Maybe, baby: a baby-led weaning reality check!
Baby Led Weaning was one of those Perfect Mummy-sounding things I would never have tried if I weren't so easily convinced by parenting books. The magic words "no puréeing" contain the hidden meaning of no cooking, no cleaning the blender, no filling portion-sized pots and no remembering to defrost organic beef and rosemary mush.
The book promised that my baby would eat the same things we did, at the same times, with his own hands and require no spoonfeeding. All we needed was a plastic sheet for the floor and an easy-clean high chair.
There's a video of me in the early BLW days, laughing as I crouch on the floor by the high chair catching bits of banana and handing them back up to a giggling Baby Kong. Maybe I had just realised what the other missing words "no puréeing" contained. No eating. That's OK, my book told me. Food is just about textures and smooshing and playing. Babies get all their nutrients from breastmilk or formula, so it doesn't matter if the carrot sticks, broccoli florets, orange segments and bread crusts never touch their insides.
In the twelve months since he clutched his first melon rind, one of us is still laughing, but I have surrendered to a more diluted form of Baby Lead Weaning. Here's my 7-point guide to 'Maybe Lead Weaning'.
Forget about the weaning part
"Weaning" is a tricky word. I read it as weaning off milk. But since very little food ends up in their mouth, babies need just as much milk as they ever did. Better to think of it as weaning onto solids. Except …
…solids are kind of liquid-y
The problem with a BLW menu of cucumber sticks and chicken thigh bones is, that stuff isn't actually a meal. But thick lentil soup, oatmeal, yoghurt, mashed potato are. And they're all mushy, so they get round the no-chewing thing (just like, er, purée) and have to be spoonfed. If you're going Maybe Led Weaning, then you have to accept that …
…spoons are not the enemy
Neither are forks. Knives, though, are still not welcome at the table. BLW would have you pre-load a spoon and let baby rub it around their face and hair, indirectly ingesting anything that drips into their mouth. This MLW-er has cleaned too many spoonfuls of porridge flipped onto the floor, walls and ceiling to risk more meal prep going to waste. However wide the plastic sheet, your baby can catapult further. And don't worry about the BLW no-no of force-feeding because …
…no-one can make a baby eat when they don't want to
The MLW approach is to spoonfeed wet food for as long as baby is into it, and then immediately and graciously accept defeat. That might mean one mouthful, it might mean the whole lot plus seconds. Which is why MLW, like BLW, rejects puréeing. It's way too much effort to go to for food that's going to end up as wallpaper. Children have no problem expressing defiance. Clamped mouth, head turned away and food shoved onto the floor are all a pre-verbal final word on the matter. Here is where you need to take a deep breath and remind yourself it's all OK. Because …
…no-one here is really eating anyway
BLW talks a lot about the importance of babies learning to pass food to the back of their mouth to swallow. But, though my son has progressed onto foods he can pick up as well as wet foods, he still doesn’t chew. Anything he swallows might as well have been inserted directly into his diaper. Are whole undigested peas and veggie chunks really a source of fibre? There's more ingesting going on now, but I'm not sure there's a whole lot of digesting. Also, I'm eating less too because …
…forget about that all eating meals together promise
I don't know about you, but it takes me longer to eat a decent meal than it does a baby to throw two toast soldiers on the floor. Even if he does do it fifty times. I spend my own meal primed to whip his away before he starts sweeping it onto the floor, because that Baby Kong catch game got old a long time ago. It's easier to get the cleanup mission over before he's down and crawling through the mess, than to finish my food. MLW handily also stands for Mummy Led Weaning - although I’ve discovered there's a way around this …
… eat out
So many bonuses! If you can walk to the restaurant, your baby might fall asleep in the pram on the way, giving you an entire meal in peace. If awake, your baby senses that you didn't prepare the food so happily eats most of it. And as long as you tip big enough, and leave fast enough, you can tell yourself no-one minds the mess.
Nicola Prentis is a TEFL teacher, and a writer and blogger, based in Girona, Spain. She had her baby boy in England.