Baby-Lead Weaning: Ditching The Baby Spoon


First of all, I want to say I am not judging anyone who bottle-feds or spoon-feeds their child. All that matters is you love and care for your child. Everything else is just a difference of opinion.

The story of how I am introducing solid food to my son began when I was still in my first trimester. I pretty much spent every day for the first 4 months laying on the couch coping with morning sickness. To distract myself, I looked up pregnancy and baby stuff on Pinterest. I came across this blog post one day and I was intrigued. I thought “Maybe later when the baby is older..” so pinned it. But I kept coming back to that post and thinking about it, it just seemed too good to be true. Women on my Birth Club kept mentioning it too. I knew I wanted to nurse Jack for as long as possible. And I wanted to make my baby food. Baby-led weaning encompasses all that. But I kept telling myself  “Figure it out later.”

The pin that haunted me….

Once Jack was born and we got the hang of nursing, I knew there was no way I wanted to wean him any earlier than 2-years-old. Jack decided that most days he only wants to nap on me, so I ended up with free time on my hands and back on Pinterest. And that post came up again. It was haunting me. So I downloaded the book to my phone and read it during his naps. A major light bulb went on. It all made sense. I found the way I wanted to feed my son and any future children.

I love e-books!

I had three major concerns about feeding my child. First of all, I wanted him to mostly eat highly nutritious, whole, unprocessed food. No junk food, no food-like products, and no empty calories. I want to change the way the western-world thinks about food, and a great place to start is my teaching the new generation. Second, I didn’t want to create a picky-eater. I’ve babysat kids who threw full-on tantrums the minute you even thought of feeding them something new. One little girl cried for an hour when I suggested dipping her quesadilla in salsa. I want my son to want real food, good food. Third, I will do anything to prevent Jack from developing food issues. I have struggled with them my whole life and it’s not until a few years ago did I get it mostly under control. I want him to learn food is for nourishment—of the body and soul—and not a treat or weapon. Baby-led weaning seems to be the answer to all my concerns about introducing solids.

So, what is this crazy new idea called baby-lead weaning? In a nutshell, you only feed your child milk (breast preferably, but formula is okay too) until he is ready to feed himself. And once you introduce solid food, you allow him to learn to eat and do not worry about how much he actually consumes. Then overtime, as he eats more gradually on his own, he will want to nurse less and less until he weans himself.

It’s not a new concept. This is how our ancestors fed their children. Cavewomen nursed their babies for as long as possible because that’s all they had. And when they were older, the cave-babies sat on mommas’ laps and pulled off pieces of roasted saber-toothed tiger meat (or whatever they ate) and gnaw on it. No spoon-feedings. No jar of nasty mushed up vegetables. No force-feeding a certain amount. Why did they feed their children this way and not like most mother do now? First of all , their babies were thriving on breast milk. It adapts as the baby grows to provide the correct calories/vitamins/antibodies to help a baby grow perfectly. And it’s pretty much free and always readily available. Second, feeding a baby this wastes less. Why portion out a totally separate meal of scarce food that this tiny person probably will only eat a few bites of? And waste all that time and energy making it? That cave-baby can just take what they want, and while the family eats the rest. If cave-baby doesn’t like saber-tooth tiger, that’s fine because they already had some breast milk. Baby-led weaning is not new, but forgotten. Once convenient pre-packaged foods became the norm, the idea of feeding your baby from your plate died. Food companies convinced us that only poor, uneducated people would feed their baby table scraps. Good, loving parents will spend the money to feed their child the food they designed for babies. This way of feeding is actually the new concept.

