Some of you have been on the edge of your seat since last week, when I first introduced you to Emily’s baby food strategies. I’m thrilled to have her back from Live Renewed today to finish up her thoughts, this time with her real food approach for baby number two. And did you notice we talked baby food during the “Chew Your Food” and “Squash” Monday Mission weeks? Oh yes, I’m nothing if not theme-y!
Be sure to read part one: Feeding a Real Food Baby – Breast is Best, but Then What? and visit Emily at Live Renewed.
A Different Approach to Baby’s First Foods
After my son, Brenden, was born, we were happily nursing right along and I actually dreaded the day that he would start solids. I wanted to hold it off as long as possible. I didn’t want to resort to conventional baby food, but I really didn’t know when I was going to find the time to batch prepare homemade baby food for him, like I had with my daughter. I was already trying to cook more from scratch then I ever had before, and spending more than my share of time in the kitchen. I also didn’t want to give up the freedom of eating my meals with my family by having to sit and spoon feed him at every meal.
Brenden’s 6 month birthday was fast approaching and we knew that he was ready to start trying to eat, because he would let us know at every meal that he wanted some of what we were having. I had read a little bit online about an approach called Baby Led Weaning, or Baby Led Solids, but didn’t know enough about it to really feed comfortable with feeding him in that way. So, we bought a box of rice cereal (which I would no longer recommend now knowing what I know) and started giving him mashed bananas, avocado, or rice cereal at our meals with us.
I did buy a few mesh feeders and started giving Brenden different fruits, bananas, apples, pears, in them for him to feed and explore himself. He LOVED it. He couldn’t get enough. He would eat what was in the feeder and want more. He loved being in control of what he was eating, and I loved that I didn’t have to sit and feed him, that I could either sit him in his high chair while doing other work in the kitchen and he was happily engaged in eating, or I could sit at the dinner table with my family and eat while he fed himself with the feeder. I decided I really needed to look more into this different method of feeding solids foods that I had read about.
I bought the books Baby Led Weaning and Real Food for Mother and Baby, and before I was even half way through either of them, we started feeding Brenden this way. We would simply give him pieces of whatever we were eating that he could have – veggies, meat, fruit, cheese. Again, he LOVED it, and he became the happiest, most content little eater I have ever seen. He loved to sit in his high chair and eat. He loved to explore the foods, tasting and feeling them, testing them out. He tried every different type of food that we gave him, and rarely, if ever, rejected anything. My hubby was definitely wary at first because he is very afraid of babies and children choking. He was pretty resistant because he thought that Brenden would choke. What we learned though, is that babies have a very good, innate, gag reflex that pushes food from the back of their mouth to the front so they can continue to chew and eat it until they are ready to swallow. The gagging noise sounds like they are choking, but if you watch their mouths, the food is actually not very far back on their tongues, the younger the baby the farther forward in their mouth the gag reflex is triggered.
After they gag they just keep on eating happily, without any signs of distress, almost as if it never happened. Slowly, as my hubby saw the advantages to feeding our son this way, and that he really would be okay and not choke, he got on board with the idea and we have been feeding our son, who is now14 months old, in this way exclusively (in addition to nursing) since he was about 8 month old.
Feeding Baby Real Food
- Wait until baby is ready. You are their parent and you know best, but don’t try to force a baby to eat just because they are a certain age. They should be able to sit up well on their own. They may have some teeth, or none at all. When we started this method of feeding, Brenden only had 2 teeth on the bottom, and he now only has 6, 4 on the top and 2 on the bottom, and no molars, but he chews and eats pretty much any food just like he has a mouth full of teeth.
- Give baby some pieces of real food, and let them go at it. They can explore, touch, play with, and maybe even eat some of the food. A good bib is definitely necessary, or eating without a shirt is a great option too. It can definitely be messy, but you know, I found spoon feeding baby food to be pretty messy sometimes too, so I’m not sure it’s any worse.
- Offer lots of different types of food and let baby decide what he likes and wants to eat. We were surprised that our son loved meat, and would sometimes eat that exclusively at a meal. Also offer foods with different spices and flavors, no need to serve bland baby food, babies want their food to taste good too!
- The emphasis remains on breastfeeding. Continue to nursing your baby often when you are beginning to feed them solid foods. While baby is exploring food and learning to feed themselves, you can relax in knowing that they are still getting all of the nutrition they need through breast milk. I still nurse my 14 month old son a few times per day because the benefits of breastfeeding are just that important to me.
Advantages of Feeding Baby Real Food
- Baby eats what you’re eating. No spending extra time preparing special baby foods and meals for baby. This is probably my favorite part about it, I did have to spend any extra time in the kitchen making and preparing batches of baby food for my son.
- Baby is in control of what they are eating. While it is obviously always important to stay with your baby while they are eating and never leave them unattended, the method of feeding allows baby to feed themselves, so you are free to eat your own meal with them, or even do some kitchen prep while they are happily entertained with their food in their high chair.
- Less Waste. When you feed baby what you are eating, you don’t need to have jars or containers of baby food that have to be thrown away or recycled later.
- You can feed baby a variety of foods. There are no hard and fast rules about when you should feed baby certain fruits and vegetables, but some foods like cow’s milk, honey, nuts and others, should be held off until baby is over a year old. This is great in the summer time when fresh and local food is abundant. You can introduce your baby to all of the yummy foods available at your farmer’s market and then can learn to enjoy and appreciate all different kinds of foods from a young age.
- Babies are more likely to be better eaters as toddlers and young children because they have been exposed to such variety of taste and texture, and been in control of their eating, from such a young age.
I would definitely recommend anyone that has a young baby to try this relaxed and enjoyable, for both baby and parents, way of feeding baby. It has been such a great thing to watch our son eat and enjoy food on his own, our friends and family are often amazed at how well he eats for his age. We will see how he is when he reaches the typical picky eater age, but so far he has shown that he loves to eat, will happily eat all different kinds of foods, and often eats better than his older sister!
There is so much more information about feeding baby real foods that I wish I could share with you here, but this is just our family’s story and what has worked for us. For more information about this method of feeding baby, please read and research for yourself before beginning to feed your baby. I highly recommend the two books I mentioned earlier, Baby Led Weaning and Real Food for Mother and Baby.
Bon Appetit, Baby!
UPDATE: I just came across a post on natural baby care from Cara at Health, Home and Happiness. It addresses options for moms who are struggling or cannot breastfeed.
Emily McClements is passionate about caring for God’s creation while saving money at the same time. She is a blessed wife and mama to two young children, and blogs about her family’s journey toward natural and simple living at Live Renewed.
Photos are from Emily.