The name is misleading because it does not refer to weaning off the breast but to the introducing of solids.) The basic idea was that we should allow our babies to find their natural progression with solid food just as they do when learning to walk and talk. Her studies showed that babies are not ready to eat solid food before six months, or before they are able to sit up unaided, pick up food and put it in their mouths. And that at this stage they do not actually need to have their food pureed and spoon fed. They could instead benefit from being allowed to choose for themselves from a plate of unsalted finger food, softly cooked carrot sticks, pieces of cheese, pasta twirls etc. Anything with peel on is great – cut in chip shapes they can hold easily. They scrape the fruit or veg easily off the peel without it all mushing up in their hands.

The babies who took part in the study were allowed to start at four months old. The fact that none of these babies were able to feed themselves until they reached six months shows that if left to their own devices, a child will not eat before he or she is ready. It has taken us all this time to discover what the babies have known all along – that they are not ready for solid food before six months.

The study also showed that: ‘babies are at less risk of choking if they are in control of what goes into their mouth than if they are spoon fed. This is because babies are not capable of intentionally moving food to the back of their throats until after they have learnt to chew. And they do not develop the ability to chew until after they have developed the ability to reach out and grab things. Thus, a very young baby cannot easily put himself at risk because he cannot get the food into his mouth in the first place. On the other hand, the action used to suck food off a spoon tends to take the food straight to the back of the mouth, causing gagging. This means that spoon feeding has its own potential to lead to choking – and makes the giving of lumpy foods with a spoon especially dangerous.’

Also, by giving them the independence to choose for themselves what they want to take from the plate and what they do not, we are teaching them to be aware of their appetite, nutritional needs and to have fun playing with their food. This method would also prevent babies from eating food they are not ready for - the study showed that babies, if given the option, will reject certain foods to which they are later discovered to be allergic. It also showed that babies will choose to eat what their bodies need, hence one day they might eat lots of cheese or fish because they are lacking protein, but another day reject those foods and just eat vegetables. Given that the babies were not eating until six months, they did not need to be introduced to one food stuff at a time but could try everything at once.

Giving children control over their food intake also enables them to identify the tastes they like and dislike. If the food is presented separately it is possible to reject the offending item only, whereas if they are blended together they will very likely reject the whole meal. You can read more about this here and if you check out the great forum IWANTMYMUM.COM you can hear from lots of people who have tried and tested the method. Please do not give your child grapes unless you cut them up and teach them from a young age to bite into them as soon as they put them in their mouths. Grapes are sadly the perfect shape and size to choke a child or baby if inhaled.

It made perfect sense to me and one day soon I will publish some of the chapter from my book where I talk about how this all worked out with Jemima. (I shall be in the UK for most of February and unable to blog. To keep you entertained I plan to publish excerpts from my book. This is a huge scary step for me, having thus far only given my book to designated readers. Please be gentle in your feedback!)

For now I shall just say that having four at the table is a delight. Jemima loves it. She says “It would be nice if Bella could join us for lunch Mummy wouldn’t it?”
Talking of lunch, my time is up. But here are some of my favourite meals for Jemima, which Bella is slowly beginning to try too, and some ideas for baby-led meals.


JaneyV said...

I could cry reading this because feeding in my family has always been a nightmare - and now it's so clear why. Being "encouraged" (forced really because to not take the advice makes you a bad mother) by health visitors, looking at graphs and not your baby, to get your child on solids (by which they mean carbohydrates - LOTS of orange coloured ice cubes, which gave my children awful wind and I'm sure upset the balance of their gut) far too early, has got to be the main contributing factor to the negative patterns that developed in my house around food.

I became anxious when my children wouldn't eat and tried (I'm so desperately ashamed to say) to make them eat. I bribed, cajoled, shouted, encouraged, praised and tried everything I could. And all the time I was just setting up negative associations with food and mealtimes.

You know, we all learn as mothers by the mistakes we make and mostly I look back and think I did fine but the one thing I would change if I could would be how I handled introducing solid food and my whole attitude to feeding in general. The information to new mothers out there is woeful. And if your children like mine did not follow the perfect pattern of weaning as laid down by the experts, the worry and sense of failure is overwhelming. This of course is always absorbed by your children. What an awful thing to do to them.

The advice you've given in this post would have validated my instincts, eased my worries and saved my family from 12 years of toxic mealtimes ( we're doing better now but still along way to go to persuade my two younger ones that food is their friend). It's the only thing I wish I could go back and do again.

This makes so much sense Georgie that I feel foolish not to have understood it earlier. I've said it before but I'm even more adamant now that there's a crying need for your book to be published. This information needs to be available to all new Mums.

Georgie said...

