I got a bit of a shock this week. One night, I finished breastfeeding Molly and put her to bed for the night and she refused to sleep. After trying everything, I wondered if she was hungry and offered her a bottle of milk. She devoured it so I put her back to bed. She still wouldn’t settle. Eventually I got her up again and as we came back into the kitchen she lunged for the empty bottle of milk. So I gave her another bottle of milk and put her back to bed. The next morning, when I tried to breastfeed her, she totally refused it. She wanted the bottle! She has clearly decided she’s weaning, whether I like it or not.
Emotionally, I’m not really feeling ready to wean her, but sometimes weaning just happens naturally like that, where the baby loses interest and the milk supply gradually drops away. Other times the mother wants to stop breastfeeding and the baby has to be almost forced off the breast. I’d actually prefer it happened this way, where she loses interest, rather than me deciding when to wean her. But either way, it’s good if it happens gradually so we can both get used to the idea. There are certainly some bonuses to weaning. It makes it easier to go out at night or have a sleep-in! But it’s also hard to give up that beautiful physical closeness that mum and baby spend together when you’re breastfeeding. There’s nothing quite like holding your baby while she accidently falls asleep playing with your hair. It’s really special.
But if we’re talking about weaning, the latest catch-cry in parenting is this concept of baby-led weaning.
It gets a bit confusing because the term ‘weaning’ means different things to different people. In the UK, the term means introducing solid foods, whereas in the US it implies giving up breastfeeding. In Australia, we use the word to mean both things.
Baby led-weaning is just a fancy term that means letting your child feed themselves solid food from the word go. You don’t spoon-feed them at all. So rather than feeding your baby rice cereal and purees you just start giving them pieces of real food between their milk feeds. And ideally you should offer the same types of foods that you are eating.
So what are the supposed benefits of baby-led weaning?
1) Well there’s really very little research in this area but advocates of baby-led weaning say it produces less fussy eaters because they’re eating a wide range of foods early on.
2) It’s more sociable – because baby is more likely to eat with the rest of the family
3) It’s good for their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination
4) There is some evidence that baby –led weaning leads to a lower incidence of obesity later in life. This could be because they are learning to self-regulate from the beginning or it may be because of the types of foods that the babies eat – such as more complex carbohydrates.
And are there any downsides to baby-led weaning?
It’s very messy and there’s lots of food wasted. If you’re eating Atlantic salmon it can be disappointing to see so much of it going on the floor.
It is also quite time consuming. At first the baby doesn’t get much of the food in their mouth so you can spend a lot of time over meals but still not know how much they’ve eaten.
Some people worry about the risk of choking. It should be a problem, but to be safe, never leave your baby alone when they are eating.
Personally I’ve tried to do a bit of both. I did do purees from four months because my baby wasn’t putting on enough weight. I also found that filling Molly up with mashed potato or pureed casserole encouraged her to sleep a bit longer at night. But I also tried to use some of the Baby-led weaning principles by offering a wide variety of family finger foods from 6 months. Baby-led weaning is a relatively new concept, so I think the jury is still out as far as the research goes.
If people want to know more about the idea of Baby-Led Weaning, Gill Rapley is the guru of baby-led weaning in the UK. She has brochures online and a book and a website where you can get more info. www.baby-led.com