I know you are probably thinking, “But my parents fed me like this and I am okay.” And maybe you are. But I am telling you that I am not. And I don’t believe many from my generation are as good as they could be either. Like I said I have major issues with food. And I believe that—Mom, please don’t take offense to this, I love you and know you did everything you thought was right—that all my food issues go back to how I was fed as a baby. I was breastfed until I was 6 months old (I am very grateful for that!) then switched to formula. I was spoon-fed at 4 months old,  and given rice cereal at 5 months. My mom did make a lot of her own baby food (I am so very grateful for that!) with fresh vegetables and fruit later on. But it was still pureed and spoon-fed. So, what was so bad about this common feeding method? It didn’t teach me anything but how to overeat non-nutrient dense foods. This led to me not learning how to control my food, which led to overeating.. This led to weigh issues, which led to body image issues. So, I am horribly sick and messed up beyond repair from all this? No. But like I said before, it was painful to handle. I know other people from my generation suffer from these issues too. Plus, there is a major rise in severe allergies, painful digestive issues, and horrible migraines that can be all traced back to food.  I don’t think we are really as okay as we claim.

How does baby-led weaning solve this? Let me explain a little bit more how it works. This is once again a nutshell of the rules, I suggest reading the book for an in-depth explanation.

  • Continue to give them milk as their main source of food. Once the learn how to eat, they will begin to wean later.
  • Introduce foods once your baby has met all the milestones, usually around 6 month.
    • Sit up unassisted.
    • Reach out for objects and bring them to their mouth easily
    • Loss of the tongue-thrust reflect (when they automatically force something out of the back of their mouth)
    • Chewing on toys or mimicking you while eating
    • Reaching for and/or taking food to their mouths, if given the opportunity
  • Feed your baby what you are eating, within reason.
  • Chose a few, basic whole foods to start out and make them sure they are easy for them to hold.
  • Let them them be in control. Don’t try to help.
  • Let them make a big mess. Don’t try to clean-up during the feed.
  • Don’t offer too much as once or they may get overwhelmed, and get discouraged. Then they will think eating is stressful.
  • Don’t overly praise them when they do eat something. Then they begin to think that eating makes you happy, so I should eat more to keep you happy. This leads to overeating.
  • Don’t scold for not eating. This will also make eating stressful, too.
  • Don’t worry about how much they are eating, it doesn’t matter. Milk will provide them with the correct nutrition and calories for awhile.
  • Don’t force them to eat something they don’t want. They may be full and more hurts their tummy. Or they simply might not like it and forcing them to eat it once again is creating stress. Or they may be allergic to it and rejecting it is their way of telling you it make them feel ill.
  • Remember, it’s not about the food, it’s about learning a skill.

Baby-led weaning has the potential to eliminate the issues I talked about earlier. Overeating is reduced because they learn overtime how much food they need to be satiated. Babies are born knowing to only remove enough milk from the breast to be full. Trust me, you can’t force a baby to latch on if they don’t want to. However, you can force a bottle-fed baby or spoon-fed baby to take more than they want. This starts them down the road of wanting more than is necessary. But if you never break their natural ability, they will continue to only eat what they need. The food issues are eliminated for two reasons: there is no drastic change and there is less stress. It’s challenging for a baby to go from being spoon-fed bland tasting mush to suddenly being expected to eat normal adult food. They get used to only one texture and one taste, and then you demand they eat all this other crazy stuff? No wonder picky eats usually prefer simple things. But if you allow them to explore various tastes and textures from the start, it’s not so challenging. Plus, breast milk varies in taste based on what mom ate, so it’s not that big of a leap. With less stress, they have the time to learn at their own pace. Would you like to eat with someone standing over you demanding you eat this or else get punished? No, you wouldn’t! So why do it to a baby? All that teaches you is you are bad and food is bad. This mentality hinders the child from learning the skill. Lastly forcing a child to eat something before they are physically ready can create health problems. Babies are born with holes in their stomach lining to allow the nutrients of milk to seep into other parts of their bodies easier. If you force a child to eat solids before they are ready, these holes do not seal properly and cause digestive and immune system issues.

All this is why I am foregoing the spoon and jar, and letting my son eat from my plate. In my next post, I will explain how the journey is going so far.

Resources:
Infant—Food and Feeding, American Pediatric Association.
Baby-Led Weaning Website
Breastfeeding, World Who Organization

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