Audrey Whelan tells her baby-led weaning story

People often talk about the bond that breastfeeding forms between mother and baby. But weaning was a different matter, with tales of babies refusing foods you had cooked, pureed and divided into ice cube trays to then defrost, heat and finally find out if it was going to be eaten or not. I was secretly dreading it. I was full of admiration for anyone keen to start weaning their baby as soon as possible. I on the other hand was delaying to the latest date possible, and wondering if I lacked the maternal instinct / drive for the task.

Then I turned a corner, my mind-set completely shifted, and I too started to get excited about moving my baby on from milk to pastures new. I’ve got three people to thank – my neighbour across the road (also a TPPSG member), Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. My neighbour lent me a book written by the second twoand told me she swore by it when her baby started on solid food. It’s called ‘Baby-Led Weaning’.

I had already heard this phrase but after quizzing one or two people on the subject and getting a not-so-positive response about lots of waste and babies not actually ingesting any food I had thought that maybe it was a far-fetched concept and not for me. But the book was a page turner.
I’m surprised I managed to read a book so fast with a five-month-old in my care but I was completely inspired and the concept just made perfect sense to me. I wouldn’t need to do any pureeing, I wouldn’t need to do any spoon-feeding. I would just let my little girl learn to eat with her hands, picking up all kinds of vegetables, fruit, pieces of cheese, meat, pasta, potato and beans. I would let her touch and feel the different shapes and textures and work out how to chew and swallow a variety of foods.

That was seven months ago and it has been an amazing journey since. As the book says, it’s important to focus on where you want your baby to be at 12 months of age – for example, eating three meals and two snacks a day and having milk to complement their diet, but not relying on it as a main source of calories / nutrients. When you focus on this end goal you are less inclined to fret along the way if there are spells of not eating much, or only eating one thing. Milk is always there as a backup during this journey, but the end goal is to have a child who enjoys their time at the table, eating, chatting, interacting and being part of a sociable meal.

I feel very grateful that I was in a position to wean my daughter in this way, which was only possible as I did not have to go back to work until she was almost a year old. It certainly involves mealtimes that cannot be rushed.In the early months of baby-led weaning my baby’s favourite meal was breakfast. Even at six months she would sit in her high chair for up to an hour, exploring her porridge, fruit, and if she was still hungry, some toast with cream cheese or peanut butter. Getting out of the house before mid-morning was no longer a possibility.

After a couple of weeks we introduced a second daily meal, and a third when she was seven months old. I quickly came to realise I was now fully committed myself to this baby-led weaning business – spoon feedingbeing completely rejected when I tried a few weeks in.

The creative challenge was to make everything ‘pickup-able’. This meant porridge made extra thick to form ‘porridge balls’,and yoghurt mixed into couscous or rice. Everything was cut into ‘fingers’ that would poke out of her fist, and avocados and bananas had a piece of skin left on for extra grip. I found myself getting excited each time I offered her a new food, and later on, a new combination of foods (risotto, beans on toast…) Her curiosity was fascinating. Sometimes I’m not sure she even knew a particular food was actually food; the first time she had a green bean she spent a while waving it in front of her face and giggling.

We got good at eating out, taking a packed lunch or dinner along. And as eating took forever it was an ideal opportunity to enjoy some good food ourselves and eating together and enjoying it at a leisurely pace is one of the things that has made life with a baby easier for me.
Nina said her first word at 10 months and apparently is babbling a lot for her age. I think it may be the result of all those hour-long shared mealtimes where we chat a lot, pass food to and from each other, laugh, make funny faces…..oh and of course EAT!

Baby-Led Weaning: helping your baby to love good food, by Gill Rapely and Tracey Murkett, is published by Vermilion.