Last week I posted my list for age appropriate baby foods and it got me thinking about weaning so here is what we do and how we decided to do it.
When I was pregnant and reading everything I could find on anything baby related (as most expectant mom’s do) I stumbled upon the Montessori philosophy and was intrigued. I really liked that it focused on child led exploration and that it encouraged independence by creating environments where the child can do things for him or herself.
Montessori weaning encourages parents to start giving fresh juice drops (squeezed directly from the produce) to baby at about 3 months of age. This is supposed to be an introduction to different tastes.
I started giving Olive a few carrot juice drops just before 4 months (I was nervous to introduce anything but breastmilk or formula before 4 months).
Ill informed Pediatrician Recommended Weaning
When I brought Olive to her 4 month well baby checkup her pediatrician instructed me to start solids because Olive’s weight was still very low (more on this later). I followed her advice and started giving Olive homemade brown rice cereal and avocado.
It didn’t go very well. Everything seemed to come out looking the same as it did going in. At the same time that I was trying solids with Olive I was reading The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (I highly recommend any expectant or new mom to read this book) and I was just getting to the introduction of solids part. The book recommended waiting until 6 months to introduce anything but breastmilk or formula.
I just didn’t feel good about it so I stopped giving her solids and I asked my La Leche League leader for advice. She explained to me that it’s best to wait until baby can sit up on her own and can bring food from the front of the mouth to the back. This usually happens between 6 and 8 months of age.
There were a number of good reasons to not be giving Olive solids yet (most importantly, that it just didn’t feel right) but one that stood out to me was the increased possibility of developing food allergies. Dr. Sears explains:
“Baby’s intestines need to mature. The intestines are the body’s filtering system, screening out potentially harmful substances and letting in healthy nutrients. In the early months, this filtering system is immature. Between four and seven months a baby’s intestinal lining goes through a developmental growth spurt called closure, meaning the intestinal lining becomes more selective about what to let through. To prevent potentially-allergenic foods from entering the bloodstream, the maturing intestines secrete IgA , a protein immunoglobulin that acts like a protective paint, coating the intestines and preventing the passage of harmful allergens. In the early months, infant IgA production is low (although there is lots of IgA in human milk), and it is easier for potentially-allergenic food molecules to enter the baby’s system. Once food molecules are in the blood, the immune system may produce antibodies to that food, creating a food allergy. By six to seven months of age the intestines are more mature and able to filter out more of the offending allergens. This is why it’s particularly important to delay solids if there is a family history of food allergy, and especially to delay the introduction of foods to which other family members are allergic.”
It made a lot of sense to me to wait until 6 months to continue solids. I also received some really great support from my LLL leader in figuring out why Olive wasn’t gaining enough (more on this later. hint: she had a tongue and lip tie!) and how starting solids was not the best solution.
So I discovered baby-led weaning. The concept is simple. You skip pureed foods fed with a spoon and provide age appropriate finger foods (soft cooked veggies, cheerios etc). This approach allows baby to decide when, what and how much to eat (sounds pretty Montessori to me!).
But baby-led weaning didn’t seem entirely right for us either. Olive liked her pureed food and it was easier for me to provide pureed food which I could make a freeze ahead (OK, and maybe I didn’t want to stop using my baby bullet, but I mean I waited all those months since my baby shower to use it and it would be rude not to use such a nice gift right?).
I still appreciated the Montessori concept of weaning and wanted to introduce many different tastes in order to cultivate in Olive an explorative relationship with food. If I had to provide them in whole form it would have been much more difficult. But baby-led weaning cultivates a similar food experience (see where I’m going with this?).
I took the parts that we liked and smooshed them together to create a weaning experience that works for our family. I’m a huge fan of not following any one particular way of doing something and instead creating a hybrid that is uniquely suited to our own needs.
So, this is how we do it:
I introduce a new fruit or vegetable by creating a puree (maybe mixing it with an old favorite or some breastmilk as a transition). Once we get through 3 days and she hasn’t had any sort of reaction then I know it’s a keeper and I will begin to find ways of offering it as finger food.
Olive gets one finger food and one puree at each meal (which, right now, is 2-3 times a day).
This approach works for us because I can make purees on the weekends when I have time and put them in the freezer. I also keep a small bag of cheerios on the dining table. I always have something to offer her even on busy days.
We also let Olive take the spoon when we are feeding her and she puts it into her mouth on her own (or sometimes flings it across the room). We never force her to eat or try to “trick” her into eating (i.e. the airplane). We trust that she knows when she is hungry, when she is not and whether or not she likes something. (We let her choose her spoon sometimes too!)