As a Naturopath I wanted to do pregnancy, birthing and child raising as naturally as I could, so I did a lot of research, helped greatly by some fabulous books my homebirth midwife leant me.
I have always been passionate about breastfeeding and joined the Australian Breastfeeding Association when I was pregnant to learn as much as I could, and I also went to their conferences for more in-depth information.
It was at one of those conferences I heard Gill Rapley speak, author of “Baby Led Weaning”. I loved the idea, as it fitted right in with all my ideas of baby led breastfeeding and following the natural patterns of development.
Gill Rapley is English, and in the UK they refer to ‘baby led weaning’. Here we call it ‘baby led solids’. The term weaning is a bit of a funny word, as it tends to give the idea that you are stopping breastfeeding and starting solids, wherein this system that is definitely not the case.
There has always been much discussion about when to start babies on solids. In that Naturopathic world we have always suggested 4-6months as being the best time. This is because it is the time when the intestinal wall tightens. In young babies, there are large gaps in the intestinal wall – this is so the mother’s antibodies can get through to the baby’s bloodstream from the breast milk. Antibodies are proteins, which are quite large molecules. This is why if certain foods are introduced too early, before the gut tightens up, allergies can develop. Gluten, the protein from wheat and other grains, as well as casein from dairy, are two proteins that can easily enter the bloodstream through an unformed gut, and the immune system can see them as enemies and react to them.
Developmentally, and probably not coincidentally (NCIS rule 36 – there are no coincidences!), at 4-6 months a baby starts to be able to pick something up, grasp it, and put it to their mouth.
Getting started on baby led weaning
- Include your baby at mealtimes and try to all eat together. Often babies will let you know when they are ready to try solids by copying your chewing motions while you are eating or grabbing food out of your hand.
- Give a variety of vegetables, avocado, protein such as meat, carbohydrate such as gluten free bread, corn or rice cakes or sweet potato. These should be long enough to fit in their fist and have some still sticking out the end for them to chew, and they should be soft enough to chew with gums but not so soft they turn to mush! Once they can hold a spoon they can start eating softer food such as mashed pumpkin, lentils or rice.
- Your baby will not starve! You will still be breastfeeding on demand. As they eat more, they will need less breast milk. If your child gets sick you will still have breast milk to fall back on.
- Be prepared for mess so you don’t stress about it! Use a drop sheet such as an old tablecloth under the high chair, and full length bibs are handy that cover the chest and arms. A wash cloth at the table is an excellent idea, or wipes if you are out.
- Choking is less likely with baby led feeding. The baby is in control of their own feeding in their own time, not being surprised by having someone else put food in their mouth when they are not quite ready for it. Their control allows them to develop a gag reflex in their own time by exploring, and this can actually serve to prevent choking in the long term. Having said that, you will still need to supervise them always when they are eating.
- Teaching your baby sign language can also be very helpful until they can talk, and this can help avoid frustration generally and during mealtimes.