Before Ziggy, I had never heard of Baby-Led Weaning. All I knew of feeding a baby was what I had seen mum do with my brother and sister, and what is done on TV. Boobs, spoonfuls of puree and mashed food. Mush in jars and homemade mash. Being the ‘thrifty is my middle name’ person that I am, the thought of buying babyfood was not at all appealing, so AJ and I decided we would make our own.
That spring we planted the garden with him in mind. It wasn’t easy as Ziggy was born on September 18th, and juggling a newborn baby and vege gardens was no simple job, but we managed it, and we got a good crop in. Pumpkins, potatoes, kumara, beans, more pumpkins, tomatoes, zuchinni, kamo kamo, more pumpkin. It was awesome. I was going to have enough homegrown produce to feed him vegetable mash until he was walking!
Then I discovered baby led weaning. I first heard about it, in one of the many mum groups I am a part of. The concept intrigued me, and I started doing a bit of reading. I borrowed this book from my local La Leche group, and it was a wonderful place to start. The more I read, the more intrigued I became. It sounded so easy! No buying or making baby food, no fussing at dinner time making one thing for AJ and I and one thing for Ziggy. Just feed him what we are eating, within reason (no beersies for you) and see how he goes. It appealed to our laid back parenting style, and my budget concious mind.
Before looking into all of this, I hadn’t given much through to what weaning actually was. I mean, I know what it is, but I had not given thought to how we would go about it, or realised that it started the moment anything other than milk was introduced to his diet. So. . . a few quick facts.
Weaning: The process of gradually introducing a mammal infant to what will be its adult diet and withdrawing the supply of its mother’s milk.
There are two ways to do this. Traditional weaning, or Baby-Led weaning.
Traditional weaning is what everyone, including myself, is familiar with. Puree and soft mashed food, spoon fed from 4 or so months of age, moving to finger foods as they get older.
Baby-Led Weaning skips the puree food, and goes straight to normal food, within reason. It works on the idea that your baby determines the pace that they wish to wean, and is free to explore and eat food as they are comfortable.
As the idea behind weaning is to slowly reduce Ziggys need for milk, I didn’t want to start too early. The current WHO recommendations with regards to breastfeeding are to exclusively breastfeed if you can until 6 months, then continue with food complimenting the diet until 2 years. With baby-led weaning, you have to wait until your baby reaches certain milestones such as being able to sit unassisted, and being able to grab food and bring it to their mouths.
The more I read, the more appealing it sounded. I liked the idea that he would eat what we ate, as we have a very broad and healthy diet, a lot of it homegrown. I liked that I would save money by not buying baby food and save time by not making our own. No need to make one dinner for AJ and I, and another dinner for Ziggy. And I especially liked the idea that he would discover and enjoy food, the same way he discovered how to roll, how to crawl, how to do almost everything since he was born, which was at his own pace.
But we were also worried. Won’t he choke? Don’t babies need to have puree foods? Aren’t they safer than something he could choke on? How will he chew? He only has two teeth. The choking worry was very real, and it was the one thing that made us reconsider our idea to baby-led wean. So we did more reading, and found that while gagging is very common, choking is not as common, and you need to learn to recognise the signs. AJ had done first aid courses through his work, and my Space class had also done a short refresher course on it, so we felt comfortable-ish that if something were to happen, we would have a fair idea of what to do.
The week he turned 6 months, we decided to give it a try. Up until that night, the only experiences Ziggy had had with food consisted of sucking a bit of cherry juice, lemon juice and pineapple juice off our fingers, and gumming a stick of cucumber one day when he was teething.
We were having lamb chops and roast potatoes. So we thought – well, it looks like Ziggy is having lamb chops too. We had no highchair, so we improvised, and we gave him a chop. He grabbed it, bought it to his mouth and started gumming the hell out of it! It was awesome. The look on his face as his tastebuds lit up with sensations he had never experienced before was enthralling. We sat there and watched him, our clever boy, gumming away on his lamb chop.
Emboldened by the success, we offered him a wedge of roast potato. He took it, shoved it into his mouth, and gummed a chunk off. Then he started to gag. His eyes turned red and watery and we thought he was choking. We panicked. AJ grabbed him and whacked him on the back, and he made a few noises and then looked at us like ‘what was all the fuss about’. We were trying to find the bit of potato . . where was it? Had he spat it out? Had he swallowed it? That question was answered the following morning when, while changing his nappy we were greeted by the sight of a perfect, undigested lump of purple peruperu.
So, roast spuds, or anything he could easily break a bit off from, were off the menu for the time being.
The next night, we had steak for dinner. We cut a long finger size slice and gave it to Ziggy. Oh man, if that kid could talk he would have told us he loved steak. He enthusiastically gummed and sucked on his bit of meat throughout dinner. By the time we took it off him it has gone from a slightly bloody beautifully cooked piece of rump, to a grey, gluggy mess.