Thank you Janey for such an honest and heartfelt response. I must tell you that you will be reassured a little by my food chapter when I publish it here. I also found food the most stressful area of parenting for a long while - not oddly enough when Jemima was a baby, despite being told to 'get J onto baby rice today!' after weighing her, minutes after having praised her for seeming happy and healthy in every way (the obsession with centiles is something I am so happy to be far away from!)- but when she was a toddler and began to use food as a way of expressing her desire for control over one area of her life. We battled, I bribed... and all the rest, just as you say. It took me a while to figure out that it just did not matter and that I had to let it go. Now she is three I realise that small people physically cannot sit still at the table for more than 5 minutes! Every meal time is full of games, coaxing, or desperate pleas, depending on how tired we are.

I bet your children will be just fine thanks to your understanding of it all now and to doing such a great job generally as a mother. Life is too short for regrets, just celebrate all the wonderful things you have done as a mother thus far.

And remember that I was so lucky to have heard about this method - people thought I was crazy - but half the issue is access to information. There is a lot of conflicting advice and a lot of ignorance out there. It is so hard to ignore advice and go with your gut instinct, hence why I wrote my book. Thanks so much for voicing your support again - you might change your mind once you have read some of it! gxxx

maddy said...

I agree with much of what you have said, Georgie. I must admit that I was a puree and ice-cube mum for a bit but gradually let the children lead the way, with my youngest eating exactly what the rest of us were eating for our dinner by 10 or 11 months. I realise I am very lucky in that I have 2 kids who will both happily try something new and a 4 year old whose repertoire of palatable veggies increases weekly - can't think of anything she won't eat actually! She will also finish off her meal rather than waste it (if I accept it as a second helping for me, then she gladly offers it) but the thought of binning in fills her with horror and down it goes!! Lucky, I know.

The only thing I'm not 100% sure of is the advice to wait until the child is 6 months before trying solids. For what it's worth, I think that all children develop and grow at such different rates that putting a 'date' on something doesn't quite fit - when you're 'supposed' to do something and when a particular child is ready do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. My son was crawling at 5 months, walking at 8 and has now potty trained himself at 18 months....these milestones are not 'meant' to happen at these ages, he did it himself....so when I offered food and he wolfed it down with relish well before the 6 month mark I had no qualms about letting him have it against all advice from everyone....truly child-led!
Have fun in the UK xx

Georgie said...

I agree with you that all children are different. In fact just last week a friend was so fed up with conflicting advice and not sure whether her daughter was ready she wrote to me saying "So I decided to ask Margot(her baby) and she said yes!" And ultimately it has to be the right time for the babe. However the six month thing is not a random date but one based on research and a lot of baby watching. I find it helpful because that is often when they are really ready whereas 4 months is often much too early. And some babies go up to a year before really being ready. Also the 6 month thing is about the ideal amount of time a baby should get just breast milk, for health reasons, boosting immunity etc.

But yes, it is a guideline and should be taken as such. Thanks Maddy! gx

Gaylee said...

Hi Georgie

I have to agree with Maddy – I think the 6 months cut off is a bit too prescriptive. Surely it’s much better to do your own baby watching to look for indications that they are ready for solids and make sure they are introduced very slowly. Saying that they don’t know what food is or how it will make them feel seems to ignore any instinct they may have and seems a bit un baby led to me. I think the key things are not to reduce the amount of breast milk they get so that they still get the benefits of immunity, and not to force anything (ie open wide!).Also it is important not to jump in with solids at the first signs of hunger in order to rule out a growth spurt or teething. I love your ideas on baby lead weaning and I have certainly used a lot of them myself (although I do use purees too as they are great for dipping other things in and gives baby a chance to use the spoon), but the idea of the six month cut off doesn’t sit comfortably with me.

Keep up the good work on your blog. I find it both entertaining and encouraging, and you are so approachable and open minded which is rare in the world of sharing parenting ideas!.

Georgie said...

Thank you Gayle! yes I agree with almost :-)everything you say (see my previous comment, I quoted you, hope you don;t mind!). Especially agree about following your child. I agree of course that babies have an instinct to eat, but given the indiscriminate manner in which B puts everything in her mouth, edible or down right poisonous, well I am pretty sure she did not know what food was until she actually tasted some. It is fascinating this - i might go and research what babies sense and do not sense around food issues. arrgh sorry Jemima melting down, dinner burning.... thanks so much for your comment gx

Gaylee said...

I meant more that the babies instincts tell it to tell Mum when the best time to start solids is an this is displayed as being able to sit up, the loss of the tongue pushing stuff out of the mouth reflex, the absolute fascination with other people eating and the more and more frequent demanding of breast milk over a period of a few weeks etc rather than the act of being able to put stuff in its mouth which, you are right, is just a way of learning about the world. I’m not sure that the baby knows it’s the solids it wants but it is instinctively telling its mother that something else is needed– if you see what I mean – and this could happen at different times for different babies. Just my thoughts though. Interesting stuff ! xxxx

Georgie said...

