There have been some parenting decisions we have had to give real thought to, but deciding how we would wean Frida seemed like a no brainer to both myself and my husband. We loved the idea behind it – namely that it makes no sense to take a baby that feeds herself (through being breastfed truly on demand) and that will hopefully be able to feed herself sensibly as a child and adult, and put them through a period where they are neither in control of what or how they eat. We are big believers in gentle parenting, and baby-led weaning seems to us by far the gentlest way of offering food – allowing our daughter autonomy and control over a big part of her life from a young age.
I must say that providing Frida with the same food that we eat, in the same format (ie. without being turned into mush first), and with the same ability to choose or reject different elements of the meal is a real pleasure. Mealtimes are stress-free as if she wants to try something then she can, but if she doesn’t try anything that’s fine too as she still gets everything she needs from breastmilk and will continue to do so for months to come. At each meal time we provide Frida with a few different options – for example at lunchtime today she was offered a crumpet with a little bit of marmite, some cucumber sticks, some smoked salmon, and an apricot – and she can take it or leave it. We also try and give her some foods like soup, sauce or coconut yoghurt on a spoon which we load for her and then leave in front of her so she can help herself.
We started to wean Frida a couple of weeks before she turned six months, as she was showing all of the “true” signs of being ready (sitting up unaided, passing things between her hands, taking things and putting them in her mouth). The brilliant book we read on baby-led weaning by Gill Rapley suggested that it takes a couple of weeks for babies to learn to swallow, and I was convinced that Frida would crack it quickly and become a keen eater. How wrong was I! At eight months Frida will still chew or try most food, but I would say any swallowing is still just incidental. She is certainly enthusiastic, especially if tenderstem broccoli or apples are involved, but she really barely eats anything at all, preferring to suck, chew, spit out, tear, and scrunch her food.
I’m not stressed at all that she’s not really eating though as I know that she is exploring textures, tastes, temperatures, and also learning about the rhythm of the day and the way that mealtimes work. I have been surprised by her ignoring foods I thought would be a big hit like mango but being keen on garlic, olives (cut up to avoid choking) and goat cheese. Her bedtime is still baby-led too, so can be unpredictable, but we try to have supper early so we can have a family meal each day.
To make things slightly harder, for the last month or so Frida and I have been on an exclusion diet. Her skin was covered in red blotches and was looking sorer and sorer and we were getting worried it would turn into full-blown eczema so we decided to cut allergens from her diet – and mine as she is breastfed. So no dairy, soya, nuts, sesame, eggs or wheat to begin with, although we have recently reintroduced eggs and wheat. I miss nuts dreadfully and can’t wait to start eating them again!
I will be interested to see when she starts “properly” eating as I know many babies around the same age as her who are eating machines. I would also like to know how many other babies just don’t seem that fussed about actually swallowing anything – she can’t be the only one! Clearly she knows breastmilk is where it’s at…