Aside from cows milk, because of allergies and intolerance’s on my side of the family, we are all for M trying and eating anything that we’re eating. Not only is this a great way for him to experience a whole range of foods with no pressure, it might also clean up our diet, too!
The first food M ate was a cucumber, and he happily gummed away at the chunk given to him, sucking out the inner seeds and the watery centre. After that, he tried figs (whole), melons(slices), fresh anchovies(deboned!), tomatoes(in chunks).. and even a sly finger full of buttercream he nabbed while in the ring sling as I baked (so much for no dairy!) He coped well with every food he tried and really seemed to enjoy it.
Then overnight something changed. He had two teeth before we started allowing him to eat food but it was as if he discovered the purpose of the teeth ( at the front, bottom) and no sooner was something in his mouth, then he’d bitten a chunk from it. Including cucumber. Not good. M gagged and it came out easily – he was nowhere close to choking – but it left me shaky and made me rethink the foods we let him try.
Baby-led weaning is about experiencing food textures, creating positive associations with the process of eating and hopefully making vegetables just as appealing as that buttercream he’d nabbed.
Once M discovered he could bite, he stopped gumming anything and everything would end up in a chunk in his mouth and he’d gag straight away. After two days of this, when none of us enjoyed meal times, we gave it a rethink and realised that just because we are against the idea of us feeding him purees, doesn’t mean we have to be against the idea of M feeding himself mushier foods. So we took some banana, and mushed it a bit and gave it to him. He had fun, he giggled his way through making a mess and did vicariously eat some (oh the joy of cotton nappies!), but mostly, if he concentrated on actually easting – recognising it was in his mouth and trying to swallow, he gagged. Every time. With everything we gave him – eggs, apples, oatmeal…
With this type of food, whether he was eating it from a pre-loaded spoon, or sucking it from his fingers after having played with it a bit, both I and hubby were relaxed and able to talk him through the gagging process with a smile, instead of feeling on edge as he gagged *just in case.* M looks at us for reassurance as he eats and with soft foods, we find it easy to smile, say “yum yum” and coax him into swallowing.
Baby led weaning isn’t about baby eating adult food, it’s about him leading the weaning process. M has days when he doesn’t want to nurse; likewise he has days when he doesn’t want to eat or put anything in his mouth. But that doesn’t mean that the days he simply plays with his food don’t count for anything. When we eat we use all five senses: we smell and look at the food before we bring it to our mouths; when we chew we all at once taste, hear and feel our food. When one of the five senses isn’t stimulated during a meal, no matter how much you eat, you won’t feel satisfied – the reason all nutritionists recommend adding colour, crunch and scent to a salad. Even if M eats nothing, takes the food nowhere near his mouth but explores the textures and smells on the plate, that’s a positive mealtime experience.