For the first few weeks, we only gave him dinner, and then, only if he was awake. It wasn’t like he actually ate anything, it was more exploring tastes and textures. He loved roast chicken, he loved steak, and pork, but most of all, Ziggy loved broccoli. It was the first thing he would reach for and he would attempt to eat it with gusto. I think it is because it is such an easy food to hold, and to suck on. And I was stoked – child, you can eat all the broccoli you want!
I started giving him something to eat at breakfast time once he began trying to grab the spoon as I ate my muesli. It was an easy way to keep him occupied and give me the freedom to eat with two hands. Ziggys first breakfast was a finger of toast, with marmite, and, like everything else we had given him, he loved it.
The first time my mum saw him eat, she was fascinated. She had never seen a baby eat like an adult eats before. Excited, she cut him a wedge of pear and gave it to him. Ziggy took it off her, shoved it in his mouth, and bit off a chunk. Then, he started to gag as he worked on swallowing it. Mum panicked. She grabbed him, lay him over her knee and hit him so hard on his back that he projectile vomited pear and milk everywhere! Then she looked at me, a bit shocked and said ‘Um, I overreacted didn’t I’. Hahaha, yes mum you did, but it’s okay, you get used to the gagging sounds. Sounds are good, if he’s making sounds, he’s eating. It’s silence you need to watch out for when babies have food.
The only things we have not given Ziggy are choking hazards like whole grapes and cherry tomatoes, and honey. I had no idea that honey was a no-go, but every baby related organisation there is, regardless of weather they advocate puree, baby led weaning, food at 4 months, food at 6 months, whatever, the only thing they have in common is ‘no honey before 1 year old‘. As we have beehives, we had been looking forward to Ziggy having ‘our’ honey, so I was a bit bummed that it wasn’t safe. Oh well, he’s got the rest of his life to eat it.
We’ve given him wasabi on raw salmon . . . it was only a tiny bit, but he happily ate the salmon and reached out for more. We’ve given him peanut butter, we first wiped some on his cheek, and when his skin gave no reaction, we put it on his toast. We’ve even given him chilli. That, to be honest was a mistake . . . AJ and I have exceptionally high chilli tolerances, and I had made spicy meatballls. I had only used two chillies, not six as the recipe called for, and I didn’t really think much of it. As we were sitting there eating dinner, Ziggy started to cry. Then stopped. Ate some food, cried a bit more, then stopped. We looked at each other quizzically. What was wrong? We clicked at the same time – oh shit, it’s probably too spicy! So I rushed off to the fridge and grabbed some greek yoghurt for him to eat. He smashed it back, stopped crying, and that was that. Sorry kiddo, we’ll be more careful next time.
It’s been nearly two months since we started this food journey with Ziggy and it gives us all delight and entertainment every day. We are very go-with-the-flow about it. If he is asleep for a meal, we don’t bother giving it to him. Some days he has nothing but breastmilk all day, other days he has a bit of toast for breakfast and something for dinner. As the weeks have gone on, the amount of food that ends up in his mouth and down into his stomach, instead of on his clothes and all over the floor is increasing.
We recently invested in a highchair, as he was starting to crawl through his plate of food once he had finished dinner, and would drag food from the kitchen to the lounge, but the tray has broken, so as of tonight, it’s back to eating on newspaper on the floor kiddo!
One thing to watch out for, when you start to introduce food to your bubs diet, however you go about it, are the poos! Oh the poos! I miss breastmilk poo. So easy to clean, and not that smelly. Food poo, well it’s just gross. It smells, it’s chunky. Some days its mush, other days its a log, it’s a bloody kinder surprise. At the beginning, not much changed. I would find the food in his nappy looking exactly the same as when it went in his mouth. Chunks of potato, little bits of broccoli florets. Even at 6 months old, his stomach wasn’t really digesting the food that went in, and it would pass right through. But now, now it’s next level. Don’t worry, I won’t put up a poo picture. Although, I did of course take a photo of it!
Every step of Ziggys growing has been wonderful for AJ and I to watch, His first smile, his first laugh, Rolling, crawling, pulling himself up. But his exploration of food is something that gives us joy every day. I cook while wearing him on my back, I take him out to the garden and he tries a bit of basil, or a nasturtium flower. I love it, it’s so much fun.
I associate food with family and comfort. My aunty Barbara loved having me in the kitchen when she was cooking, my nana’s pantry was a treasure trove of delights. Mum started teaching me to cook and letting me help when I was very young. I hope for the same for Ziggy. I don’t want food to be something he eats because you need it to stay alive, I want food to be something he eats for pleasure. I want him to take enjoyment from it. To learn how to grow food, cook food and flavour food. Our food journey so far has been awesome, long may it last.
If you are interested in baby-led weaning this is a great website to have a look at. We post a lot of garden, food and Ziggy images on our Instagram account, and daily thoughts, discussions, tips and tricks on our Facebook page. Come and join us.