Gill Rapley, the deputy director of the Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative has introduced “Baby-led Weaning”, to re-start the way we used to feed our babies before the multi-million-pound baby-food industry made us believe we needed purées.
Babies should be in charge of what went into their mouths and when. What would happen if we never took the control away from them in the first place and let them feed themselves?
The idea behind “Baby-led Weaning” is that you should allow your baby access to a variety of healthy finger foods and, provided he is sitting up straight, and you are with him, leave him to feed himself with his hands. As long as there are no known allergies in the family, you can give your child pretty much anything, except for whole nuts if your child is under five. This approach takes a leap of faith for many parents, but the benefits are great.
First, a baby will take as much or as little as it needs; this approach, Rapley has observed (she conducted a study in 2000/1), stops them becoming constipated. Constipation is something that seems to trouble many babies not long after solids are introduced; it’s not certain why, but it could be because if they are spoon-fed, they are fed more than their young systems can handle.
Babies allowed to feed themselves tend to become less picky, develop better hand control more quickly, and seem to avoid foods that they were later found to be intolerant to. Another advantage is that babies can eat what you’re eating, so no “special cooking”. And definitely no puréeing.
“Imagine eating tomato soup – you suck it in. Now imagine eating minestrone, a mixture of liquid and solids. The way you eat it is different, you can’t suck it in, you chew it.” It’s because of this that purée-fed babies often refuse second-stage baby foods, which involve lumps and purée. They don’t know whether to suck or chew so, as a natural defence mechanism, they do neither.