Toys are all around. Pacifiers too. I’m organized yet find pleasure in those traces of a little one that serve as constant reminders that there is a child in my home. I have a family. I savor the past since he’s been in my life and treasure the dawning of each new day.
Another milestone reached and it’s all so exciting. Julian turned six months old last week and I am now introducing solids to him. It may seem silly to be excited about such trivial matters but to me every event is monumental. The thought of a future filled with I-can’t-waits makes my heart smile. Every day.
The approach I started for introducing solids is baby-led-weaning, which is normally started at six months. Prior to that, infants have what is called an “open gut”, which allows whole proteins to pass directly from the small intestine into the bloodstream. This function allows antibodies from breast milk to enter the bloodstream. Since large molecules from solid foods can pass through as well, the antibodies from breast milk that coat the baby’s digestive tract, reduce the likelihood of illness and allergic reactions that solids can cause before gut closure occurs. At around six months, the baby starts producing these antibodies on his own.
So, as the digestive system is mature
to handle solids, the baby can sit in a high chair unassisted, and able to move
food to the back of their mouth using up and down jaw movements, it is safe to
introduce solids. One of the many benefits to the baby-led weaning process is that it will help develop
chewing skills that may not be fully developed until about nine months of age.
The method allows for the baby, at its own pace and by ability, to explore and experiment with the different forms, flavors and consistencies of food. Many children need a longer exploration period before the food starts to get in the stomach while others start eating right away. Julian certainly is just exploring at this stage. And it is messy! Most of the food ends up on the highchair, on his lap, on the walls or on the floor. It’s all cool though. As is common for baby led weaning, I will continue to breastfeed and depending on his pace, it will continue to be his main source of nutrition for at least the entire first year. I am completely content with that. In fact, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Beyond being a convenient way to wean the baby to eat regular food, it actually aids physical development in fine-tuning motor development. It also teaches self-regulation – learning to stop eating when feeling full. With the benefits, a fear of the perceived risk of choking is common, especially among first time parents like me.
It is important to note that babies are developmentally ready to handle solid finger foods at six months of age, so it’s very unlikely that the baby will actually choke on food. A common misconception is that gagging equates to choking. Not so. Gagging is extremely common when babies are starting solids and it serves a purpose. In fact, gagging is a safety mechanism to prevent choking. The parent’s reaction will do much to calm or scare the baby so it’s important to understand the difference. The gag reflex ensures that larger food pieces remain near the front of the mouth, only allowing very well-chewed foods to the back to be swallowed. This reflex moves further back on the baby’s tongue as he ages, which is yet one more benefit to introducing real foods sooner.
The concern for choking is naturally common so an approach that might be useful, and one that I am implementing, is to mix it up and add purees. Preparing purees with an increasingly lumpy texture will help advance the child’s chewing skills. A major
part to the idea of baby-led-weaning is to allow for the baby to lead the process, allowing the baby to
be in charge of whether and how much they eat. This
resonates with me and how I like to mother. However, this can be accomplished with both methods, as
long as one pays really close attention to the baby’s cues and don’t coax or
force the baby to eat.
The more I research the myriad of studies available, experience and knowledge shared on childcare and motherhood, the more I am confident to rely on my instincts. It’s important to be aware and well read on subjects of safety and good practice, to serve as a foundation for further exploration. I strive to keep a balance of a combination of the two.
In finding balance, I am grateful that
despite opinions and shaming in all directions, I am happily content with the way
I parent my son. Studies, methods, and echoing forums are all good sources
for acquiring knowledge. To expand is to trust and utilize my innate ability as
a mother. With the introduction of
baby-led-feeding, I truly am letting him take the lead, taking the time he
needs to mature in that area. There is no rush to wean off breast feeding. Despite
frequent feedings, often hourly at night, that immediate response to his needs,
the skin-to-skin contact, and close attachment bodes well for his wellbeing. And
how cool that my body can handle it.
Similarly, the bed-sharing arrangement
provides for his needs, regardless of when and how they arise. He sleeps well
but on the rare occasion he stirs for reasons other than breast feeding, I lean
over, put my face next to his and feel our breaths become one. As my hand lies
on his chest or cheek, he squeezes and holds it in place with both of his. It
is moments like those that elevate the life experience. Well, at least my life
Whatever “method” or practice is acquired,
let’s make it our own, relying just as much on heart and gut as data. The
balance of that combination is sound parenthood practice. Now, if you’ll excuse
me, I have a baby to go snuggle up to.