By: Brady Evans
My baby, Benjamin, is now nearly 8 months old. People have been asking about him eating solids for the past 4 months. I suppose everyone is just excited about babies meeting milestones and eating solids is an exciting one. The older generation, especially, seemed super interested in finding out how Benjamin was doing with rice cereal.
The truth of the matter is that Benjamin has never had rice cereal. He didn’t even eat a solid food until he was well over 6 months old. Nowadays the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. The reasoning is that you don’t want baby filling up on solid foods that don’t offer all the necessary nutrients (rice cereal) and refusing breast milk or formula which has all the essential nutrients baby needs.
Informing people that I planned not to introduce solids until Benjamin was 6 months old caused a lot of interesting discussions. The topics ranged from me, as a nursing mother, not being able to satisfy his hunger as he grew older (not true) to me, as a new mother, following the “rules” too closely. I kept my cool and mostly played the “ignorant new mom card” along with the “the pediatrician said…” card for the older generation who seem to live and die by doctor recommendations.
When it was time to introduce solid foods (when Benjamin was 6 months old), I really just didn’t want to. It seemed complicated. By the time I pick him up from work, I only get to see him for 1 hour per day before it is bed time. I didn’t want to spend that 1 hour shoveling food in his mouth. Additionally, he didn’t seem interested in food. It seemed he could care less about what I was eating, and why should I force him to eat fruits or vegetables when nursing was keeping him perfectly happy?
When he was nearly 7 months, I decided I’d go ahead and start feeding him solids, mostly because I wanted to introduce different tastes and textures to him and I thought it would be a good way to work on his fine motor skills. How does feeding a baby work on fine motor skills? We decided to skip pureed food. I wondered how babies were introduced food 200 years ago prior to Gerber baby food and the like. My husband and I agreed that pureed baby food wasn’t a necessity and that Benjamin could learn much more by feeding himself. Additionally, our nursing relationship was strong and I wasn’t feeling the need to fill him up on solids so he could sleep through the night. (Not that he was sleeping through the night – he’s not. I just am okay with an infant waking to eat or be comforted by mom, so I don’t prioritize that “milestone” either).
So, we introduced food via the mentality called Baby-led Weaning. In this situation, weaning doesn’t mean taking something out of his diet, but rather introducing solids. This all occurs on the baby’s terms and is based on his readiness. I steamed carrots, then cut them into thin strips that were twice as long as his fist. He could pick up the sticks and bring them to his mouth. Sometimes he broke off a piece, sometimes he just sucked on the stick. He just explored his foods, had fun, and ate on HIS terms rather than mine.
He gagged sometimes. I worried about choking. But at some point, a baby has to learn to chew, right? And why should a baby learn to chew after they’ve learned that food comes in pureed, easy-to-swallow forms? That seems backwards to me. They should learn to chew first and swallow second, in my opinion. And though Benjamin had no teeth when he started eating, he mashed up foods with his gums just fine. I made sure that the sizes of the foods were smaller than his throat and reviewed baby CPR and the Heimlich maneuver just in case.
After carrots he had shredded cheese, olives, and tomatoes. We were having tacos that night. It was super simple just to pull aside the taco fixings and allow him to explore the foods in his high chair. Other nights we had soup and we strained out the solids for him to eat.
Our approach to food is unconventional, at least among the other parents I interact with, but it has been totally positive. I love that Benjamin takes care of his own needs in his arena. He can eat whatever is available so little planning is required of me, and he’s learning about his hands, his tongue, and his mouth while feeding himself. If you are interested in Baby-led weaning, check out this website: http://www.babyledweaning.com/.