About a week ago, I started introducing Baby Ruby to solids. The fact that I say “about a week ago” (rather than being able to recite the exact date and time) really tells a story all on its own… She was 5 and a half months old (how did that happen so fast?!), and I realised I’d better get a move on before I found myself having to explain to the paediatrician at her 6-month check why I hadn’t got round to weaning yet.
In many ways, this has been the story of Ruby’s babyhood so far. My precious littlest love, my cherry on the top of everything I ever wanted – so undemanding and gentle, it seems she too often occupies the backseat in this hectic life of ours. How different things are the second time round!
When big sister Annabel was ready to be weaned (I knew the exact moment as I spent every nanosecond of every day tuned in to her every whim), I ordered a top-of-the-range high chair from Amazon, stocked up those cute little Tommee Tippee freezer pots and a huge box of Avent storage cups, cracked open my copy of Annabel Karmel’s Weaning, and diligently set about the task of cooking up batch after batch of homemade delights to tempt her little palette. There was carrot (to start), butternut (to move on to three days later), sweet potato, trio of root vegetables, apple puree, pear puree… and so it went on.
Of course, 90% of the fruits of my labour went on to Annabel’s face, hair, hands, highchair and the floor. I persevered anyway, and with the exception of the occasional Ella’s Kitchen sachet when we were out and about (thank you Paul Lindley, parents everywhere are forever in your debt), my firstborn rarely had anything that wasn’t homemade pass her lips until well after her first birthday.
My poor Ruby. As we are in the (slow and painful) process moving country, the high chair is in storage, as is my food processor (what was I thinking?!). We had no baby spoons (so I dashed out and bought some), but, thanks to the giant stash of Ella’s Kitchen I brought back from the UK recently, one week into weaning she had not yet had anything homemade – and I feel like the worst mother ever! With Annabel running circles round my heels and making her own (totally legitimate) demands on me, how am I supposed to find the time to dedicate to weaning Ruby as she deserves?
As with most things as I feel my way around this motherhood gig, I’ve turned to the only true oracle I know on the subject – the fountains of knowledge and advice that are my Mama Tribe. And from the girls who have recently been there before me with baby number 2 the consensus is overwhelming: Baby Led Weaning is the only way to go.
Of course, when Annabel was a baby I knew what Baby Led Weaning (BLW) was. I read up on it (back when I had time to read…), and decided to take the puree route instead because I had the hours to spend doing it and it was what I felt was best in my situation. Also because I was utterly terrified that my baby would choke if I let her handle proper food.
Time for a rethink – and some more research. The premise of BLW, which was originally coined by midwife and mother Gill Rapely, is that the baby is in charge of how much or how little they eat. The parenting canon What to Expect in the First Year says, “By putting whole finger foods in front of [your baby] to sample from the get-go (instead of spoonfuls of pureed food into his mouth that he can’t see, feel or smell), your baby has the chance to fully explore what’s on the menu and eat as much or as little as he desires.” When you see it like that it makes total sense.
My main concern – whether or not my baby will choke if she feeds herself – doesn’t seem to be an issue with BLW converts, who say that the gag reflex is so strong it acts as a safety mechanism to prevent the baby pushing something too far back in her mouth. It may sound like she choking but actually she is simply clearing food from the back to the front of her mouth (okay – we’ll see how my stress levels go with this one). Obviously this is dependent on food being softened and cut into appropriately sized chunks before giving it to the baby – and never walking away from her while she’s eating.
My less important concern was exactly how messy it’s going to get. When I voiced this one to my friend P, she said, yes, it does get messy, but spends a lot less time sweeping food from the floor after mealtimes than she would have cooking up and blending purees and then spoon feeding them to her baby. So it’s just a transfer of time management. Good point.
The other thing the BLW camp tell me is that babies love it – because it gives then a real opportunity to have fun with food, and in the process, it will provide a platform for them to develop a healthy attitude towards food for life. Studies have even found that BLW encourages babies to choose healthier foods, which could protect against obesity in childhood. What’s not to like about that?
So a couple of days ago, I decided to give it a try. Annabel was at the table eating her lunch, and I could see Ruby eyeing up her food (another sign they’re ready for BLW). So I gave her a stick of Annabel’s cucumber (which, let’s face it, she was about to refuse to eat anyway). Bliss! Little Ruby chewed away on the cucumber with a look of rapture on her face and I just about died of cuteness overload right there. At the next meal we tried some croissant (again, from Annabel’s plate), then some potato (cut into chip shape so she could grip it in her little fist, and next on the menu is some softened carrot. BLW, for baby number 2, appears to be a win.
It’s early days and I think what I will probably end up with is a combination of purees and BLW – increasing the finger foods as we go along. Right now I’m just so glad Ruby has been enjoying her experimentation with finger food, and really grateful that with the encouragement from my tribe of mama friends I’ve had the confidence to give it a try.
Here are some links I found really helpful in my reading, and I hope, if you’re considering BLW but have been put off by fear as I was, they’ll help you make an informed decision about how you want to go about weaning your baby.