If you’re the parent of young ‘uns and have heard of baby-led weaning (or don’t even know what that means, but it sounds interesting), I heartily recommend it. I only heard about it after my baby was born and managed to do some lightning research on it before she reached the weaning stage, and I’m so glad I did.
Now the baby is a year old – goodness me, how time has flown – and she’s a full-fledged BLW aficionado. She picks up tiny peas and quinoa grains between thumb and index finger, and joyfully wields spoons and other utensils.
At the core of the BLW approach is the idea that the baby knows how to wean gradually from milk to solid foods and that the parents should follow the baby’s lead, rather than vice versa. No purees and spoon-feeding, but just offer your baby appropriate portions of the same healthy food that you’re eating as parents, and the baby will do the rest.
Interestingly enough, for all its “new” approach to weaning, the book by Tracey Murkett and Gill Rapley makes clear that many families have practiced it before now.
My husband has said the idea of giving solid food to babies when they’re ready is something his culture has done for centuries. African babies often eat beans and other soft legumes, for example, once they’re six months or older. Their parents will cook them until they’re soft and then offer it to their children.
Just another example of learning from different cultures!
Here are some benefits I see:
- A lot less fighting over food. Because our baby gets to be her own authority over when the food goes into her mouth, and what she’ll eat first, and even whether she’ll use a spoon or her fingers to get it into her mouth, she rarely fusses at the dining table. She’s also surprisingly adventurous about trying new things, from eggplant and asparagus to beef liver and lamb shanks. Even if she refuses something the first time, she’ll be more than willing to try it again the next day … which is great for new mamas to remember! 😉
- Cheaper grocery bills. Instead of having to buy organic baby food purees (which can rack up a fortune in a few days), I just cook up a family meal and pick off a baby-sized portion. We’ve also cut down on eating out, which means we can splurge more on high-quality fresh produce and treats for ourselves. And when we do eat out, our baby just picks off from our own plates – no need to order a kids-sized plate for her yet! Which leads to my next point …
- Healthier eating for the family! How can I forget the time we were dining out and had ordered an appetizer for the table – deep-fried chicken wings, mozzarella cheese sticks, and so on – and my baby pointed at the plate and looked at me expectantly. Instead of going for the deep-fried stuff, I picked a celery stick from the plate and munched it slowly and lovingly, while she watched with bated breath. It gave her new interest in her own celery sticks (which I had brought along as a snack). Then my husband and I took turns distracting her while we ate the “bad” stuff when she wasn’t looking. 😀 It reminded me afresh that it wouldn’t be quite as easy as it had been for me in the past to eat unhealthy foods because now, I had a little person watching me!
That said, here are some things I’d caution others about:
- Mess, mess, mess! It can be quite discouraging the first few months to see more food on the floor than in your baby’s tummy. We would cry out in agony as missiles of carrots, melons, apples, etc. would careen through her fingers, before reaching her mouth, and splat onto the floor. In the beginning we washed sauces and curry powders off the food just to help with cleanup (and it wasn’t like she would eat much of it anyway). Estimated time for cleaning up afterward: at least 10-15 minutes to wash the baby’s face and hands, then wipe down the countertop or table, then clean up the floor, and THEN do the dishes. (Don’t bother about buying an expensive splash mat; just throw a plastic trash bag underneath your baby’s high chair, which works just as well.)
- Seating arrangements. We got an Inglesina Fast Table Chair that can be fastened onto tables and countertops. While it was a lot cheaper than other options I researched, we couldn’t use our usual dining table because the wood underneath wasn’t long enough for the screws to fasten into. So our baby ended up eating on the kitchen countertop, while we ate standing up around her. Not the ideal mode for family time, yes. But now that we have stools to sit on, it’s not quite so uncomfortable for the parents. 😉
- Factor in a LOT of time. The book recommends at least 40 minutes to an hour for mealtimes. While I could get away with 25-30 minutes in the beginning when our baby wasn’t eating a whole lot, it now regularly takes 40 minutes to an hour. That, of course, doesn’t take into account the usual hour or so just to prepare a homemade dinner beforehand. There are some benefits – I can sometimes start washing dishes while my baby’s still eating, for example, or check my email – but on the whole, this is probably my biggest challenge with BLW.
- Plan ahead. Because of the time factor, planning is absolutely essential. It’s forced me to have a strict weekly meal plan, make my grocery list, prep cleaning supplies, do batch cooking and prepare bits and pieces of the meal throughout the day (like cook rice in the morning, or start the crockpot early, or cut and refrigerate veges earlier at a pinch), etc.
In my mind, though, the benefits have outweighed the advantages. I would gladly do it all over again!
Have you tried BLW, and if so, what did you think?