So just as I was getting the hang of juggling breastfeeding – expressing milk at work, managing the freezer stock, figuring out how to store and reheating the liquid gold – bubs hits the six-month mark and shows signs that he’s ready to start on solids. Aidan was already sitting up unassisted, developed a “pincer grip” for picking stuff up to put into his mouth and was interested in meal times.
If you come from a typical Asian family like mine, you and I are most likely raised on the centuries-old tried and tested traditional parent-led weaning ways: the soft-boiled, slow-cooking method where rice or grain is cooked with vegetables and meat until very soft or on puree where foods are steamed, blended to mush and fed to us until the meal bowl is empty.
Max and I had decided that we wanted to raise our children as naturally as we could, which led us to discover the practice of baby-led weaning (BLW).
Gill Rapley’s book convinced me that this was the way I wanted to introduce my firstborn to food. The benefits echoed to my instincts and as a practicing BLW warrior-mom today, I can testify that it’s been extremely rewarding.
BLW is when babies handle food on their own. BLW encourages babies to have a healthy interaction with what they eat through exploring textures, colours, smells and tastes. Adults can help guide food into baby’s mouth but allow the baby to do it on his or her own.
Instead of mushy gloop, a BLW baby’s first foods are fresh out of the skin and in baby-grip friendly sizes. Aidan’s first meal was a grilled salmon slice with broccoli, potatoes and cucumbers at a family barbecue, where almost everything was consumed with zest!
From there, we gave him solids once a day at dinner, slowly moving it up to twice and eventually three times daily. Bubs willingly tried anything we offered, finishing his favourite foods and rejecting those he didn’t like.
His meals would consist of what everyone else was eating. We’d let him have a soft carrot, a skinny chicken drumstick or his own spoon to play with. Some of his other firsts included fresh fruit and vegetables, toast, pasta, potato wedges, chips and nuggets. Sup tulang was also good – the soup to practice cutlery dexterity, veggies to for the gums and bones to suck on.
It was easy to have Aidan share family meals, ensuring that everything he had in his first year was mostly free of salt, sugar and oil. We stayed away from honey, nuts and other common allergens like seafood. We introduced new foods days at a time to rule out bad reactions and always made sure that he ate supervised.
BLW meant that we didn’t have to spend hours chasing Aidan around with a spoon. Instead, he’s part of the family meals and in his own chair. Not only did he get to learn to eat on his own, he also benefited greatly from the social interactions with us at the dinner table.
But what I loved most of all was not having to cook his food separately. Figuring out what both the family and the baby can eat leads to healthier, more nutritious and balanced meals for everyone. Eating out was also easier. We’d ask for fresh cut fruits or veggies if there wasn’t anything he could eat from our plates.
But BLW wasn’t that easy for us. The biggest critics are sometimes well-meaning kin, and mine was my mother, but we were firm and we explained how times have changed, and there’s now methods that may be equally or more beneficial to a growing child. She eventually relented.
Like most parents, we were worried about the baby choking on food. Aidan has a habit of putting more things in his mouth than he can manage. Soft food like mashed potatoes can get stuck in his throat and cause him to choke. And if you’re a first-time parent like me, it can be pretty traumatic so see your child go red in the face. The key is to be vigilant and be educated on how to respond in an emergency (I quickly learned the Heimlich for babies). Rationing the amount he can reach also kept him from eating too much to choke on.
Ultimately, the journey of weaning my firstborn ended up a fusion of both parent- and baby-led weaning – where my mum got to cook for her grandson and spend hours in the garden letting him take his time with his food from her spoon while at the same time letting baby explore the world through his mouth when he’s with me. Like any part of parenting, the rule of starting your baby on solids is learning to be flexible, responsive and taking the time to figure out what works best for you, your baby and the family.
Khairun is mum to 18-month old Aidan and owner of Recovr Resources Sdn Bhd a growing social enterprise in the recycling and equal employment industry. She and her husband Max are currently living in Jakarta, and are expecting a daughter in December.