It’s time for solid food! Why not consider baby-led weaning?

When we think of introducing solid food to our babies we imaginespoons, bowls of mush and airplane noises. But it doesn’thave to be like that and increasingly for thousands of parents andbabies worldwide the spoons are staying in the drawer.I’m talking about ‘baby-led weaning’.It’s not new. For generations parents have allowed babies toexperiment with food and eat at their own pace. It’s onlyrelatively recently that it became fashionable for babies to be fedsolid food before they were ready to sit up, hold things ormanipulate food. When a baby is a fairly passive small lump (albeitan adorable one) all you can do with food is spoon it in and hopesome of it remains (rather than end up on the wallpaper, bib, rug,clean shirt for work). But internationally the recommended age forstarting your baby on solids has recently changed. It’s nowrecommended by the AAP, Health Canada, UK NHS, World HealthOrganization (to name only a few) that a baby is exclusivelybreastfeed for the first six months and then solid food isintroduced alongside their milk diet. Even when a baby is formulafed it’s felt best to hold off on solids for 6 months toprevent allergies, digestive discomfort and because their milkgives them all that they need.And a 6 month old baby is far from a passive lump. They areoften able to sit, grasp things, and make choices. Give them apiece of food and they can pick it up and put it in their mouths,crush it with their gums (if no teeth have appeared yet) and whenthey are ready they can move it around and swallow it. So if theycan do all then that doesn’t it make sense to give them achip-shaped piece of steamed carrot or a broccoli floret and justlet them get on with it? Why would it be considered preferable toboil it, mash it, freeze it, and defrost it thereby losing a wholebunch of nutrients and vitamins not to mention causing hassle,wasting time and making a whole lot more washing-up? What soundseasier: Putting aside some vegetables from your family meal to handto your 6 month old baby and watch them enjoy the new textures,colours and experiences OR steaming vegetables at another time,pureeing and freezing them and later defrosting and heating themand then sitting in front of your baby spooning it in one mouthfulat a time? What would be cheaper? Buying specially made jars ofbaby food or just offering some food from your own meal?So the principle of baby-led weaning is really that simple. Letthe baby feed themselves healthy appropriate food which they canhold themselves. It’s basically a diet of finger food with noneed for the purees and mush.The modern baby-led weaning movement is the brain child of GillRapley, Deputy Programme Director of Unicef Baby FriendlyInitiative. She has based her enthusiasm for baby-led weaning onher own experiences as a mother, as a health visitor workingalongside mothers and babies in the UK for many years and from herfindings while studying for her Master’s degree. Some parentsare wary of baby-led weaning as they fear the baby might choke butas Gill Rapley explains:“There is good reason to believe that babies are atless risk of choking if they are in control of what goesinto their mouth than if they are spoon fed. This is because babiesare not capable of intentionally moving food to the back of theirthroats until after they have developed the ability tochew. And they do not develop the ability to chew untilafter they have developed the ability to reach out andgrab things. The ability to pick up very small things developslater still. Thus, a very young baby cannot easily put himself atrisk because he cannot get small pieces of food into his mouth.Spoon feeding, by contrast, encourages the baby to suck the foodstraight to the back of his mouth, potentially making choking morelikely.”[]I went down the purees route with my eldest son and worriedabout introducing lumps, spoon refusal, making ice cubes of pureedfruit and vegetables and I’m exhausted just remembering thosefew months. With my daughter I had read about baby-led weaning andit seemed so logical and sensible. As a breastfed baby she was incontrol and it just seemed obvious that self-feeding solid food wasa natural extension.In a restaurant a few weeks ago I was sitting alongside anothermother and baby who had gone down the pureed food route. I watchedas she took out her jars and pots, spoons and bowls. She happilysat and fed her baby, wiped up, gave the baby a toy and started toeventually eat her own meal. At the same moment my daughter had atray of fresh vegetables, scrambled egg, toast and cheese. She fedherself while I ate my meal. We ate together just as we will fordecades to come. Her tray was full of colours and flavours andtextures. She chose each mouthful and developed her motor controland chewing skills. And I felt very proud (and slightly smug it hasto be said).Further reading: