By Lisa Hewitt, Holistic Nutritionist for Moms + Babes
Should there be a versus at all?
The thing about being a Mama is, what is best for someone else’s baby may not be best for yours.
When introducing my second baby to solids I felt a lot of pressure to use the Baby-Led Feeding approach. This method for food introductions has gained a lot of attention in the last few years and like most topics regarding children, with it comes a layer of insistence + passion claiming this approach is better than the rest.
In theory and on paper Baby-Led Feeding seemed best.
At our first formal meal together as a family, I was wildly excited about our newest little eater at the party, however we experienced a particularly dramatic + scary gagging episode.
In hindsight I now know that this is completely normal and an important part of the learning process, but at the time I stopped in my tracks. I was astonished at how all of a sudden finger foods seemed like the worst possible option on earth for our baby.
This was my Mama-bear instinct leading the way. It wasn’t for us. At all.
Other than avocado, banana, or essentially anything really mushy, we did purees exclusively for the next 8 weeks.
But here’s the thing – babies need to learn to chew, swallow, and navigate food in their mouth at some point. Especially since they are typically mobile by this age + the probability of finding a rock or choking size object, is high. Therefore, I’d rather have this skill down pact in advance!
Around 8-months of age we bridged the gap between purees + baby led feeding making sure to follow the important guidelines for size, shape, and texture for first finger foods. We had also familiarized ourselves with the difference between gagging vs choking, and my husband was trained in CPR.
By now I felt a little less sensitive about the learning curve ahead and my baby seemed a lot more capable. There was still some uncomfortable moments but I was more ready to trust the process.
Before you go rule out the baby-led approach altogether I want to share what I truly LOVE about it, and how to use its virtues no matter what method for starting solids you choose.
At the heart of the baby-led feeding philosophy you’ll find the most amazing attitude towards nutrition + meal time. Its founding principle allows baby to lead no matter what reminding us that they are capable of communicating exactly how much they need and whether or not they like the food at hand. Sounds simple enough right?
In my experience as Mama to two boys (with very different personalities + eating habits) and also from the families I’ve worked with over the years, what really, really shines when using this method is the attitude at its core.
Baby’s participation is so incredibly important when starting solids! Learning to love food through exploration, self-feeding (when ready), and communication is what will ultimately help our babies develop an open mind towards new food inspiring Little Nutrition Superstars.
I believe in the importance of providing nutritious food for our children, certainly. As an equal priority I also encourage a positive relaxed atmosphere during meals. The children I meet who have the healthiest appetites don’t NECESSARILY have the healthiest nutrition, by definition (some do). What they often have in common though, are rather easy-going parents.
What we project onto our Littles has a long-term impact - I learned this the hard way. Whether it’s foods we want them to love (like kale) or foods we assume they’ll hate (like kale!), it is best as Mama’s to relax into the journey.
When a baby has breast or bottle they know when they are hungry or full. The same goes for solids. If baby turns their head away from a puree or spits it out… the writing is on the wall. Pushing for one more bite puts a lot of strain on mealtime and may create the exact state of stress that we are trying to avoid.
Our babies need to be able to trust us and these are the moments that show them they can.
All we have to do is respect their cues.
So no matter if you choose purees, baby-led, or a combination of both, it’s going to be a wonderful journey. Simply let it unfold day-by-day, trust your little one, and let baby come to love food, on their own.
Lisa Hewitt is the soul-filled Holistic Nutritionist (and Mama!) at Bright Beginnings with a special focus + love for inspired infant nutrition. Please join her for Holistic Food Introductions 5-part ebook series at www.healthybrightbeginnings.com.