Hi Ana, share with us your views on the importance of eating together as a family.
When we start our children on solids, we are not just feeding them for that day, or for that age. We are inculcating food habits and a relationship with food that will last a lifetime. I’ve seen my daughter be very curious about what I’m eating, and eager to try things from my plate. So, eating together gives us a chance to try new foods. She sees me and my husband catch up on our day over breakfast – and has learnt to be a part of our conversations. She has picked up so much vocabulary –names of foods we eat, utensils and even hot/cold/textures. All of this has come from sitting and eating our meal times together.
In your experience, how is Baby-Led- Weaning different from Parent-Led-Weaning?
I think at the core, baby-led-weaning is built on trust in the child- that they know how much to eat, and in nature- that the child will develop skills to eat more, as and when her body needs more food. BLW is a pull based system, built on division of responsibilities. We as parents are responsible for what foods we offer, and when we offer them. We can make some rules about how the food is consumed such as – food only at the table, or washing hands before and after meals, no food between meals. But the child controls how much they eat of each food.
As a parent, following BLW requires a lot of trust and patience. It also required a lot of homework – of what foods to offer for which age, of size different foods to be cut so she can hold them, even exactly how long each food needs to be steamed in the pressure cooker so it is at a softness she can chew, but doesn’t collapse in her palmer grip.
Having said that – I think like in all things, the middle path works best. While we followed BLW – in that we offered finger foods that she ate on her own – we didn’t always offer her the same food as what we ate. In the initial months we gave her steamed foods and fruits. Over time, we merged her diet into ours. So, I think you have to adapt the process to make it for your needs and circumstances.
Many parents find baby-led-weaning gives them no control over ‘feeding’ their child. How did you learn to let go and follow your child?
I think the foundation really comes from having trust in the child’s abilities. Our children are not going to starve themselves. This is what I always remind myself – when a baby is born, they can’t see much, they can’t move, they are completely dependent on us – yet, when they are hungry, they cry, and once fed, they know they are done feeding. I had done 5 months of sole breastfeeding before we started on BLW – and during that time I fed on demand. I never knew how many ml/ounces my daughter drank at a feed – which days or meals she drank more or less. Yet, I’d seen her grow, and meet the growth parameters.
So, once we start feeding solids, why did I suddenly think she wouldn’t know when she’s hungry, or wouldn’t eat till she was full? So the first thing I let go was this Qs of “has she eaten enough?” Learning to eat was a skill I needed to enable her to learn – as I was to enable her to learn walking or speaking- by providing her with the right environment and tools, and then being patient while she learnt it at her own speed.
Plus, I think you feel a loss of control when you feel there’s nothing you can do about a situation. With BLW, I never felt that. If there was a meal where she rejected a food- especially a food she’d eaten before- I’d go back and try it and check – was it too hard this time? Maybe too much salt by mistake? I was observing, building and testing hypothesis – lets try carrots cut thicker for a better grip next time, or if she is squishing the banana in her fingers, let’s keep the peel on and offer it like an ice cream cone. Following BLW made me more observant and in-tune with my daughter’s needs.
As time went on – and I saw her eating softer foods during teething days, or drink more water during a cold, or gravitating towards dahi/curd during a stomach upset – I could see she was listening to her body, and if I paid attention, I could listen and follow along too. Me double-guessing her judgement as she was learning, didn’t help her learn faster, on the contrary, it slowed her down.
What are some signs of readiness for Baby-led-Weaning that you observed in your daughter?
BLW isn’t a static thing you do once when you start the journey in solids. It’s always evolving.
When we started solids- I observed her being able to sit up (with support) and mouthing everything and being curious about our foods. Then, I observed her grip evolve- when she’d try to pick up crumbs from the table, and give her smaller bites to practice her pincer grip. I observed her try new flavours, and evolved our menu to get her to eat the same foods as us. If I observe her teething, we pivot to a much more liquid-y diet – with porridge, dahi, soups
As I type this, I’m reworking her menu because I think we are too much into fruits now and not offering enough veggies. We are also getting a stokke high chair that she can climb into, because she has recently grown out of her IKEA high chair that we plop her into. So it’s an ongoing process of observing, tweaking and evolving what and where we serve the meals.
Can you share some of the initial foods you offered your daughter and how you offered them?
We started with finger foods – the size of my index finger roughly. Mixture of fruits (bananas, avocados), steamed fruits (pears, apples) and steamed vegetables (broccoli, carrots, beetroot). From 6-9 period, our menu over indexed on fruits and veggies – and we slowly built in grains into the diet.
How did you balance breast/bottle-feeding and weaning during the transition phase?
Well, we had about a 6 month transition phase between when we started solids (my daughter was 5mo), and when we weaned from feeding completely. There were many different phases in between. For the first few weeks, we added the solids as a learning food, and kept the feeds as is. I offered solids first, and then topped up with a feed. (Some recommend doing it the other way around, it’s really up to you.)
Next, at about the six month mark, we built solid meals into the menu – breakfast, lunch and dinner – and had the feeds around it. I also shifted to mother’s milk via a bottle at this time. I wanted to give ourselves about a month of practice before I started being out during day time. We followed this routine between 6-10 months.
At 10 months, I dropped the morning feed as well. My daughter got busy playing, and didn’t notice. So the only feed she got from me directly was the night feed- and I knew this was part of her “bedtime routine” – so was nervous about how she’d react when we dropped it.
At 11 month mark, I introduced her to cow’s milk. We first tried it at breakfast, and then offered it 3 times a day. At 11.5 months, I started offering her cow’s milk after bath, before bedtime. And after a few such days, I stopped her bedtime feed. She cried for a couple of days- it was tough, I must admit- but each day she cried less than the previous, and after 4-5 days we were done with that.
The last to go was the middle of the night feed. My daughter used to wake up once in the night, and fall asleep during the feed. I took the nanny’s help to break this habit. For two nights, the nanny slept in my daughter’s room and rocked her back to sleep when she woke up in the middle of the night. After two nights, I rocked her back to sleep. Eventually, she learnt to sleep through the night.
A request to share a few words of inspiration to other parents on Baby-led-weaning.
‘Love it, like it, learn it’ foods: I’ve picked this concept from Veggies and Virtues on Instagram, and found it works well. At each meal, we try to incorporate a food that my daughter loves, likes, and is learning to eat. This helps us give exposure to new foods, while ensuring there’s enough there to fill her up.
Exposure is what matters: Think of when you tried a new food last time. Did you gobble it up, or did you taste it first, and then get more on your plate? Our kids deserve that time. Get the idea of “my kids don’t like these foods” out of your mind- adopt a “learning to like” approach.
Build a community: I follow several mother bloggers on Instagram who specialise in foods. It helps me learn, gives me food ideas and just have folks along on the BLW journey – because I don’t have friends who are following this near me. So it has helped me tremendously to find this tribe online
Read and learn- I’ve found the BLW cookbook a great resource that I referred back several times in the first six months of BLW. I’ve also enjoyed BLW videos by hapafamilyvlog on YOUTUBE. You should read up and learn before and as you go along on this journey