So it felt like I had only just got my head around breastfeeding before it it was time to start weaning. This is a totally and utterly daunting process for me. Before I had a child I would often wonder how you even begin to introduce food to a baby that has thus far only ever had liquid. What did you give them? How much did you give them? If they have no idea what hunger means and therefore no idea what it means to be full, when will they know how to stop? Will they just keep eating? What if you don’t give them enough and they are hungry? It was like the first few weeks of breastfeeding all over again!
The other big question: when should you start? Current NHS guidelines are to begin at 6 months and being terrified that something horrendous would happen to my baby’s digestive system if I started before that, I decided to wait until then. Actually I waited until about 5.5 months. I think he was ready. He certainly seemed to be watching with fascination every time I ate something. I was also ready. As nervous as I was to start, I was also very excited about this new phase in my baby’s life.
Before properly starting I had given him some baby porridge just to see what happened. He loved it. It was so much fun watching him as I passed him the food on a spoon and saw his little face light up at this new texture and taste that was tickling his taste buds. It certainly counted as ‘messy play’ as he grabbed the spoon and proceeded to paint the walls, the floor and himself with it. We were both hooked.
I was then faced with the biggest question of all – how do I do this? Would it be the puree way, introducing each food group mushed up and fed bit-by-bit, or would I let my baby lead the way and eat solid food from the very start. It felt like a big decision and one I didn’t want to make lightly.
Still slightly terrified and wanting to cover all bases, I went on a health and safety course with one of my mummy friends. Basically I wanted to know what to do if he choked. It was a disaster. Rather than feel equipped with new first aid skills, we both came out of it absolutely terrified that our children were going to die from choking and both vowed that we were going to feed them puree until they were teenagers.
But then I read the baby led weaning (BLW) book.
The book was a revelation. I read it in a weekend and I knew from that moment on I would ‘let my son lead the way’. It made total sense to me. Like the book, I firmly believe that a child dictates every other stage of their development – when they cry, sleep, talk, walk, and crawl – so why should eating be any different? It felt totally unnatural for me to mush up food, for me to determine the portion size and then for me to put a spoon in his mouth. How was I to know how hungry he was? I definitely wouldn’t want someone to feed me that way.
I wanted mealtimes to feel inclusive. I didn’t want to eat my meal and then spoon-feed my son something else separately. I wanted to eat with him, for him to have (where possible) the same food as hubby and I. It also seemed so much easier to just give him what we have. Life is busy enough without having to spend hours chopping up and pureeing food. Also, the thought of anything pureed other than fruit makes me feel sick. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t enjoy drinking my Sunday roast so why should he?
So, I was brave. Hubby and I sat down one Sunday and I gave him a strawberry. He grabbed it from me and started sucking it ferociously. Hubby then asked me if it’s ok that he has the whole thing in his mouth. My honest answer? I have no idea. Bubba seems to be loving it – but then who wouldn’t? Strawberries are lush!
After about 30 seconds hubby looks to me for advice, as it seems to be getting further and further into his mouth. Not wanting to be the one who cause my son to choke to death I slowly pull it out of his mouth. He’s not happy and starts crying, looking around for something else to put on his mouth. I give him my mobile phone. The perfect distraction.
From nowhere I then have a panic that perhaps strawberries are not the best first food. Somewhere deep in my memory I have a sudden flash that strawberries might provoke allergies. So I Google it. And apparently yes, strawberries can be allergenic and can cause quite a bad rash around the mouth within 2 hours of consumption. For the next 2 hours hubby and I are sat staring at the boy waiting for red marks to appear. They don’t. He’s fine. Bloody Google.
Despite my attempts at bravado, I was incredibly nervous every time he ate food for the first 4 weeks. Each time he tried something new I was perched on the edge of my seat with a manic smile on my face as I tried to appear relaxed to my son, all the while ready to pounce, turn him upside down and whack his back until whatever he was choking on came out. Thankfully I’ve never had to do this and I can honestly say, I do not worry that he will choke. The BLW book goes into detail about the gag reflex and choking and after reading it you realise how adept babies are at getting food out. I kept that page folded though. Just in case.
So, after fruit and veg, I quickly moved onto bread and hummus. I am a big fan of hummus and I was determined that my boy would like it. I needn’t have worried. I accidently left the pot on his high chair as I turned around to find his beaker. As I turned back round he had his whole fist in it and took a massive handful, which he then proceeded to shove into his mouth. He loved it. All choking worries out of the window, I then made him spaghetti bolognaise. He wolfed it down. He was 6 and a half months old.
Watching my son eat is one of the most amazing things I have ever witnessed. I have photo after photo and video after video of him tucking into his grub. It has become a big part of our daily routine and I love it. He eats anything I give him and each mealtime can last up to 45 minutes as he slowly works his way through the smorgasbord of food.
His eating has become a talking point amongst our friends and family. We were recently in the park having a picnic and having fed him for a few moths now, I thought nothing as I handed him a corn on the cob to munch on. I only realised quite how impressive he was after a few strangers had come over to pat my son on the back for his eating efforts.
At a recent barbeque our friends sat in silence, completely mesmerised by him as he sat, at the head of the table in his high chair gnawing on a whole chicken drumstick. It was like a scene from Game of Thrones as my son, the King, sat elevated above his subjects, eating various bits of animal and discarding the bones on the floor.
I’m pretty sure feeding him this way has also helped his physical development too. At 6.5 months he had no problem handing a very large slice of melon. In fact, he loved melon so much that for about 4 weeks we referred to him as ‘melon boy’. Every time I brought it out of the fridge, he would start clucking his tongue, smacking his lips together and waving his hands up and down in anticipation.
I appreciate that is considered by some, a very modern and quite scary way of feeding a child and I realise that it isn’t for everyone. It’s certainly something I’ve noticed the older generation seem to struggle with. My mum and mother in law are terrified every time he eats. My mum often declares she can’t watch as I hand my boy a piece of baguette. If he so much a coughs to clear his throat she grabs the food from his mouth and replaces it with something mushy as the boy looks on bewildered at Nanny who has not only taken his yummy food away, but who also looks like she’s about to have a heart attack.
Most of my mummy friends have done BLW and our babies are amazing eaters who will try anything. It’s commonplace for us to be sitting together having a picnic with all of us eating the same food and it feels completely natural. It means we can share recipes and give each other ideas about new foods to try. It also means if one baby has tried something and got on with it, we’re all less afraid to introduce it to our little ones.
However, there is one down side. It is totally, without a doubt, the MESSIEST way to feed your child. The floor, the walls, the high chair, and the baby – nothing is left untouched by food. But it is also the most fun me and my son have and as I’m cleaning the bloody high chair for the 1000th bloody time I try to remember it won’t last forever. At least I hope it won’t. Fingers crossed he’ll learn to use a knife and fork at some point.