So you want to know what all the fuss is about in Rapley’s Baby-led weaning?
In a nutshell, with Baby-led weaning, you offer the baby real food (not pureed) and allow him to feed himself spoon-less (while resisting the urge to interfere). While most babies won’t choke, this approach (as I gather) is not for the faint of heart, for your baby most likely initially will gag a lot and try to work pieces out of his mouth on his own. I don’t know about you, but my first instinct would be to reach down the baby’s throat/mouth and grab the chunk out. With that said, I am starting this method tomorrow with my 5 month old daughter. I really, really like it.
This self-feeding approach lets the baby explore and experience different textures (which they don’t usually experience with purees), shapes, colors, smells and tastes independently and at his own pace. [The baby decides when and how much.] It naturally helps the baby build confidence and skill (hand-eye coordination and chewing) while breeding non-picky eaters (and avoiding dreaded food battles, which we sometimes have with my son).
Sounds good, but what about choking hazards?
(This paragraph is directly from the website.)
Many parents worry about babies choking. However, there is good reason to believe 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 developed the ability to chew. And they do not develop the ability to chew until after they have developed the ability to reach out and grab things. The ability to pick up very small things develops later still. Thus, a very young baby cannot easily put himself at risk because he cannot get small pieces of food into his mouth. Spoon feeding, by contrast, encourages the baby to suck the food straight to the back of his mouth, potentially making choking more likely.
OK, I’m ready to give it a try! So, how do I start?
The book encourages parents to begin this method on (healthy) babies of 6 months of age, when the baby is able to sit upright and actually self-feed by hand. Keep in mind that for the first few months, the baby may not eat very much at all. It will mostly be experimenting fun and not actual meals. There are some general rules and guidelines, do’s and don’ts (and foods to initially avoid), but most of it is commonsense. You can read it more in detail on the website and in the book, but here are a few:
- Keep the baby upright (not tilted backwards) at all times with hands and arms free to move as needed. If you keep the baby upright, it ensures that bigger chunks of food and pieces he rejects will fall forward right out of his mouth.
- Never leave the baby unattended.
- Offer a variety of nutritious foods (no fast foods, ready-made meals, foods with added salts and sugars).
- In order to keep the baby looking forward to eating, keep the mealtime a happy one.
- Expect a mess. A big one. Especially at first.
- Lightly cook/steam harder foods like apples and carrots.
- When first starting out, cut foods into strips and sticks. As a general rule, pieces offered should be the size of the baby’s fist. Foods with a “handle” (like broccoli) are easier for the baby to grasp and eat. Cut smaller foods (like olives, cherries, grapes) in half and remove all pits.
- Offer food to the baby – put it out in front of him and resist the urge to feed the baby. Allow him to decide if, when and which foods go in his mouth.
- Try to eat together when possible, and the same food that you are eating (if it is appropriate for the baby)
- Don’t rush the baby.
As always, discuss any new approach with your pediatrician, and make sure you research (and avoid) any known family histories of food allergies, intolerance, or other issues. For other questions and advice, I found links to quite a number of forums and other “mommy websites” on the BLW website that you could use as resources.All in all, I think this idea is absolutely fabulous, though I can see someone having to tweak it a bit if their baby’s gag reflex is too strong or if the baby gets too frustrated (when not enough food seems to make it in his mouth). But in that case, you can process some foods or use purees part-time.
If you do this method already (or did in the past), share your experiences with us in the comments!