With Baby # 2 approaching 6 months old, Tom can’t wait to start introducing food. When his daughter Violet (Baby # 1) started weaning, we enthusiastically started puréeing kumaras, pumpkins, lentils, apples, but quickly gave up.
It wasn’t our style. And more importantly, it wasn’t our daughter’s style either. She always wanted to feed herself. Thinking back to how important family mealtimes were growing up, we wanted our children to think of food as fun, which is why we eventually looked into baby-led weaning.
What is baby-led weaning?
Central to baby-led weaning is the idea that babies share family food and mealtimes. Parents introduce hand-held foods and encourage your baby to feed themselves instead of being spoon-fed. Food is given as a complement to breast milk (or formula) which is offered on demand, until they self-wean. There’s no need to worry about underfeeding, because baby eats what it wants, and has breast milk as its main food source (until weaned, of course!).
Just by tweaking the way food is served, it was easy for us to offer things that were already part of the family meal. Violet was so proficient at munching hard foods and her fine motor skills developed really quickly. She could even pick up a piece of rice between her wee fingers! Before we knew it, she was eating a typical Kiwi breakfast of Marmite toast soldiers (thin strips) or Wheat-bix and feijoas. Now (if she’s hungry and with a bit of encouragement), she dives right into her Green Dinner Table meals.
It’s easy to make adjustments. If you’re serving up the Thai Pumpkin Soup, hold back some butternut squash pieces once it’s roasted so baby can munch on that. Here are some ideas of how to slightly modify food so that it’s baby-friendly:
- Instead of puréed or mashed, serve it as a floret-sized piece, large enough for the infant to hold with some protruding from the fist. Steamed to a soft consistency.
- Instead of puréed or mashed, peel the top section and serve it with the skin left on the bottom section of the banana (this gives baby something to grip).
- Instead of puréed with vegetables, serve large pieces such as fusilli (spirals) or penne.
Choking vs. Gagging
Even though we enjoyed the experience with our daughter Violet, some of our family members expressed concern about the risk of choking, including Tom’s Mum who (like many Mums of that generation) were told that purées were the way to go.
Back then, weaning often happened earlier (at about 4 months) and babies weren’t as physically capable as they are at 6 months. It’s key to wait for baby to be able to:
- Sit up
- Scoop, hold and bring food to the mouth, and
- Show an interest in eating.
Keep in mind too that the gag reflex moves down from mid-mouth to the throat over time (and this is protective). So it’s normal for your child to gag, and gagging is not choking. It’s important to know the difference.
From a nutritional point of view, one of the main other concerns for all infants is adequate iron intake. That’s because for the first 6 months exclusively breastfed babies do not get iron from their diet. This is why groups like Plunket do not recommend feeding infants milk until after 1 year of age. Dairy makes it difficult for the body to absorb iron. We found it easy to add iron rich foods to Violet’s diet. We offered:
- whole grain bread
- pulses like peas (still a favourite)
- beans and lentils
- nut butters and seeds
- green leafy vegetables (still working on that!)
- tofu and tempeh (which Violet calls ‘tempey’).
Add a food rich in vitamin C (like tomatoes), to make it even more likely that the iron will be absorbed.
Weaning your baby should be fun!
Our relationship with food is so important, and while it can be a challenge at times, setting up a healthy relationship with food from the very beginning sets us up for a healthy future. It won’t be long until we get little Oscar (Baby # 2) eating Green Dinner Table with us. And on that note, we’re off to set up the high chair!
For more great ideas about what to serve and everything you need to know about vegan weaning (it’s 140 pages!), check out the Eating Well: Vegan Infants and Under 5s Guide published by the First Steps Nutrition Trust.