The current WHO (World Health Organisation) guidelines recommend that full term babies are breastfed up until the six month mark for them to achieve optimal health, development and growth. Whatever your feeding choice, formula or breast milk, unless your doctor has advised otherwise (such as in the case of premature babies), please do not start too much earlier than this. There is an interesting new view coming out of Israel (Peanut Allergies in Israeli and UK Jewish children) but until the guidelines change, please follow your doctor’s advice.
Weeks before we started Beans on solids, we had noticed a sudden change in her behaviour around food. Slowly but surely, she had started to try to grab food out of our hands and was noticeably interested when we had food around her. As we sped towards the sixth month mark, I felt it important to learn how on Earth we were going to feed her since I wasn’t terribly good at the whole breastfeeding malarkey (a long story for another day!) The first thing I did was to sign up for an NCT (National Childbirth Trust) postnatal course on introducing solids. The second thing I did, was to invest a small fortune in every recommended weaning gadget on Amazon possible. Finally, I bought three highly praised books:
- Annabel Karmel’s New Complete Baby and Toddler Meal Planner
- Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett’s Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook
- Dr Rana Conway’s Weaning Made Easy
I had a few worries going into this unknown territory, the biggest being that I have quite a few food allergies thanks to Oral Allergy Syndrome and I was concerned that Beans would have a similar reaction. If I eat food that grows on trees raw, my face swells up and my tongue and gums blister. Not much fun and definitely not fun if it’s your baby going through it! Another worry was that how would I know that she was eating enough, after all, we had an extended stay in hospital thanks to not knowing how often she needed feeding (I wasn’t trying to neglect her, I had no idea thanks to not picking up a single baby book because I didn’t believe there would be a baby.) There was one final fear that lay rooted in my past. In the late eighties, early nineties, there was a baby food scare where shards of glass were found in pre-prepared baby food jars and packets. Would I be able to make every meal? Would I be able to feed her the baby crack that is Ella’s Kitchen without a complete fear?
So first things first, the course. In the UK, local Sure Start centres regularly offer weaning courses but sadly, at the time I was
freaking out calmly thinking about weaning, there were none running so I signed up with the NCT. It cost £32 for a four hour session and was held in a local hall with around six other parents and carers. They went over feeding experiences so far, then went over purées and baby-led weaning. Was it worth it? Nope, not really! They briefly touched on first aid, then told us to get first aid training to ensure that we were ready for gagging but that was about all I remember. At Beans’ weigh in the next day, I had a chat with her health visitor who really did give me good advice about working out whether she shared my allergies (by introducing one food at a time and checking nappies) and calmed me down about amounts that she should be eating. That advice was for free, not £32!
Not really knowing where to begin with what I would need to feed Beans, I asked my fellow Rainbows and Unicorns for what they found indispensable and what was basically just spunking money up the wall. The indispensable were things like long sleeved bibs, ice cube trays, plastic boxes and mashers. The stupid stuff was don’t buy rice cookers, baby food blenders or baby food steamers. If you already have food processors and steamers, they will still work for your babies too! Obviously, you will need plates and spoons galore. The silicon and mesh feeders are great when you first start out but are surplus to requirements when they’ve worked out how to eat fruit. The look Beans gives me should I get the mesh feeder out for a strawberry or two! The Annabel Karmel lollipop moulds were also mentioned in the thread and my goodness they’re a lifesaver! They are easy to clean and put together and should your child be teething, they are fabulous! So far we’ve had papaya and banana ice lollies and they have gone down a treat.
Right… The books! Initially, I adored Annabel Karmel. She fed into my need for exact rules with her meal planners telling me how much to give, how many meals a day and what to feed Beans. On days where my husband was around, I would make masses of purées ready to feed Beanie. Y’know, to stop the chances of the shards of glass that were in baby food almost thirty years ago. When we started, if she liked the food (all of the fruits and sweet potato), she would excitedly grab the spoon out of my hand and feed herself. If she didn’t (all vegetables apart from sweet potato), she would squeal and turn her head, refusing point blank. I became a bit bored. I could see that Beans had good co-ordination, what was the point of feeding her like this? Most food does not come in purées. Was this a real life example of what food is?
We switched over to Gill Rapley’s method of Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) or in other words, giving your baby real food. (Weaning Made Easy by Rana Conway is like a halfway house between BLW and purées.) Beans was copying us and our eating movements before we started weaning. She would do a chewing movement with her jaw and bring her hand to her mouth repeatedly whilst watching us eat. This covers some of the rationales for doing BLW- self feeding and motivation. One of the major differences between purées and BLW that I have noticed is that food that Beans had originally rejected, she will now pick up and chomp quite happily (apart from carrots and peas. There is NO WAY she will eat those!) The main thing I have to remember is to cut food to a length slightly longer than her fist so that she can pick up and feed herself easily.
A lot of people worry about choking when you follow BLW. To be completely honest, whilst there is the odd little gag from Beans, we haven’t had any serious choking. I think, in part, it is to do with the fact that she is in control with what is going into her mouth. Generally, she moves food in and out of her mouth without even biting hard on it. If she does bite down, most of what she has chewed off comes back out so there’s little chance of choking. If your baby isn’t moving food to their mouth by themselves, they are probably not developmentally ready for BLW. Try to resist wanting to feed your baby! They will get it eventually! There are some simple ways of avoiding choking such as making sure your baby is sitting up (either on your lap or in a high chair) and not giving them foods like peanuts, not for the allergy aspect but rather the fact they are hard and easy to aspirate. Another part that I cannot recommend enough (and not only in regards to feeding) is receiving some sort of first aid training. As a teacher, I have child training but infant is seen as separate. During a trip to a baby show, I did a short course of Red Cross, which taught me the correct way to stop a baby choking — this is probably a major factor in why I am not so worried about gagging.
The amount of food that Beans is currently eating is reasonably minimal. For example, the food she has been offered today was a Weetabix soaked in milk and covered in fromage frais and half a banana for breakfast; lunch was toast with mashed sardines, cherry tomatoes and lemon juice and cucumber with pear for afters; dinner will be home made meatballs and pasta, if madam decides to wake up! Out of all of that food, she licked all the fromage frais off and had two sticks of banana, chewed two fingers of toast and ate the toppings off the other slices and ate one slice of pear. Weaning Beans is a slow process and her milk is still a massive source of her vitamins and minerals. Generally the advice in the UK is that once weaning has started, you still run breast milk or formula alongside their food until they are eating full meals. As your baby eats more solid foods, the amount of milk they want will decrease and once your baby is eating plenty of solids several times a day, they may take less milk at each feed or even drop a milk feed altogether. Official advice is not to wean your child off breast milk or formula until they are a year old.
One of my most favourite things about BLW, and specifically the cookbook assigned to it, is that the recipes are made supposedly for two adults and a baby. I say supposedly as if that is the case, the portion sizes are HUMONGOUS! My husband and I eat a lot but my goodness, there are always left overs. The food is really healthy and tasty too. Suddenly we’re eating so much more healthily and the best bit of all is that we all sit at the table together. We sit as a family with Beans in her Tripp Trapp, me holding her plate (so that the food doesn’t become airborne) and her daddy laughing at the faces she pulls as she tries all these different foods. My baby girl gobbling up fistfuls of food. Her grin when she spies her fromage frais or strawberries.
We’ve come a long way from those initial days in hospital, baby.