This is going to be a slightly technical piece, because it assumes that you, kind reader, are already familiar with the concept of Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) and are interested in a testimonial from someone who is kinda sorta practising it.
For everyone else, it’s probably snoresville unless you’re seriously interested in how Arddun takes her food, in which case… read on!
Tony and I had decided for a long time that we’d try some semblance of BLW. We’d seen our friends do it, we’d heard testimonials from Tony’s colleague whose child self-feeds, and I’d read the book and thought it made good sense.
But I was also eager to get Arddun eating Chinese food. And because her pincer grip isn’t developed yet, rice was going to be an issue. Gloppy things that fall apart easily, such as steamed fish, was going to be an issue. So there was a compromise – self-feeding with spoon-feeding. Which meant a mixture of solid foods and mushy purees or congee.
Now, the purists from either camps are probably up in arms and imagining the worst because of our blended approach but in truth, it’s working really well for us. Arddun’s eating very well, her energy levels are higher than ever, she’s had a growth spurt, and she’s used to getting fed by spoon AND feeding herself effectively.
So yes, this review compares both schools of thought – traditional spoon-fed purees and BLW. It also leaves out the milk feeds, which I do before every solid meal anyway.
What did you start with?
A few slices of pear and banana. Mostly pear, really. The idea with BLW is that you give them a variety of foods to choose from. They’re supposed to take the food from your plate, apparently, but I wasn’t eating pear and I wasn’t feeding her during my meal time.
She picked up a slice of pear and it went straight in her mouth almost immediately. She bit it. And then chewed for a full five minutes, while pulling a face. And I think the effort of having to chew for that long before she had room in her mouth to try anything else was what put her off, because she wasn’t interested after that in self-feeding – until she had a taste of apple and pear puree. And then suddenly, she realised that fruits taste yummy.
Then she could not get enough.
So really, the purees sparked her interest in self-feeding. Gave her the impetus to try harder.
What does she eat on her own?
Fruit and bread, mostly. The occasional chunk of chicken. She usually eats a couple slices of fruit while I prepare her cereal, then has her cereal, then sometimes finishes off with more fruit while I have my breakfast – so we get to eat together, and read together. Breakfast is our book-reading time, because her hands have something important to do, and she’s alert and engaged and happy. I’ve given her a whole chicken piece to eat before, as well as avocado – which was a mess, and not either of our favourite. Lately, she’s started to feed herself sandwiches (sanctioned by me or otherwise!) as well as french toast, so that allows me to add more things for her to feed herself.
Does she pick from your plate? Eat what you eat?
Usually, no. And it’s purely my choice for two reasons: my lunches and dinners do not easily allow the picking and choosing of suitable ingredients for Arddun to graze upon, and I don’t trust the sugar and salt levels of cooked foods – including mine. Plus, we’re almost certain now that she has an intolerance to certain foods with salicylates (such as tomatoes and carrots), which makes it hard if we’re eating out.
Sometimes, I have a picnic lunch and she can have every ingredient that will constitute a sandwich. But most times, Chinese cooking requires cutlery.
Is it easier to do BLW or purees?
They’re both slightly fiddly in their own ways. Both require some creativity and preparation in advance – especially if you want to expose your child to as many different foods as possible. I tried for a while to give her what I ate when we were out, and she ended up just eating the same ingredients from my plate over and over, because everything else was a choking hazard. So unless I was planning to eat lots of sandwiches and salads, it actually limited the variety of foods Arddun was exposed to.
On the flip side, because I make my own chicken stock and soups (without added salt) for home cooked meals, it actually takes very little time for me to whip something up for Arddun’s meal. I also use a slow cooker, so rice porridge is bubbling away in the mornings and then voila, lunch and dinner is ready. I’m so used to Chinese cooking and the acrobatic multi-tasking it requires, that adapting it for Arddun’s meals on the fly has become, ironically, the easier option. She’s actually eating (some of) what I’m eating this way… just that it has to be spoon-fed, which BLW believers are loathe to do.
Does she overeat when you spoon-feed her?
This is one of the benefits purported by BLW, in that babies who self-feed know when they’ve had enough, and babies who are spoon-fed usually just eat when the spoon is offered to them. In other words, BLW allegedly prevents overeating and in the long run, reduces the likelihood of obesity.
Except, there hasn’t been studies to prove that explicit claim yet, because Gill Rapley only wrote her book in 2008.
My answer: I don’t know. I think this claim is over-inflated, but that’s my gut feel. In my limited experience thus far, Arddun is perfectly capable of indicating when she’s had enough when either self-feeding or when spoon-fed. And she’s also perfectly capable of scoffing every last bit of bread she can lay her little chubby hands on, until she throws up.
The opposite is also true of self-feeding – Arddun would sometimes get frustrated with self-feeding, because she isn’t efficient yet but she is still hungry for food. Milk doesn’t always satisfy her – she would want to eat food, and she’d want it in her mouth NOW. Enough with the experimentation and the exploration, lady. Crack open the thermos flask. There’d better be chicken and cous cous in there.
Does Arddun instinctively choose foods that are better for her?
No. At the beginning, she ONLY wanted fruits because they’re sugary. I think letting any child be her own dietitian is the most laughable proposition of (the narrowest interpretation of) BLW theory because given the choice, any kid would eat sweet stuff every day EVERY DAY. What we do with Arddun is to give her a limited selection. Spinach or fork-mashed peas? Bread with avocado, or bread with egg yolk? That sort of thing.
Has she choked when self-feeding?
Not exactly. There was an incident with watermelon – she literally bit off more than she could chew, and I think there was a stringy bit because it all came out in a hurry – along with lunch.
And that brings me to another point about self-feeding: sure, the gag reflexes are great in babies. And Arddun came out alright – it was a non-event, really. But did I really want her to lose her lunch? No.
Has spoon-feeding impeded her psycho-motor skills?
Because we’ve used a blended approach, I’d say not. She’s getting more effective at finishing what she has in her hands. (And *accidentally* flinging the stuff she’s had enough of outside the splash zone.) But then again, maybe she’s getting better at it because she’s playing with different toys and just growing. I mean, how does one benchmark these things?
Ultimately, Arddun is an individual. She loves her food, and she’s not a fussy eater. But I can’t bring myself to attribute these traits solely to BLW, because she enjoys feeding herself, and she enjoys being spoon fed. She isn’t too fussed about not having control, and she likes experimenting with food in her hands. Whatever. She’s a sponge at this stage – everything is new and an opportunity for learning. I’d like to think that she enjoys my mushy baby food dishes just as much as she enjoys scoffing food off my plate.
The most important thing is that she’s eating. And she’s thriving. And she’s happy.