I love the ideas behind ‘baby led’ weaning. Waiting until your baby actually wants food and, therefore, escaping the vicious circle that is ‘mush on spoon à spoon in mouth à much spat out à mush on spoon again’ sounds like a reasonable proposition. Then there are the added benefits of not spending your evenings pureeing ‘batches’ for the freezer. Instead you just hand your baby a broccoli floret and let them suck on it for half an hour whilst you play Candy Crush. What’s not to love?
My health visitor was the first to explain the basics of ‘baby led’ to me. She was awesome; always really supportive and reassuring. She told me about the signs that your baby is ready for solids. They can sit in a high chair, has a gag reflex, hand-eye coordination and is interested in food etc. “You go with your baby” she encouraged me, and said that it didn’t really matter if I didn’t wait until 6 months as long as I was being attentive to Bubs’ needs. So, you know – baby is leading. Coolio.
Cut to a month or so later, when I attend a baby led weaning workshop at my local Sure Start centre. The nurse who ran it announced that ‘baby led’ weaning is waiting until six months and then only giving finger foods. To be fair, she did mention earlier weaning as an ‘option’ but it was clearly not recommended. It was a really useful workshop in a lot of ways, especially learning the difference between gagging and choking (that shizzle looks SCARY if you don’t know what it is). But I did not abide by the guidelines it laid down, no Siree. There were definitely some spoons and mush involved.
Still, Bubs eats almost everything with his hand nowadays; veg, cereal, spaghetti, you name it! And that makes things a lot easier as I can eat when he does. At some meals I even get to eat sitting down, using both of my hands, at the same time!! #winning
So, I have no beef with ‘baby led’ as a method. Well, almost none. It’s just that I’m a bit irked by the fact that it’s called the ‘baby led’ method.
From what I understand (and I’m certain some of you will correct me if I’m wrong), baby-led simply refers to offering your baby finger foods etc from the beginning, rather than starting on puree etc. It also refers to waiting for them to be sitting, with good hand-eye coordination and the ability to swallow (okay, that last is pretty obvious, obvs). Then you have the whole six-month milestone, when they are ready for proper solids. Hmm.
If we’ve decided which foods we’re going to give our baby and what age they’ll be when we start, aren’t we the one’s leading?
I don’t know how else to put this, so I’m just gonna come right out with it: to me, the name ‘baby led’ just sounds a bit, well, smug.
Obviously the average parent chooses when and how to weaning their children based on a) what’s best for the child and b) what works for the rest of the family. So please don’t think I’m saying that parents who start with finger food are smug. I’m not. But what I am saying is words have power! If one group of people gets to say that they have engaged in ‘baby led’ weaning, whilst the other say ‘spoon-fed’ I think the latter might feel a bit belittled, or even disempowered.
Let’s just say, hypothetically, that a mother has a very big baby, who cannot get enough milk down himself. He’s depleted the breast milk supply and is a formula fiend: hungry hungry hungry!! Say that mother does A LOT of research and decides to give him food bang on 17 weeks; just easily digestible mush on a spoon for the first while. Perhaps the baby is much more settled and happy after that, sleeps better, doesn’t cry as much… You see, to me that would seem pretty ‘baby-led’. But this mum might feel she isn’t doing the ‘right thing’, she might be seen as old-fashioned or, much worse, selfish for her decisions. She might even be told by a health visitor that she had “put her baby at risk”.
This is all hypothetical, you understand, and defo didn’t happen to someone I know or anything. Sigh.
No informed decision that a parent makes, lovingly or pragmatically, should be seen as inferior. I mean, come on guys, let’s not create an additional infant-feeding hierarchy. We already have ‘breast-feeding v formula’ pretty much nailed (insert angry comment below).
Terminology surrounding parenting choices often becomes value-laden. THIS way is the right way, and all others are what lazy/uninformed/bad parents do. Most of us know that is utter tosh but that doesn’t stop us from worrying that we are in the latter category sometimes. So perhaps we could choose our words more consciously. If it’s going to be ‘spoon feeding’ for the puree-first stuff then maybe the other approach should be called ‘finger feeding’ or something. Okay, that’s not the most inspired name but it’s a lot more accurate and not half as up itself!
Or maybe, perhaps, possibly, we might think about just not labelling ourselves in camps. Let’s face it, when it comes to parenting the only ‘method’ most of us actually stick to is trail-and-error (my new book Trial and Error Child-Rearing: the technique for parents who can’t be bothered will be in all good bookstores next Spring).
But that’s not enough is it? We have to have something to say about our choices. It has to be this guideline, or that book, or someone else who led us to our conclusions. We have to have thought it all through. Otherwise how will we explain ourselves?? I mean, imagine the scene:
Have you weaned your children?
Yes, I have.
What method did you use?
Oh, I pretty much stuck to the give-them-some-food method. You know, food in the mouth, swallowing it and then pooing a bit later. Then some more food after that at some point.
Great, where can I get the book?
What do you think? I ‘baby led’ an accurate and helpful name? Maybe you’ve felt judged for you weaning choices, either way? Get involved by commenting below, tweeting me @aafew or.going to my Facebook page.