As with all the major parenting topics I began my research into baby-led weaning by reading material relevant to attachment parenting.
The basic ‘radical’ notion behind baby-led weaning is that the baby can learn to feed herself/ himself instead of being spoon-fed. The term was coined by Gill Rapley, who wrote ‘Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food’, an assuring and well-researched guide on baby’s transition from liquids to solids.
In her book Rapley explains that spoon-feeding can be the same as forcing food down the baby’s throat and can teach him or her to overeat. In contrast, baby-led weaning means offering the baby finger foods which encourages him or her to learn the skills of chewing and swallowing, promotes hand-mouth co-ordination, helps baby to decide what to eat and how much of it to eat, and gives the opportunity to experience different textures of foods. A recent study confirmed Rapley’s theory that spoon-fed babies are prone to overeating and obesity.
There’s a misconception that because babies can eat solids from six months old, they should be eating them from that age. This used to be four months old until the guidelines were changed, which is why baby food jars still state ‘suitable for babies from four months old’. My baby girl was seven months old when our health visitor insisted on knowing ‘how many jars of puree she was eating a day’. Apparently the ideal answer was ‘two or three’. I explained that Arwyn was not ready for solid foods yet as she could not sit up alone and she was showing no interest in foods when they were presented to her. The health visitor called over another member of staff and told her to ‘book this lady in for a weaning class’. At the time, Arwyn had been exclusively breastfed and she was in the top 1% of chubby babies in the country for her age. Our doctor had described her as ‘clearly thriving’. She still is.
I didn’t attend the weaning class and I set about doing my own research, but unfortunately for the vegan mother there are few resources available on baby-led weaning vegan babies. I started by including Arwyn in family mealtimes by sitting her at the table with us in her high chair, and offering her a plate of finger foods, even when they ended up all over the floor and rarely in her mouth. To begin with she was more interested in the plate than anything else, but she also watched us keenly, and one day she suddenly scooped up a handful of spicy dahl and rice from my plate and happily munched away on it. I was so relieved that I had trusted my instincts and allowed her learn to feed herself, instead of spooning food into her.
Now for the technical bits…
- Choose organic foods as much as possible, and ensure that your baby has boiled and cooled water from a sippy cup with her food, to avoid potential problems with digestion or constipation.
- I offer my baby girl a milk feed before we sit down at the table so that she doesn’t fill up on solids out of hunger for breastmilk.
- Never leave your baby unattended at the table; babies can choke on any types of food, no matter how small or soft they may be. Babies learn from watching you chew and swallow your food, so enjoy sharing these precious family moments together.
Here are some vegan meal ideas for introducing your little one to nutritious salt- and sugar- free nourishment. Try offering one of each group at every meal so that your baby can choose between textures and colours. Foods which are naturally soft, like avocado chunks, can certainly be offered on a spoon if your baby has trouble picking them up (Arwyn loves avocado and will happily lean over and eat it out my extended hand when she sees it on my plate), but try to avoid forcing food into your baby’s mouth with the spoon. Half of the fun of weaning for your baby is letting her / him explore smells and textures as well as taste, at their own pace. It makes a mess, but so does trying to spoon-feed a baby something she/ he doesn’t want to eat.
Let your baby experiment with varied combinations of:
- CHUNKS of steamed broccoli, steamed parsnips, steamed carrots, steamed swede, steamed turnip, steamed green beans, baked yams, baked pumpkins, boiled chard, fried tofu
- STRIPS of steamed kale, raw lettuce, dried figs or dried apricots soaked in water (to make them softer/easier to chew)
- SLICES of raw cucumber, raw avocado, raw apple, raw pear, toast with vegan margarine/hummus/avocado spread etc
- MASHED potatoes mixed with tofu, potatoes with nutritional yeast, swede with broccoli, cooked lentils with boiled carrots, sweet potato with courgette, porridge with banana, cooked kidney/other beans with rice, cooked chickpeas with rice, boiled spinach, boiled cabbage – breastmilk can be added to any mashed food combinations to make them more alluring to baby
Also – brown rice cooked with cumin seeds and peas, plain quinoa or couscous cooked with olive oil, larger amounts of alternative milks as baby gets older, then other wheat and oat products, soy products..
Although some of this may seem like a lot of cooking, I promise you it isn’t! My husband and I eat well and we tend to give Arwyn a small plate of whatever we are eating for breakfast/lunch/dinner. On the rare occasions when there is not enough on my plate that is suitable for her, steaming a few extra foods takes very little time and doesn’t require any special equipment- a saucepan and colander will work if you don’t have a basic steamer. Raw foods, hummus, and spreads are also easy and nutritious options, also ideal for when you have to eat out.
Once you get to grips with it, baby-led weaning is instinctive and much easier than trying to force foods into your baby. You can also rest assured that your baby knows what she/ he needs to eat and will be able to control her food intake herself, which is also healthier for her in the long-run.
Arwyn’s weaning has changed what mealtimes mean for the whole family. Weaning onto solids is a tough transition for your baby to make so it’s important that you let your baby take her/ his own time with it. At 9 months Arwyn is now a confident eater and she relishes mealtimes. Her favourite foods vary week by week, and she has enjoyed all the foods I have listed above at different times. Just like her mother, my baby girl has a mind and a mouth of her own, and I am proud of her vegan tastes!