I am a definite believer in baby led weaning and giving children a chance to explore foods for themselves. Baby led weaning is a very simple way of feeding your baby. You basically pop real food in front of them and let them help themselves! It can be extremely messy at times but as a mum of four mealtimes are quite messy anyway. I actually found myself encouraging baby led weaning without even thinking about it or knowing what it was, as I have always championed discovery with different tastes and textures.
One of the main reasons I was happy to follow it with my youngest Violet (10mths) is because it’s completely natural – in fact it’s basically an extension of a baby’s hand-to-mouth instinct and of course it saves me having to whizz up baby food for her, she just eats what the rest of us are eating, she loves drumsticks! I also noticed that amongst my children, the younger siblings tend to copy the eldest, even with the way they ate so they naturally leant towards feeding themselves. (Finally, if I’m totally honest, with the Violet it wasn’t really a conscious decision to follow BLW – frankly if she hadn’t learned to feed herself, as the youngest of 4 siblings she would probably have gone hungry!)
The best part about baby led weaning is that my children have loved the learning experience; I really believe it has taught them to be adventurous. Although not many formal studies have been done on baby led weaning, a recent study has shown that children who were allowed to feed themselves, joined in with family mealtimes and ate a wide range of food types early on. I know that this, at least, is the case with my youngest. The range of foods she eats is far broader than that of her siblings at her age. In fact, if we don’t stop her, she’ll eat every part of the food – skins, stones, pips… Perhaps she’s a bit too adventurous!
Enjoying a broad range of food is good for babies’ long-term nutrition as well as their enjoyment; it is never too early to learn to eat the rainbow of fruits and vegetables. In addition, giving babies a variety of foods helps them to take control on when they’ve had enough, which in turn can help them to develop natural appetite control. This may be an important part of preventing food conflicts and negative food relationships when they are older.
Baby led weaning doesn’t only have food benefits; it also helps teach babies about everything around them. Play is essential for babies to learn; they learn about concepts such as size, shape, weight and texture just by ‘playing’ with their food. And because all their senses are involved when they feed themselves, babies discover how to relate these things together for a better understanding of everything around them. (While I love the notion of letting babies do what they want and need to do to learn, there are some limits to my laissez-faire attitude – a plastic floor mat is advisable to minimise the inevitable BLW mess!)
Lots of fruits and vegetables are great for baby led weaning but here are some that worked for me and Violet. Sweet potato is a highly nutritious food that little ones love – this can be cut in strips so baby can hold easily. Another great food is the simple banana; this is best served in large chunks for baby to gnaw. Lastly avocado, we call it ‘nature’s perfect baby food’ and with good reason. An excellent source of healthy fats that requires no cooking, it is again best served in strips so they have something to hold as the food will inevitably get squished in their little hands. On Christmas day this year Violet sat at the head of the table with a leg of turkey in front of her and gnawed away. At just 7 months old she was totally entertained for the whole meal and everyone was totally amused by her genius. It was too heavy for her to lift so she just held it down and dipped her head and pulled off pieces of meat in her mouth. As she didn’t have teeth she just gummed it until it was safe for her to swallow.
We don’t have to stop at simple fruit and veg, Violet loves almost everything from my Vietnamese spring rolls to asparagus, and it is a messy but fun affair! Just look at how delighted she is with herself:
Being able to watch my children learn about food without any pressure to force them to eat, means that mealtimes is enjoyable for me too. But best of all, it’s great for the babies. Violet is learning independence, coordination, and most importantly (as least for me!) is developing quite the gourmand’s palate!