Yes, you are right. I completely agree with this. Thank you so much for taking the time to respond as well, 'just your thoughts' are articulate and wise! Makes me think about it (even more....)

Kat said...

I think it will take a few generations to throw off the old myths.

All of these topics are emotive, especially as they often occupy the territory of 'good mother' and family values - often these ideas are based on belief rather than anything else. I firmly believe (!) that there is no sense in wasting energy and emotion justifying your choices to others (easier said than done!). Plenty of people disapprove of how I feed Millie (7.5mo) and in their subtle and undermining ways try to chip away at my confidence. I am not foolish enough to think that only I can be right, I am always open to the possibility that I may be mistaken. I just look at my daughter who happily eats her food, plays and develops and there I have my answer - she is fine so what we do works for her.

There is also a distinct lack of support for introducing solids in the UK (we need something like the BF counsellors - maybe your mother supporter?). A friend of mine got her DS on three square a day by six months but he stopped gaining weight. He cried at mealtimes and refused food. She was sent to a nutritionalist who said to add butter, oil and cream to his food!! When we went through what he ate together I noticed she had more than halved his milk intake. Once she had upped his milk and cut back on the food (and stopped worrying about how much solid he ate) he got back on track. She told her HV about this and the response was they didn't have enough time to deal with such issues - 5 minutes two months earlier would have saved a lot of heartache. And, of course, a GP appointment and refferal to the nutritionalist.

I totally agree that guidelines are often mistaken for rules - we so rarely ask why when we are told something. What is the benefit to my child and what are the risks? When did we stop listening to our intuition and start to rely on the media to do our thinking for us?

There is an interesting article here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/9646449/ which is doing the BLW rounds at the moment. It shows there may be a shift in accepted opinion based on current research in the US.

Kat x

Georgie said...

Hear Hear! Off to read that article now gx

Kat said...

Some things I forgot to say!

Six months: remember this is when babies will generally be ready and have the skills to pick up and eat food at this point which coincides with their gut development. The study which led to these 'discoveries' offered food from four months, it was only at six months they could actually deal with it. My own baby was offered food from about four and a half months but didn't manage to eat anything until five and a half (as she was three weeks late this is probably closer to six months developmentally). What this advice aims to do is dispell the old fashined 'purees at four months' approach and let people know that it is more appropriate at six months. As my HV once said, "I could puree cheesecake and a baby would eat it, that doesn't mean they should."

BLW Blog: everyone and their dog has one of these. I contribute to one here - www.myblwexperiences.blogspot.com - if anyone is interested.

Georgie: Looking forward to the extracts from your book! If you come to Winchester when you're home avoid Romsey Road - they're digging it up at the town end. Have a good trip. :0)

Kat x

Mangy said...

Have read all the comments and agree with most of it!! However still feel strongly that we should try and wait at least 6 months before starting solids. I say this having had a hungry boy (Felix) who leapt from the 25th centile at birth to the 75th centile at 3 months. However I did not find that he was less satisfied from breast milk than solids. What i found is that he became a more efficent feeder and my milk production grew accordingly. He did wake during the night around 6 months and was showing interest in food and holding it etc so commenced baby-led weaning...
We have never looked back and he was eating sandwiches at 7 1/2 months. HOWEVER, he stopped sleeping through the night at the introduction of solids and i do wonder whether we could have carried on a bit longer on breast milk as long as his weight continued to increase and he seemed satisfied.
Whilst I agree that 6 months is a guide, isn't it difficult to differentiate between the love of holding and touching things and putting them in their mouths?? We found that he did this with everything anyway, not just food.

My advice to you Georgie is to include Bella in every meal, but ensuring she has a full tummy of breast milk first. At least then she will have had the most important part of her diet and it is less important as to whether she takes any solids. However she is socialising and having fun with food and feeling part of such an important part of her life.

I imagine the risks in Cambodia are so much greater that I would definitely try and fully breast feed for as long as you can - there is absolutely no doubt that as long as babies are growing and developing healthily that their gut health and lifelong immunity will benefit from the breast milk.

Here endeth the lesson!!!

Georgie said...

Kat and Mangy

Exactly. And I am doing just as you say Mangy and in fact I think Bella is getting more milk than before as still waking at night. Gx

Anonymous said...

Hi Georgie and all!!!

I just wanted to say i think blw is fantastic, in my opinion its a way back to our instincts, i was wondering if any of you follow continuum concept style of parenting. I've been a dedicated sling wearer and co-sleeper since day one and blw seems like common sense to me, and its fab so many ppl r doing it :-)
I can, however, already see the social probs i'm going to face, like family and my baby group friends etc, all of which think i'm loopy to do what i'm doing!

But thats fine cos my son Atash is happy and thats all that really matters!!

ps. Some man in supermarket commmented 'ooh thats a new way of holding your baby' about me carrying James in his sling!! New?! lol its been done that was for thousands of years!! just felt like sharing!

Georgie said...

Hello Georgina!

I have had those comments! In fact just back from a trip to the UK where I had all sorts of nonsense thrown at me which will no doubt write about soon on this blog! Yes I am a co-sleeping, baby wearing forever breastfeeding mother and get all the continuum emails but struggle to keep up with them!

Thanks for sharing and for visiting the blog. Always nice to hear from readers!

Kasia said...

Quick question for you re: baby led weaning. I tried it with my six month old and we got a bit scared. He was eating an apple and a big piece just stayed in his mouth and Ethan couldn't spit it out. He wasn't chocking but was uncomfortable so my husband tried to get it but couldn't so finally I stepped in and swiped it out. My hubby got a bit concerned about choking. Any thoughts about choking from your end? I listened to Gill Rapley and read some of the BLW blogs out there and was so excited to do BLW but the chance of him choking got me a bit nervous once I started doing it.

Georgie said...

Hi Kasia!

That sounds awful I am so sorry. Actually apple is not always suitable for 6 months year old - you mean raw or cooked? Even cooked I found it is wrong texture so doesn't squish in their gums easily. Unless he has lots of teeth. I would stick to softer fruits until her is a bit more used to it all. Otherwise I have always had good experiences - the odd scary mo when the food gets a little too far back but it was me panicking while the babes just coughed it forward and got on with their meal as though nothing had happened. Def avoid whole grapes, big olives, cherries or any obvious perfect choking fruits (in terms of size, smoothness and shape.) Does this help at all? gxx

Kasia said...

Tx for getting back to me. The apple was soft but raw and no teeth yet. I tried avocado, banana, slightly cooked carrot and rice cakes. He is doing much better with those although frustrated sometimes that they keep falling out of his hands. Did you say you tried oatmeal? How did that go?

BTW, I remember you mentioning your younger daughter was breastfeeding frequently (every 20 min sometimes?). I thought of you the last 2 days as we have hit a heat wave. The temperatures are up to 40 degrees due to the humidity. I noticed my little guy started wanting to feed more often to deal with the additional sweating. Perhaps she is eating so frequently bc of the heat. Just at thought.

Georgie said...

That was definitely it I am sure! Oatmeal is so great I will soon write an ode to porridge - when I have some time! Blogging not happening this week1 Maybe tomorrow gx

Fiona said...

I've just discovered your blog as a friend sent the link to me - and it's a great read and very reassuring for someone like me who is very keen but floundering a bit with the whole attachment parenting thing. I have already started feeding my baby with purees, he's been on them for about a month, but now I have heard about the BLW I would really like to give it a go. Do you think it would be too late to change tack? I do already give him lumpy food and chunks of soft fruit which he is fine with when I feed him. I have tried letting him pick up bits of banana and cooked carrot, but he just mushes it up in his hand and then drops it - no desire to put it anywhere near his mouth. But if I feed it to him with my fingers then he opens his mouth wide and leans forward for it. I'm a bit worried that he has already got used to being fed by me with a spoon and fingers, and that he doesn't have the instinct to put food in his mouth himself anymore.

Georgie said...

Hi Fiona!

So sorry not to have replied sooner we have been without internet for a while. I definitely think it is not to late for BLW - in fact most babies start on purees and then naturally move on to finger food. So your baby won't have lost the instinct to feed himself but he may just like to be fed! I am a strong believer in taking the approach that seems most responsive to your baby - i.e. I am not a total purist when it comes to BLW. But I think it is brill and I would definitely try it. With Bella, now 15 months so using fork and spoon as well as hands, sometimes she demands to be fed - she is hilarious, she literally grabs my hand and puts the fork or spoon in it. Sometimes she wants me to load it up for her and then leave it for her to eat! Other times though she is equally clear that she wants to eat on her own. You could try eating the same meal as your baby - how old is he? - and saying 'one for mummy!' as you eat a carrot and then see if he copies? Or use a sibling as a role model if he has one? I would just give him finger food as described in the post let him get on with it and help him when he wants help. Most babies when they start to eat alone just play with their food because it feels so great and is so much fun! If you are breastfeeding and he is under a year the food is just an extra anyway - breast milk should continue to be his main source of calories and most vitamins etc 'til he is one year. So I would relax and enjoy watching him play with the food, eat little bits and feed him or do it together when he wants you too. Let me know how it goes! Gxxx

Katie said...

Hiya, if you are interested in baby-led weaning, Gill Rapley has just published a book under the same name which gives practical advice on how to follow this methodology as safely and efficiently as possible.

You can find out more on her website