Monday, February 16, 2015

Baby-Led Feeding

*disclaimer: lengthy post*

I feel like some of the biggest choices we face as parents of infants centers around what they eat. Breastfeeding or formula? Rice cereal or oatmeal? Purees or Baby-Led Feeding? It can be exhausting! And there is so much pressure to make sure you make the right choice for your little one. I probably put quite a bit of pressure on myself, but what is up with this culture of comparing ourselves as mothers?

Anyway, I wanted to elaborate and document our journey with feeding Holt. It was my wish to exclusively breastfeed the first year of his life. We started out AWESOME. I mean, the kid was an eating champ. And then, we hit a road bump. It took a while to figure out, but eventually we discovered he has a milk sensitivity, meaning his digestive system cannot break down the protein found in milk and dairy products. (no big deal--he should outgrow it by the time he turns 1 year) Between 2 months old and 3 months old, he had to be strictly on formula for 2 different weeks (while I pumped every feeding too--THAT was fun), then the hubs and I left for Miami because he was a groomsman in our friend's wedding (man that was a fun trip, but AGAIN, pumped every feeding for 5 days), and then when we got back, Holt wasn't feeling well so he didn't eat very good. Combine all that together over 4 weeks time and my milk supply TANKED. Since then, I have been nursing and then supplementing Nutramigen formula every feeding because my body just couldn't recover.

I have grieved. I have cried (sobbed at times) and been utterly distraught because my perfect plan on feeding my baby wasn't working out. Thankfully, I have a wonderful support system and my husband is my rock. He has helped me see that I'm not a failure as a mother because of unforeseen circumstances that I can't control.

Holt is now 6 months old, and thriving, and we are embarking on the solids journey. I am a nerd and love to research ideas and products and all sorts of things! When I was pregnant I researched strollers and car seats for a good 2-3 months before deciding on which one we would choose. So it was only natural that I research my options for feeding my baby solids. I kept stumbling upon a method and phrase called "Baby-Led Weaning" (BLW), also known as "Baby-Led Feeding." I pulled this directly from the website:

"Baby Led Weaning, quite simply, means letting your child feed themselves from the very start of weaning. The term was originally coined by Gill Rapley, a former health visitor and midwife.  According to the most recent research most babies reach for food at around six months, which is also the time that mothers are being encouraged to wean* by their Health Visitors, in accordance with the WHO guidelines. The distinct advantage of weaning at around six months is that by then, our children are developmentally capable of feeding themselves proper food, in other words – no more mush! You just hand them the food in a suitably-sized piece and if they like it they eat it and if they don’t they won’t. That’s the essence of Baby Led Weaning. No purees, no ice cube trays, no food processor, no potato masher, no baby rice, no weird fruit and veg combos… just you and your child, eating food that you enjoy with you and your family."

The phrase "Baby-Led Weaning" was coined in Europe---over there it means adding complementary foods, not giving up breastfeeding or formula like here in the US. I think that is what confuses a lot of people. The MAIN source of nutrition your infant receives until age 1 is either breastmilk or formula. They have the motto "food before one is just for fun"---meaning this is just a time for your baby to explore different tastes and textures and to have FUN with food!

I scoured Pinterest (check out my board on BLW) and have read all sorts of articles and mommyblogs. I discovered there is really no need for rice cereal or pureed foods. Rice cereal has no nutritional value whatsoever. I know it is recommended by pediatricians because it is fortified with iron which your baby needs. But research has shown that the iron in rice cereal is only absorbed at a rate of 4-10%. Instead, why not feed your baby iron-rich foods? I am not saying you're a horrible parent for feeding your baby rice cereal---PLEASE don't hear me say that! I personally just don't feel there is a need to feed that to my children.

So, how to do you do BLW? Won't your baby choke? Is it safe? Will they get enough nutrition?

To start, make sure your baby is ready. The signs to look for include:

1. Baby can sit up well without support
2. Baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex
3. Baby has developed motor skills to self feed
4. Baby shows interest of the food on your plate at meal times

Benefits of BLW:

1. It's easier and less time consuming
2. Babies are trusted to know when, what, and how much they want to eat---making it much less stressful on you
3. Babies join you for family mealtimes---this allows baby to observe you eating and mom gets to eat too!
4. Babies learn how to safely handle food---chew first and then swallow
5. Babies learn to manage different shapes, textures, sizes, and tastes of food

Foods to Give Baby:

1. Avocado
2. Banana
3. Sweet potato
4. soft cooked apples
5. soft cooked green beans, asparagus, carrots, zucchini
6. ripe peaches, pears, melon
7. Egg yolk

AVOID foods that could be choked on like grapes and nuts and also any foods that may have allergies associated with them---nuts, honey, egg whites, chocolate, etc. especially if you have a family history. Also, do not give your baby any food that has been seasoned. Salt can seriously affect your babies internal balance of fluids.

Choking is a concern with any supplemental feeding. Be sure that anytime you feed baby solids he/she is closely supervised. Know what to do in the case your child does start choking! However, there IS distinction between choking and gagging. Gagging is a normal response that most babies will experience. It is also a safety mechanism to prevent choking. At 6 months of age, the gag reflex is much higher in the throat---as your baby ages, it moves further down. This is one of the reasons BLW is so valuable! It teaches them at an earlier age how to chew and swallow, when the gag reflex is so much closer to the front of the mouth.

Here is some tips I found for starting BLW:

*This is a learning experience. Throw expectations out the window and just have fun!
* It is messy!
*Nurse or bottle feed up to an hour before offering solids. This ensures we don't have a temper tantrum because baby is starving.
*Know that it's a slow process. Start with offering solids once a day and as they show more interest, increase it to 2 and eventually 3 times a day.
*Don't put more than 2 to 3 pieces of food on the tray at a time. That way, baby doesn't get overwhelmed.

NOW. All of that to say,  I'm not one of those super-strict "this is the only way I'm feeding my baby solids" type people. I am trying to be realistic and know that I'm probably going to feed Holt some purees. It's not a huge deal! There may be times I cook something that wouldn't be appropriate for him to eat and it would just be easier to whip out a jar of baby food. Or we may go to a restaurant and it's easier to whip out a jar of baby food instead of worrying about what kind of seasoning is on my food. I don't know. I've never done this before! Our pediatrician recommended starting him off with green vegetables (avocado, green beans, peas, etc) and then move on to orange vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, etc) before going to fruits. I think we will stretch vegetables out over a month or so and then maybe introduce fruits. We started with avocado and it was so fun to watch him explore!

I hope maybe I've helped people understand more about BLW. My husband and I feel like this is the way we want to feed our babies---that doesn't mean that you have to! I just know how overwhelming it can be as a new parent to try to figure out what is the "right way" to go about feeding your baby and I've decided there is no "right way." You just have to figure out what works best for your family.

Follow along as I document our experience with BLW!

Trying out avocado---02.12.15

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