Book review by Anna Maher

Baby-led Weaning - helping your child to love good food

By: Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett 

Vermillion Publishers 2008

256pp Paperback Book 10.99 

ISBN: 978-0-09-192380-8 

The idea with baby-led weaning is that it is a way of introducing solid foods that allows babies to feed themselves from the start - there's no spoon feeding and no purees. The baby sits with the family at mealtimes and joins in when she is ready, feeding herself first with her fingers and later with cutlery. 

The benefits of baby-led weaning as laid out by the authors are: 

* allows babies to explore taste, texture, colour and smell 

* encourages independence and confidence 

* helps to develop their hand-eye coordination and chewing skills 

* makes picky eating and mealtime battles less likely 

The authors believe that all healthy babies can begin to feed themselves from about six months. They just need to be given the opportunity. As we started weaning our daughter we started on purees and the 'traditional' method of introducing solid food, mainly because I was worried that she wasn't going to get enough food into her to gain the weight that she needed (she was a little under weight for her age) just by feeding herself. I read 'Baby-led Weaning; Helping your baby to love good food' before this though and thought the method very sensible on paper so we've tried to combine the two methods from six months before moving on to only finger foods from about ten months. 

 Before you embark on baby-led weaning there are a few things to consider and keep in mind: the book advises to start this method of solid food feeding at 6 months, to make sure the baby can sit independently, don't cut the food too small, introduce a wide variety of foods from the early days, eat with your child, don't get emotional about it, make sure the baby isn't too hungry so can experiment and play with the food, expect mealtimes to last a fair while and expect a mess. 

The range of foods that the baby can eat herself at this early age is actually pretty wide. Providing the pieces are large enough for the baby to pick up and get into their mouth they can eat strips of meat, cheese, root vegetables, green vegetables, bread (toast), veg pattie and, fruit and berries amongst others. When we did start giving our daughter only foods that she could eat herself (well, when she insisted on this!), the main problem was that I did find it hard to keep the variety up and it seemed a bit harder to find new and tasty finger foods without a lot of preparation on my part. 

After a little while though and a bit of research I have found quick and easy recipes with foods that can be frozen which is key for busy working mums. 

From my experience I have found that the real life advantages and disadvantages are: 

Advantages:

- once you've mastered the method it saves time

- it is easier for all the family to eat the same food before the baby can feed herself with cutlery and you don't need separate time to feed your baby

- with a strong-willed baby it is just essential if they won't be spoon fed

 - it is easier to take the baby out for mealtimes as they can generally eat food from your plate 

Disadvantages:

- it's pretty messy, especially in the early days, especially on the floor

- it's hard to explain to others who might be looking after the baby 

- sometimes it may take your child a very long time to eat 

- it's nerve wracking to believe that they can pick and eat what they need to eat and will get enough  overall though this method seems to be total common sense, it requires patience and faith (and vigilance) but once through the early days it does encourage a healthy approach to food for the baby. 

It's too early for us to know with our daughter if it will foster this healthy approach in the long term but so far it seems to be working well and with such an important topic that is good enough for me! 

Anna Maher, mother to Elise 10.5 months