Bit of a train of thought today, sparked off by a few recent conversations, readings, observations…
Firstly an interesting thread that’s been running on the BLW forum, entitled “‘I will be doing a mix of BLW and puree’. Discuss.” Obviously this has brought out a few strong views from the hardcore, who believe that once you’ve spoon fed a puree it’s not possible to then call anything else that you’re doing baby-led weaning. There are also some more flexible (accommodating? I don’t know the right word) views, who say each to their own and the more baby-led it can be – even with some purees in the mix – the better. But for me, the most interesting thing has been how this debate raises the question of what is BLW, at its core?
For me, I think the key features are about not spoon feeding and not making purees especially for the baby. So I will feel that I have ‘done’ BLW if (1) I never puree something specifically for Daniel (i.e. unless it’s something like soup or mash that grown ups eat pureed anyway) and (2) I will never put a spoon into his mouth by my own hand. These are both quite practical things. (And I guess in effect this means that I don’t believe you can mix BLW and purees and still call it BLW. But that’s not important really. Whatever works. I haven’t weighed in on the forum discussion myself, just read (lurked?!) with interest!)
But there are a whole load of principles or philosophical aspects too, which I generally agree with but I think are a bit woolly around the edges if you really put them to test. For example, one principle is that the baby chooses what they want to eat and how much they want to eat. However, until they’re old enough to go and open the fridge, the parent always chooses how often and when meals happen, what is on the menu (even if it’s a wide range of things) and dictates how much/how little of each thing is made available overall. I particularly liked one response to the forum thread that suggested BLW might be more accurately called baby-led feeding, since the weaning process is always adult-led, but the baby is allowed to manage their own feeding from day one.
And then the thing of trusting your baby to stop when they’re full. I have to say I was a bit worried about this, having seen Daniel go – seemingly indefinitely – at cheese sauce and Petit Filous. But I have had my mind set at rest that babies don’t tend to overeat, having put a question on the forum, and also on one occasion getting clear signals from D that he wasn’t interested in any more Petit Filous (the surefire marker!). However, in the early days, I’m sure that babies sometimes stop for many reasons other than fullness. It seems that Daniel stops as often out of boredom, tiredness, distraction (the underside of his highchair seems a source of endless fascination!) or giving up on things that he’s struggling to keep a hold of, as out of actual satiety. He will usually carry on eating much longer if he’s being passed loaded spoons of yoghurt or cauliflower cheese than he will if he’s got something in front of him that he has to pick up with his fingers. So although I buy the general principle of following your baby’s lead about when they want to eat and when they want to stop, I think it must be a while until hunger is really the main guide to your baby’s behaviour at mealtimes. And I’ve already posted previously on my thoughts about the ‘they just eat what you eat’ thing – again, I like the idea in theory, but in practice it’s not quite that straightforward in the first few months.
These questions also led me to think a bit more about why I’m doing BLW with Daniel. Firstly, it just seemed like it would be more fun! Also, I’m all for cutting out hassle where possible, so the option not to make any purees – since there’s really no need – just seemed to make sense. Somewhat paradoxically, I also think I may have been a prime candidate for angsting over what he was eating, how much and when, had I gone the traditional weaning route. In my own life, I’ve had ongoing ‘food control issues’ and I think that by going to the opposite extreme with Daniel, and giving over control to him entirely in terms of his feeding, it’s avoided my tendency to perhaps over-control what he eats and get het up and obsessive about it. I also like the idea that it could help foster independence and coordination skills. That said, having spoken to my babymama friends and watched their babies eat, I don’t think Daniel is progressing any faster than any of his peers who are doing purees plus finger foods (not ‘purees plus BLW’ :-)!) Lots of them are doing well with holding veg sticks and ricecakes and some are already getting the pincer grip. So I don’t think BLW is a guarantee of the baby developing any more rapidly than they may have done anyway in these respects. I confess to a modicum of disappointment when I noticed this. But then I reminded myself of the other reasons we’re doing it and that it’s not a competition! Also, I guess that most of Daniel’s peers who are doing purees plus finger foods are also onto more frequent and regular mealtimes now, so although Daniel only gets finger foods, he’s almost certainly not having them as often as some of his mates are.
At the moment, Daniel is usually eating something with me three times a day, but I’m still feeling relaxed about him missing one meal or another if he’s asleep or out of sorts. While I’m (a) on maternity leave and (b) still allowing myself the extra 500 or so calories a day while breastfeeding, my own meal pattern is usually four meals a day – breakfast, a smallish lunch around midday, another snacky type meal late afternoon and then a hot meal with Jon when he gets home at around 8.00pm. So at the moment, we seem to have settled into a pattern of Daniel and I having breakfast together, starting some time around 9.30am and lasting anything up to an hour, depending on how long Daniel stays interested in his food and how long I want to keep him in one position while I browse the internet or read the paper! I tend to have my lunch while he has a nap, and then he’ll join in with the snack later in the afternoon, and then he’ll usually nap again around 6pm and with any luck be refreshed and hungry enough to have some tea with me and Jon later in the evening.
His milk feeds, interspersed with these meals, are still pretty unpredictable. He’s still feeding once or twice in the night, and if he’s had milk any time after 6am (and then gone back to sleep for a couple of hours) he doesn’t seem to want any milk again until mid-morning, so he sometimes has his solid breakfast as the first thing he eats after waking up properly for the day. It’s starting to move towards only two or three more substantial breastfeeds during the day, and then usually a decent one at bedtime – if he doesn’t fall asleep part way through! But then we’ve had teething days and poorly days, which can change the pattern completely. So it’s still pretty variable overall.
Finally, I’ve also been thinking about why BLW seems to be working out well for us – what attributes do you need to have as the parent? I think there are a few key things that you have to be prepared for and feel okay about. Basically, you need to feel relaxed about: mess (lots); time taken over meals (lots); the amount the baby eats (usually not lots!); and have a pretty laid back attitude to safety. Not laid back as in you’ll happily let them choke, but you need to feel confident about their ability to deal with gagging and not be on tenterhooks that everything they put in their mouth will end up lodged in their windpipe. I’ve discovered as we’ve started this journey that I am surprisingly blasé in this respect. I’m not saying it’s a completely sensible approach, but I often wander round the kitchen with my back to Daniel while he eats, just keeping an ear out for any signs of trouble. He certainly doesn’t seem to require an audience in order to get on with his meal, and often I spy him going back to things that I thought he’d lost interested in when I leave him to it and go about some other chores!