Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Baby-Led Solids

Squeak at 8 months, gnawing on a slice of strawberry

Being the crunchy-ish mom that I am, I'm asked if I make my own baby food.  The answer:  yes and no.

I have never made food specifically for my babies.  Instead, we let them feed themselves and gave them opportunities to try things from our plates.  Bean wasn't interested in solid food for a long while.  He hardly ate anything in his first year, and what he did eat was mainly grains of puffed rice, a bite here and there of fruits, and a couple of beans every now and then. 

This method of introducing a baby to solid food is called either "baby-led solids" or "baby-led weaning."  I usually call it baby-led solids, but really once you introduce something other than breastmilk or formula you have initiated weaning to solid foods.  Either name works.

So here's a quick crash course in this method of starting solids from my experience doing this with my two kids.

There are so many schools of thought on this!  You can find lists and articles on signs of readiness that often conflict with each other.  The AAP recommends starting solids at six months.  We tried starting Bean right at six months and it was a total flop and so stressful!  He has always been opinionated.  He wouldn't let me feed him.  He didn't want solids at six months. 

With Squeak, I actually let him gum at something on my fork shortly before he was six months old because he was screaming and grabbing at it!

In the end, I'd advocate that you watch your baby and (as always) trust your gut.  I love baby-led solids partly because I feel that I am meeting my baby's needs and following his developmental path, rather than imposing a one-size-fits-all schedule.  And my kids' paths are so different!  Bean was crawling at 7 months and walking at 9.5 months but his fine motor skills were average-to-slow, and that included the pincer grasp and eating.  Squeak crawled at about 9.5 months and I don't expect him to walk before his birthay, but has always had excellent fine motor skills.  His pincer grasp was great at 6 months and he could feed himself grains of puffed rice - even switching from one hand's pincer grasp to the other - by 7 months old.

All that is to say that I don't think anyone can tell you when to start solids (or exactly how), except your baby.  That said, do look over some information about growth spurts, night-waking, and the infant gut if you're feeling unsure.  I really don't think a baby would let you not give them solids when they've decided they're ready, though!  I had planned to not even offer Squeak food at six months (I was going to wait to see his interest), but he was demanding it!


 My own reasons:
  • I like knowing what exactly my kids are eating, and I like the idea of making my own baby food...but I don't really want to deal with whizzing stuff up, storing it, etc. 
  • I feel that this allows me to follow my baby's lead in easiest way.
  • My kids eat what we're eating right from the beginning (sometimes I have to pick things out of my meal, but it's generally not a big deal).
  • No baby food jars or other packaging.  The trash/clutter/storage aspect is sort of a neurosis of mine.
  • Generally the baby is eating on his own near me and, while I might be putting more food on his tray as he eats it, I'm not feeding him every bite.  Less work for me.  (Arguably messier, I admit.  Really, I think babies and solid food is gross.  They require after-meal baths, their poop becomes disgusting, the kitchen floor is covered in food, and our old fabric high chair was so difficult to clean that it was growing mold from all the food gunk smushed into it.  But I don't think this is unique to baby-led solids - I think it is a universal experience with solids-eating babies and very young children!)
For a short time, Squeak wanted to gum at whatever was on my fork.  We took turns eating my dinner.  But for the most part I have simply put some food on his tray.  For example, last night I picked out rice and beans and made sure I avoided onions and peppers (because he can't grind anything down yet, since he doesn't have molars).

What foods do you start with?
There are two categories of foods I currently give Squeak:
1) large chunks (too large to choke on) that he can scrape with his teeth, gum, etc without them falling apart.  Carrots and celery are great for this.  Though, currently, I don't give him celery because he can break/bite a chunk off but he cannot actually chew it.  Before he had figured out biting, it was fine.
2) Foods that I can eat without using my teeth - if I can suck on it until it can be swallowed or work on it against the roof of my mouth with my tongue, then I will let Squeak try it. This includes steal-cut oats, cooked veggies, rice puffs, tender meats, bananas, etc.  He does chew/grind with his four front teeth now, so I watch him closely and let him try some crisper things (like apples).  He will store some in his cheek - I've gotten good and holding his nose and doing a quick sweep to get food (and rocks, leaves, fuzz, grass, and paper) out of his mouth.

Puffed rice is a favorite snack food.  It dissolves into a mush with just a little gumming and moving it around with the tongue.  It's also an excellent size for practicing that pincer grasp!

Now that Squeak is biting chunks off of things, I also give him puffed corn as a quick snack.

What about iron?

Both of my kids have actually been very slightly anemic at their 9-month checks.  I have spoken to our pediatrician about whether to do iron-fortified infant cereals, a supplement, or focus on foods that are iron- and vitamin-c rich plus cook with a cast-iron skillet.  Because their iron was only slightly below normal, she was comfortable having me do only (non-fortified) foods and skip the supplement.  This was an appealing option to me because the supplement can cause constipation and generally really  really gross diapers (I gave it to Bean once, before doing some reading and then talking to the pediatrician.  It was like tar...).  Also, the iron present naturally in foods and breastmilk is better-absorbed than supplements or fortified cereals.  Plus, the absorption of naturally-occurring iron can be blocked by the supplements/added iron.

Obviously, if my kids were more than a little iron-deficient (or diet didn't raise it as quickly as it did), I would have loaded them up with all the supplemental iron I could!  I am not advocating here to go against doctors' orders or saying supplements and fortified cereals are bad or always unnecessary.  If they give you peace of mind, do it.

And vitamin C is necessary for absorption of iron, so if you're concerned about iron-deficiency anemia, focus on that as well!

What about choking?
We've had some gagging, and I have done a few finger sweeps to help the gagging, but the gag and tongue-thrust reflexes make most babies pretty adept at ejecting things that s/he can't swallow.  And ever since Squeak swallowed part of a cocktail umbrella and it successfully passed through his stomach only to get stuck in his colon...and he was just fine?  I don't worry as much about actual food as I once did...

However, if you are freaking out at this whole notion?  Don't do it.  It's simply another option - not the ultimate, must-do, best practice!

How did you start and progress with solids, or how do you plan to?  Did/do you find it intimidating?  Fun?  Gross?

Any other questions?  I have information about food allergies, what foods to hold off on (like honey until your baby's first birthday), websites about baby-led weaning (there is also a book and even a cookbook), etc.  Just comment, email (contentedlycrunchy at gmail dot com), or leave a comment on the Facebook page!

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