Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Child-led solids: Sharing soft foods with infants

This is one in a series of guest posts by other bloggers. Read to the end for a longer biographical note on today's guest blogger, Momma Jorje. Momma Jorje offers helpful tips and experiences on following your baby's lead and choosing whole foods when starting solids.

Guest post by Momma Jorje

Sharing soft foods with older infants was not a new idea to me. I totally understood letting a baby taste something on your fingertip or having a bite of mashed potatoes. With my older daughter, I made a lot of baby food myself (with my mother's help). I was trying to be health conscious and give her a good start. Her first food was rice cereal made with breast milk. That would not be my first choice again, though she did love it! I gave it to her when she was exactly 6 months old, by the book. She did continue to nurse until she self-weaned at 3½ years old.

With my younger daughter, I stumbled upon the idea of "child-led weaning." I really don't like that term as it applies to solids. Weaning, to me, is more specifically about breastmilk. I think a more appropriate term would be "child-led introduction to solids," awkward as that is.

I feel like Natural Parenting is often the lazier easier way to do things. It made sense to me to share my own plate with my baby! After all, that is where I gauged her interest and therefore readiness for solids. I started her with steamed vegetables that were still solid enough that they could be handled and that I would eat (and did).

Sasha with Veggies8mo Sasha enjoying Broccoli! She still loves it!
I've since gotten rid of this labeling bib.

I read a lot before I felt comfortable as far as fear of choking.1 In fact, in the early days I did sometimes use a mesh feeding bag thing. I didn't care for it. Sasha hardly got any actual food through the bag. She wasn't truly getting to try out any textures. It was also a pain to clean and I didn't really trust the dishwasher to do a thorough job. The first time I shared solids with Sasha at my mom's place, she gagged. I was mortified. I pride myself in the choices I make, this one included. Having this new idea look scary in front of my mother made me question my decision. Sasha did, occasionally, gag hard enough to spit up a little bit. I never felt she was in danger. I stuck to it.

Sasha with Mesh FeederSasha chewing on her mesh feeder.

Sasha enjoyed nearly every food I gave her. I'm generally an extreme person, all-or-nothing, so I feel like I threw my streak by blending food for her a few times. Still, we tried steamed carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, fresh avocados, the list goes on! Some online reading helped, but I had to keep a few things in mind:
  • Babies in other countries eat spicy foods or raw fish, it all depends on the cultural foods of the area. I should not be afraid to try these foods with my own baby.
  • Elmo and I have almost no food allergies, so the likelihood of Sasha having any food allergies was minimal.
This meant I could share almost anything and that I didn't have to test one single ingredient on Sasha at a time.

I've read articles about how to get a picky toddler to eat, especially when they're so busy exploring their worlds. The article suggested that they wouldn't sit still to eat. Honestly, I don't even recall the solution! I've seen Monkey Trays and Muffin Tin Meals, which look great! This has never been a problem for us, though. Sasha eats plenty because I don't feel the need to strap her into her chair for meals. Part of this is because she doesn't like the clean-up afterward and neither do I! It is such a pain. Food in her hair, ears, under her thighs, it just gets everywhere. So … I sit where she can reach my plate and she comes to get bites from me or to pick from my plate whenever she likes. The only tough part with this method is making sure I drag my meal out long enough. Sometimes I finish first, but if she expresses an interest in more food, I simply get seconds and hold my plate for longer.

Tyler & Sasha share yogurtMy 12yo & 15mo sharing a cup of yogurt

I don't like yogurt, but recognize that it is an amazingly beneficial food. I do feed Sasha yogurt. Sometimes I let her have it in her high chair, especially with bananas cut up in it. This is a huge mess, but she likes to use the utensils. Otherwise, we just hold the cup and feed her bites as she comes back to us for them.

This brings us to utensils. Sometimes when she is in her high chair, she still wants the food off of our plates, even though it is the same as what she has. She has worked out a system that if I offer her my fork upside down, she can easily take it and feed herself the bite. I didn't plan this system; it just kind of happened. Most of the time she'll return the fork once she has the bite. Every once in a while, she wants to feed ME with a fork. I'm okay with that, too.

Another important lesson I've learned along the way, as Sasha has cut more and more teeth: Sasha has got to have an empty mouth when she nurses! Even at nearly 2 years old, some things are just not chewable. Heck, I sometimes have a hard time with pepper or tomato skins, too! So, she sticks out her tongue and just brushes these leftover bits out of her mouth. She has been known to carry them around in her mouth for a while, though. If she has any food in her mouth, she will chew on my nipple! She usually stops right away to clear her mouth.

