I hate weaning. I was momentarily excited by my very first batch of steaming, blending, freezing and labelling, but it soon lost its appeal when my G&T was presented with a slice but no ice – the freezer section given over to Annabelle Karmel’s finest pea and pear puree.
During my second pregnancy I read up on Baby Led Weaning (BLW) and vowed to follow its philosophy and consign my blender to the cupboard. The basic philosophy is as follows; skip the puree, the mash, the gradual transition to lumpy food, and simply present your baby with a selection of whole foods to play with. Gill Rapley, a BLW ‘guru’, explodes the myths surrounding conventional weaning, claiming that now that the Government guidelines are to wean at six months (previously babies have been weaned at 16 weeks, and as early as 12 weeks) there is no argument for giving purees, as babies have by then gained the necessary ability to handle food and to chew.
When my twins were just over four months old, my health visitor advised weaning them, as they were failing to thrive on milk alone. Later on, this poor weight gain was attributed to a medical condition, however at the time it was a reasonable suggestion to make. I duly presented my girls with spoonfuls of mush. They weren’t interested, it disrupted their routine – and mine – and my toddler began demanding baby food in place of his usual meals. It was a disaster and I stopped after a week.
So at six months I began sitting the babies at the table while we ate, giving them chunks of fruit, steamed vegetables and bread with humous or jam. At first they weren’t interested at all, then they wanted to eat but didn’t have the co-ordination to match – that was frustrating! Gradually their motor skills improved, along with their appetites, and by seven months they were doing pretty well.
At that stage a typical day would start with toast, shredded wheat and fruit. Lunch and supper would be whatever their big brother was having, which was in turn whatever we had eaten the previous night! The babies would tuck happily into handfuls of spaghetti bolognaise, scrambled egg (overcooked till it’s a bit rubbery and easy to eat with fingers), or chunks of chicken and steamed veg. By eight months they happily handled whole sausages or pieces of beef casserole, and it was fantastic to see their fine motor skills developing, till they were able to catch the peas they were chasing round the table.
Since then I’ve abandoned some of the principles of baby-led weaning; I use a spoon, for a start – there is a limit to the amount of mess I can handle! Baby Led Weaning isn’t for everyone, and I’m not sure I would have had the confidence to have done it the first time around. You have to be happy with the knowledge that your child is getting everything they need from milk; in their first year food is simply about exploring tastes and textures. You also have to be prepared for the mess! I swiftly abandoned my fabric-lined high-chairs and bought Ikea’s plastic ones which are beautifully stackable and easy to wipe clean. But it’s surprising how quickly they learned to eat well, and I’ve found the weaning process so much fun this time around.
The benefits of BLW for me have been enormous; I have never had to cook separate food for the babies, or mess around with blenders and freezer bags. I rarely take food out and about with me, as from six months they’ve always been able to grab a sandwich with me, or eat a banana, despite still having no teeth at a year old! Surprisingly perhaps, I have had far fewer gagging/choking incidents with BLW, then when I weaned my son onto purees. Gill Rapley explains that purees encourage babies to ‘suck’ the food off the spoon; something much more likely to result in food going down the wrong way, than when a baby self-feeds. With three children under 2 to feed, mealtimes were pretty chaotic, so it was a tremendous benefit to teach the girls to feed themselves from the outset, leaving my hands free to load the dishwasher, or even have a cup of tea myself!