This is a new series of Opinion entries which will be different from the research based articles I usually post.
When my son turned 6 months like all parent we began looking into how to introduce solid foods to him. Like most people I knew about starting with fruit and vegetable purees and had already bought a couple ( OK maybe more than a couple) baby cookbooks with all these puree combinations and meal plans. We were ready to start!
Then I came across Baby Lead Weaning (BLW). I had come across the (misleading) title before and ignored it because we had no plans to wean our baby any time soon. On further inspection it has nothing to do with weaning per say and everything to do with introducing solids in a very interesting way.
BLW (a term attributed to Gill Rapley ) is basically about allowing your child to self feed and skipping purees altogether and going for appropriate finger food. You can read all the details and guidelines about BLW here on their official website.
Going through the process with my own son it made me realize how much BLW supports the philosophies we try to follow in Positive Parenting:
- Choosing an age appropriate activity for your child:
One of the first guidelines of BLW is waiting till your child shows signs of readiness. Is he sitting up independently? is he reaching for objects and interested in putting them in his mouth?
- Supporting your child’s development:
Children at that age naturally place things in their mouths. Self feeding is a natural extension to this instinct as well as exercise fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination.
- Helping your child develop positive eating habits:
Feeding himself allows your child to regulate how much food he eats when he’s hungry and stop when he’s full on his own. He also gets to practice his independence by choosing what to eat and what not to eat. There is no “last spoon” to finish off, just his own self monitoring.
- Avoiding feeding power struggles:
Mealtimes can turn into real struggles as parents negotiate with their kids to finish their food, eat one more bite or threaten no dessert. Practicing BLW helps you learn to trust your child and his food intake. He may eat very little for breakfast but have a good dinner or he may have a lousy day eating but eat double his portions the next day. An article I read once on baby and toddler eating had very good advice; it said it’s always best to look at how much your child is eating within the week. That is a fairer estimate than judging day-to-day eating.
- Avoiding raising a picky eater:
Children are people like the rest of us, they like and dislike different things, and sometimes they change their minds! By placing diverse and healthy choices in front of your child you are teaching them how to value food and decide for themselves what they want to eat. Don’t be discouraged! Reintroduce rejected foods over and over again, you’ll be pleasantly surprised when your child starts eating them!
- Eating together as a family and creating a positive habit:
Often times I see families experience this scenario; parents eat separately then baby is fed alone either before or after parents. Sometimes it can last an hour feeding the child and it can feel like a chore! Other times parents let their children roam feed. But at a certain point and age you are going to start requesting that your child “grow up” and sit at the table and eat “properly”. So why wait to introduce this? Babies and toddlers learn instinctively through imitation. When you model eating and proper dinner behavior they’ll pick up on it and be encouraged. That’s not to say they won’t fling food or throw their spoons. These are all natural behaviors that children do as they explore the world and their limits.
Finally, I have to say starting off with BLW sometimes isn’t always easy. On our first day of feeding I found myself wanting my son to have more of the spoon instead of just a taste as he’s supposed to. Parents are told that suddenly children should be consuming several spoonfuls of food 1-3 times a day and that can put a lot of pressure. I believe the biggest issue to overcome is the parent’s own emotional one of letting go and trusting your child and the process. That being said, sometimes BLW doesn’t match your child or your family’s needs and may not be for you. Sometimes a blend of spoon feeding and BLW is what works. I spoon feed my child when he gets lazy or is tired as well. These are all natural. The important point at the essence of positive parenting is to keep a flexible mind about things; some days baby will eat well and others not, sometimes he’ll self feed and others need help, he may love carrots today but hate them tomorrow for no apparent reason. In all cases there is no need to feel pressured or stressed, ask yourself these questions:
- At the end of the week; did my child eat well?
- Did he have a diverse selection of healthy choices?
- Was mealtime a pleasant and stress-free experience for everyone?
- What can be changed for next time?
It’s an ongoing process. Here area a list of references I’ve found useful on young children and eating.