Baby-led weaning update
Michael is almost two now, which means he’s been eating solids for almost a year and a half. I thought I’d share my reflections on our experience with feeding Michael and how the baby-led weaning approach has been working.
Baby-led weaning is an approach to introducing solids that are not pureed, so that baby can self-feed and enjoy a variety of textures. There is also the theory that seeing foods in their normal form will help baby determine what he or she needs, allowing baby choice and self-regulation. We initially tried puree and finger foods. I thought he needed puree because he didn’t have teeth and I read that you can’t really digest food that isn’t chewed properly. What I didn’t understand was that the first several months of solids are purely for experimentation…not nutrition. Also, babies can actually chew some foods without teeth. From around age 6 months to a year, most babies will put just about anything in their mouths. They are willing to try so many foods at this age, so it’s the perfect time to introduce them, with their normal shapes and textures. After the purees gave him a tummy ache, and he soon refused them, I realized we had gone down the wrong route. By 8 or 9 months, we were fully on the baby-led weaning route.
Michael loved a great variety of healthy foods, and on the rare occasion he got a sweet, he didn’t eat much of it. By a year he was ready to eat anything off of my plate (I held off on high allergen risk foods, like peanuts, until this time). He didn’t eat very much solid food at all. Just nibbles and tastes, unless he was really hungry or tried something he really liked. And that was just fine because he was still getting everything he needed from the breast. He only had two teeth at this time, so eating took some effort on his part, and I think it was too much trouble for him to eat a lot of food.
In hindsight, I would have given him an even greater variety to try before he turned one, because afterwards, he became a little less adventurous. It was like the first months primed him on what he thought he should be eating. The good news was that he had tried and liked lots of healthy, wholesome foods, textures and all.
I noticed with each new tooth he was able to chew more efficiently. This fits along with my theory that children shouldn’t be weaned from the breast until they have all their baby teeth (also known as milk teeth!). Otherwise, it would just take too long to eat normal food, especially things like meat and raw veggies. Michael was a late teether (didn’t even get his 3rd and 4th teeth until he was 15 months old), so I think this has made it take longer for him to eat more solids. With each new pair of teeth, he would increase the amount of solids he would eat.
Sometimes it takes a while for him to accept a new food. For example, he wouldn’t eat potatoes for the longest time. Sometimes he just needs time, and sometimes I have to figure out how he likes it. Turns out that he prefers broccoli and mushrooms raw, and he likes potatoes baked with olive oil. I think he is going to have a nicely refined palate, too, because when something is seasoned well and cooked right, and he will eat it up. A couple times I have ordered him food off of the kids menu at a restaurant, and he won’t eat it if the quality is low. He likes real food.
Around 18 months old, he decided he liked sweets and was excited about them. At first he asked for them every day or two (this was during Christmas time, so sweets were in abundance), but then the novelty wore off. We have always limited their appearance in our house, but we always let him have some if he wants. Sometimes I have to remind him that there is other food to eat, and he readily accepts the healthier food. It might still take some time for him to realize that sweets don’t satisfy hunger very well. We only keep dark chocolate in the house, and he loves it, but would much rather gobble up a bowl of berries. He doesn’t ask for sweets very often. Normally.
Michael always gets the same food we are eating. I always try to provide a well-balanced meal that includes a couple of things that he favors. I always give him some of everything, even if I think he won’t eat it. Sometimes he won’t touch something he normally likes. Sometimes he just wants tomatoes, and sometimes he won’t touch them. Same thing with meat, or cheese, or bread. He is listening to his body and eating what he craves. We never make him try anything he doesn’t want to. We don’t coax him to finish his meal. He doesn’t have to eat anything if he doesn’t want to.
Since he is still nursing, I don’t worry about him going hungry or not getting enough nutrients. Even though I think he eats some pretty healthy foods, it’s nice to know that the milk rounds out his meals. Especially on those occasions when all he wants is french fries (hey, it happens).
In hindsight, there are a few things I would do differently. I would have started giving him food when he first showed interest around four months. He probably wouldn’t have eaten anything that young, but he could have tasted something, just sucked on some food maybe. There were times that he would just stare at me like, I want some, where’s mine? I was too worried about the “open gut” that I wanted to play it safe and wait till 6 months. Next time I think I will trust my child to know when he or she is ready.
I would have exposed him to more foods before he turned one. This is definitely a window of opportunity for trying new things. And then, just as a general rule, which I am already starting to do, is provide a bigger spread of food at the dinner table, so that everyone has more to choose from. It’s a little more work, but a very healthy practice, I think.
He still has a typical toddler appetite, eating so little at times and then gorging on something. He seems like he’s getting pickier, but I think he’s just learning what he likes and knows what he’s in the mood for. I think he is listening to his body, maybe holding out for the specific nutrients that he needs. Overall, I still think it’s going really well.