Our BLW journey started when M turned 6 months old. The first few weeks were very tough. We sat with her at meal times and offered her the same foods we were eating. By eating the same foods together M will begin to learn through demonstration. She sees how we eat and what we eat. Boy, has it been an adventure! The first week she picked up food and occasionally would get it in her mouth but only for a quick lick. The second week she got food in her mouth and gnawed of pieces but gagged frequently. She didn’t swallow anything! We have been trying for about a month and for the majority of that time she has learned about food (tastes, smells, textures), gagged, vomited occasionally, and finally she started swallowing some food! She has not eaten much and not always consistently but she is starting to get the idea of feeding herself.
“Food before one is just for fun” is a common saying for those parents who are concerned with the amount their child eats, or doesn’t eat. Food before one is not just for fun! While breast milk or formula should be the main source of nutrition for infants under 1 year, supplemental food has an important role. Food before one helps babies learn and explore, develop important milestones, prevent potential allergies, and helps prevent nutritional deficits.
Babies learn about smells, tastes and textures from picking up and playing with food. M touches all of her food and puts most of it to her mouth to give it a taste. Now in our 4th week of BLW she tries to bite almost every food that is offered to her. You can see the thought, wonder, and like/dislike that appears on her face as she explores each food.
Development of the pincer grasp, a fine motor skill, is a very important milestone which is usually fine-tuned around 9 months old. Although M does not yet have her pincer grasp, I see daily & weekly improvements on how she handles her food and brings it to her mouth. When she first started she would attempt to bring food to her mouth and miss quite often, but with practice her motor skills have improved. She brings food into her mouth fairly accurately now.
Exposing children to peanuts and other common allergens is now the recent recommendation for allergy prevention. Although I cannot say definitively that M has actually swallowed peanut butter, she has licked it and had her hands and skin exposed to it. Food before one is not just for fun, it is an important activity with many benefits.
Another benefit of starting food at 6 months old is to prevent iron deficiency anemia, specifically in those children who are exclusively breastfed. For children that are taking formula or a combination of breast milk and formula this is not as big of a concern because most formulas are fortified with iron. For many children including M who are exclusively breastfed, iron stores can start to deplete after 4 months. Iron deficiency anemia can result in mental and physical delays.
When babies start traditional weaning, they usually receive some form of baby cereal (rice or oatmeal) which are fortified with iron. Baby cereal is not typically part of a BLW diet, but it is still important for us to offer iron-rich foods to our children. Iron-rich foods that you could offer a BLW baby are: darky-leafy greens, meat, and beans. While some of these foods may be hard for a young baby to eat it is possible! We have fed M meat in a variety of forms, put spinach in eggs or chopped up in stuffed shells with ricotta cheese, we also offered vegetables dipped in hummus. Another idea I am thinking about doing this week is using the iron-fortified baby oatmeal and making muffins that she could eat easily.
While we want M to be eating successfully we really do believe that if we give her time she will get the hang of it and start devouring food. As much as I would like to KNOW we are preventing iron-deficiency anemia, we do not want to rush her. I believe offering foods that are rich in iron and being patient while she learns how to eat will result in a happy and healthy baby.
So, if you are like me and are worried about how much your child actually eats, rest assured you are not alone. I do believe they will get the hang of it in time.