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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Baby Led Weaning--and when to start solids . . .

Before I had James, I thought that the professional medical guidelines on when to start solids said 6 months, and I would wait until 6 months, gosh darn it, and couldn't understand why people were so eager to start sooner.

But now I get it. One thing I've realized and didn't quite understand before is that baby skillz develop continually. You see them put together a little piece here and there and all of a sudden they have gone from spontaneous movements, to controlling their legs and arms, to controlling their hands, to their fingers and when the pincer grasp begins it's all these months of effort since birth that have made it possible.

And every baby is unique. At this point I seriously think that some babies are ready to start solids a little earlier--4, 4.5, 5 months, and some, obviously, are not interested until later--9/10 months. Six months is just an average and while babies don't NEED food sooner than six months (or even a year or longer, if breastfeeding), some may be ready and willing sooner.

Here are the signs of readiness for solids from Kellymom:

Signs that indicate baby is developmentally ready for solids include:

* Baby can sit up well without support.
(James sits with support)
* Baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex and does not automatically push solids out of his mouth with his tongue. (Still has this)
* Baby is ready and willing to chew. (He has this! He chews on everything!)
* Baby is developing a “pincer” grasp, where he picks up food or other objects between thumb and forefinger. Using the fingers and scraping the food into the palm of the hand (palmar grasp) does not substitute for pincer grasp development. (He doesn't have a pincer grasp yet, but he's close. Definitely has the Palmar.)
* Baby is eager to participate in mealtime and may try to grab food and put it in his mouth. (Yep!)

So at 4.5 months, James isn't quite ready to start solids, but he's pretty close.

I believe in baby-led weaning . . . this is perhaps a misleading name--it basically means feeding foods in their whole natural form, not feeding purees, rice cereals, etc. So baby's first foods become a banana, an avocado, a sweet potato, steamed broccoli, (or homemade rice or oatmeal porridge with breastmilk), etc. By six months, many babies will pick up a banana and eat away quite successfully. By four months, many babies (such as mine) will have a sincere interest and desire to ingest the banana. This is where the readiness to start solids is seeded--in desire, so he will WANT the banana first. And he does.

So, if given the banana, he will try to pick it up. After many tries, he will succeed! He will try to bring it to his mouth . . . and he will succeed! He will try to eat it--and here he will fail. He can lick the banana and may ingest a few banana molecules but his mouth is still hard-wired to breastfeed--the tongue thrust reflex, that sends purees right out of the mouth, too, is still present. So to me, this means that he's not REALLY ready to EAT food yet. His gut is as immature as his tongue thrust reflex, and they protect his body from all but the most perfect nutrition.

However, he's pretty close, right? If I follow baby-led weaning and just let him keep trying to eat, he will eventually succeed. Will it be the day he turns 6 months old? Probably not--it might be sooner. I'm just going to relax and let his skillz dictate his own pace.

This confidence I can feel in him being able to pace himself is one of many many advantages to Baby Led Weaning, in my opinion. Here's a few others:

-Baby learns a variety of food textures from the beginning, which may lead to less picky toddler eating
-Baby learns how to manipulate food in his mouth and chew in a natural way
-Baby learns ABOUT different foods--what they look like in their whole food form and what they taste like, which helps to develop a trust in food
-It is cheap. Baby food is so expensive and after reading the baby led weaning book I almost feel like it's a scam.
-It is easy. You can just let your baby try the food that you are eating. No making separate food for baby, no sitting there with a spoon coaxing the baby to eat.
-Baby controls his eating, just like with breastfeeding. Anyone who has ever breastfed knows it's impossible to force a baby to breastfeed. Therefore, babies control their eating from birth and naturally know when they are hungry and when foods they like and don't like. Babies often instinctively avoid allergic foods. So letting a baby pick and choose what foods to eat means that you don't turn eating into a power struggle.
-And more. I highly recommend Baby Led Weaning to anyone!

With this being said, some babies who are sensitive to textures may not be into eating whole foods until they are much older--10 months, a year, etc. Which means a lot of people find purees work for them, too, if they want to start solids before the baby gets into textures. Whatevs I think.

I think this is one of many areas that a Mom is the expert on her own baby. Especially a Mom that does her research and makes an informed decision, regardless of what it is.


Jessica said...

Yeah for him getting ready...As you know it took (And is still taking) gabby a long time to get the food from the table to her mouth, but little by little we are getting there. her favs are cucumbers, wheat toast with avocado on it and plum puffs, and baby mum mums.

have fun!

Liz said...

I was also in the "wait 'til 6 months" camp, but gave Peter some banana at 5.5 months. He ate the whole strip and cried for more. The definitely all get ready at different ages. It's all about when each baby is ready. I do think, though, that it's easy to over-feed with purees. Sure, Peter could eat more at daycare, but I don't think he needs to.

Have a blast with introducing James to new flavors!

Amy Clifford said...

My little girl took a banana out of my hands at 5.5 months, took a bite moved it round her mouth then swallowed it! I took this to mean she was ready for solids!

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