I believe that with each child we have, we're given the opportunity to be more and more confident in our parenting decisions. I was a bit unsure of myself when I started child-led introduction to solids. Next time, though, I think I'll be much more comfortable with it! I'll just remember:
  • No mesh feeder.
  • 6 months is not a magic number ~ I believe Sasha might actually have been ready sooner, and some babies take longer to be ready. I'm hung up on this date, though, so I don't know if I'll be able to beat this one next time, either.
  • A little gagging is not cause to freak out.
  • Pretty much anything I can eat, baby can try, too.
  • Empty mouth before latch!
  • Follow my natural instincts!
Sasha's Birthday BreakfastSasha's First Birthday Breakfast
Scrambled eggs, sausage, and french toast ~ just like Mommy & Daddy

After all of our experiences, the main key is that we'll do whatever works for us with our next baby, arriving in January. It may not be the same at all the next time around.

Further reading is available from these links on Natural Parents Network: Feed With Love and Respect: Solids.

How did you handle solids with your kids?

1 Before introducing solids, you should definitely familiarize yourself with how to identify true choking and what to do about it. If your child is coughing or gagging, she can still breathe (and is therefore not choking). Encourage her to cough, which is the most effective way to dislodge food blocking the airway. Some children gag (not choke) as they're becoming used to the texture and process of eating solid foods.

Jorje & Sasha bio picture photo for Momma Jorje guest postMomma Jorje is a slightly crunchy momma (and wife!) embracing her crunchiness and striving to be ever crunchier. She is passionate about breastfeeding, co-sleeping, baby signing, elimination communication, and general attachment parenting. She is currently obsessed with hitting the road full time to unschool with her family: her husband, two daughters (nearly 13 and nearly 2), and a son on the way! You can read more about her here and connect with her over at Momma Jorje.


Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama said...

I love hearing about other people's baby led weaning success. I really enjoyed using this approach with my son. It felt like the most natural method to me.

Momma Jorje said...

@Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama

I absolutely agree! I just can't imagine a more natural way to go about it.

Lisa C said...

We used this approach with our son, after trying purees for a few weeks. It worked much better. I do think he could have started sooner than six months, too.

Interesting you mentioned utensils. My son was eating with a fork starting around 9 months old. It freaked people out, but he was perfectly safe with it.

As for the gagging thing...I think it's important for babies to learn to eat SOLID solids. They learn how to prevent themselves from choking. I think with purees they get so used to having food shoveled in their mouths, and they don't learn that they have to chew well before they swallow. Speaking of chewing--I was babysitting my baby niece for a while. Even though she was trying to CHEW her purees around 8 months old, her mom kept giving her purees. How much better to follow your child's cues instead of going 'by the book.'

Heather said...

What an awesome post! I've been exclusively breast feeding my newborn for the past 6 weeks but you are absolutely right, there is no "magic number" for when to start them on solids and with my older daughter, it sort of snuck up on me because I was going by what her doc said, instead of reading the messages I was getting from her......so I've already started to prepare for introducing solids to my new baby when the time comes (i.e. I bought a Magic Bullet - lol!) ;^)

michele said...

Exactly as posted above, there is no magic number to start on solids. It is up to the parent and doctor to discuss and decide.

Good Girl Gone Green said...

Becoming a mom is such a journey. I am baby-led weaning with my daughter. She doesn't care for food that much and she is 10 months. I am not forcing her, just going at her rhythm! Great post!

Charise @ I Thought I Knew Mama said...

I just wanted to add another comment to say thank you for linking up at Green & Natural Mamas Thursday - and for promoting it on FB ;-)

Natalie said...

Enjoyed reading about your daughter's food experiences :) I found Gill Rapley's 'Baby-led Weaning' book in our library and though 'yes, this is for us!'. My 8mo daughter loves her food, and it is so exciting to watch her eat roast veges, slices of meat, fruit pieces, and home-baked bread. Her eyes light up when she spies a sultana on the highchair tray too - the little fingers go straight for it and it's gone in the mouth!

amymccarty1985 said...

Its so much more effective to feed a child this way. We tried feeding purees at first and it was horrible. LOTS of work (we had made it all) and she didn't like it half the time. I switched her to what we were having. :D Never went back!

Unknown said...

Great post - so many great tips.

Think you're so right about 6 months not being a magic number.

Would love for you to link this up at the Friday Baby Shower link party - we're focused on weaning this week, Alice x

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