I have always been envious of these mothers who are able to simply spoon food into their willing baby’s mouth, ensuring minimum mess and full-tummies all round.
Both my babies have been complete nightmares when it has come to weaning. Crying, turning their heads, pursing their little lips. Absolute spoon refusal – unless said spoon is covered in yoghurt.
What causes spoon refusal? In the case of my babies, I lay the blame at wretched teething and a strong wilful streak.
When it happens, it is so easy to panic and stress and make a meal of mealtimes. But everyone says that babies pick up on any angst from you, so it is all about deep breaths, endless patience and a lot of ingenuity.
Basically, if you have a spoon-refuser the only other option (other than pouches and serving puree on a dummy – neither brilliant long-term) is finger food or “baby-led weaning”.
I was forced down this route reluctantly and a lot earlier than I would have liked but am a convert now.
While in the short-term, it means a lot more mess, patience and effort, in the long-term, it has allowed both my children to explore different tastes and textures at their own pace and, I hope, made them more adventurous eaters.
For anyone else going down this route (by choice or not), here are some of things I have learnt:
That they will gag quite a lot, but this doesn’t mean they are choking!
I found it quite alarming giving proper grown up food to a baby with no teeth, even if it was a soft cooked carrot, as babies have a strong gag reflex and it can look like they are choking. Both my children have probably been given an undue amount of back thumping as a result. The best advice for peace of mind is to give soft food in the beginning, always watch your baby when they are eating and, if they do choke, make sure you know what to do (see the St John’s Ambulance #chokeables campaign video)
They will eat when they are hungry – and not when they aren’t
This sounds obvious, but it is so easy as a parent to stress about whether your baby is eating enough. With spoon feeding, you can shovel it in and know exactly what and how much they have had. With baby-led weaning, you just have to trust that they are eating to their own appetite and if they don’t, simply try again later and/or give extra milk at bedtime.
Variety is key
I have found that my babies get bored very easily (which is perhaps why they haven’t liked mush much) so variety has been key to happy mealtimes. Some pasta, peas, a piece of bread with cream cheese, a length of cucumber or red pepper – when my son was being tricky at mealtimes – I would pull out a new thing the minute he started to whinge and this would usually keep him occupied/happy a bit longer.
Try to eat with them as much as possible
I found that this has made a huge difference to their willingness to try new things, giving them confidence and making everyone feel more relaxed.
My refluxy, bad-teether son went through a stage of being incredibly tricky about mealtimes and, at one point cried at the mere sight of his high chair or bib.
I ended up abandoning both so that he ate all meals on my knee, eating whatever I was having when curiosity got the better of him.
It took away any anxiety he had about mealtimes, even if I did often end up covered in food, too.
It’s harder work at the beginning but easier in the long-term
I think baby-led weaning is definitely harder in the early stages before baby can really feed him or herself properly, particularly if they won’t let you “top-up” with the spoon.
It is also unbelievably messy.
The benefits come quickly though as everyone eats the same thing, they basically get on with it themselves, and it is harder for them to reject a whole meal outright when it’s not all mushed up together. Don’t like the chicken? Eat the carrots then.
Their likes and dislikes become apparent quite quickly
It has amazed me how differently my two children have responded to different things and how clear their likes and dislikes have been from a young age. My son has a clear aversion to mashed potato, avocado and kiwi, but loves oranges, burgers, peas and red pepper; my daughter as a baby always loved avocado, pasta and broccoli but was not keen on courgettes, chicken or blueberries (she still hates courgettes).
Food can be medicine for sore gums
Teething has caused a lot of problems at mealtimes in our house but food can actually be a brilliant medicine for sore gums. Cold sticks of cucumber or any other hard vegetable seem to be incredibly soothing.
Also brilliant are segments of orange kept in the fridge, which my son in particular (a terrible teether) has adored. Michela and Emanuela Chiappa (see below) also suggest rinds of parmesan!
Brilliant resources for finger-food recipes
Baby at the Table: A 3-step guide to Weaning the Italian way by Michela and Emanuela Chiappa – A brilliant book with clever recipes and ideas and a really sensible approach to food generally.
Annabel Karmel Baby-led Weaning Recipe Book – Yes, she does baby-led weaning recipes too. A great source of inspiration.