So here we are! That oh so big milestone of starting solid foods.
After 6 months of exclusively breastfeeding, to the utter astonishment of some (how can he possibly be getting enough nourishment from just milk!? It’s amazing, isn’t it?), K is slowly getting into the idea of feeding himself with his own hands and swallowing food that isn’t liquid!
The idea of ‘baby led weaning’ (BLW) is, just as with breastfeeding, to follow the baby’s lead. Your job is to offer healthy and appropriate foods, they decide if, how and how much they eat. And they feed themselves. With their very capable hands which by the age of six months should have had plenty of practice moving to the mouth and grasping objects and moving them to the mouth to taste, gum, slobber all over. It’s really amazing. If we just stand back and watch, every step of a baby’s development is like a stepping stone to the next milestone. It’s best not to interfere!
The most pressing question that everyone has with BLW is, “but won’t he choke?!”. I had that question too because it’s just so commonplace to see babies being fed solids progressively from super smooth, to mushy with bigger lumps and so on… From what I’ve learned in theory, babies have an amazing ‘gag reflex’ and this reflex is much closer to the opening of the mouth when the baby is just beginning to get ready for solids so when he does start eating, the reflex works very effectively to prevent any large pieces of food that cannot be swallowed from going anywhere near the airway. This gag reflex helps the baby to learn how much food he should put in his mouth to prevent gagging, how far he can push it in and how much he should chew to make smaller pieces to swallow. As he’s learning, anything that he cannot manage to chew or swallow simply moves to the front of the mouth and falls out. This reflex moves back closer to the airway as he gets older so it’s really great to let the baby practice with the safety net of a very easily activated gag reflex in the early months to prevent choking later on.
In theory it sounds amazing and you want with all your heart to believe it and trust the process but in practice, I won’t lie, it’s scary as heck. Since we’ve started, Robert and I have watched K eat with baited breath as obviously too large pieces of whatever he’s eating disappears into his mouth. We have to use all the willpower we can muster to not stick our fingers in his mouth and pull it out (which is actually more dangerous as our fingers could accidentally push the food further back). Every single time though, after maneuvering the food in his mouth for a few seemingly endless moments, it always always dribbles out and we learn to trust him and his body a little more each time.
There’s so much more I’d like to share but for now, here’s a quick video of K enjoying some steamed apples!
For more on Baby-Led Weaning, buy yourself a copy of this book!