Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Breaking Baby Food

Food before one is just for motor coordination. 

That's been my discovery since I started my baby on baby-led-weaning, which is the alternative to spoon feeding baby food or puree. It's so exciting to watch that I can't imagine doing it any other way. Baby-led weaning (BLW) is "weaning" in the British sense of letting baby learn to feed herself, not necessarily stopping breastfeeding. BLW follows the natural pattern of what babies did for millennia before the baby food industry came along. 

And I see now that her grabbing for food at 5 months was the sign that she was ready to develop all sorts of motor skills for chewing, swallowing, speaking, moving the gag reflex back, protecting herself from choking, and using her fingers. Also, mashing her food with her tongue against the palate widens the mouth arch, making more space for future teeth to grow in. 

Frieda's fine motors skills are amazingly well developed now that she's 11 months. I can literally watch her coordination improve as she picks through and explores her food. And as you can see from the video above, a baby feeding herself is an extremely cute sight to behold. I'm glad I'm not missing out. 

(Continued below the Heisenberg-inspired graphic.)

image: audrey mei, breaking bad generator
How important is it to let your baby have control of her own food? Well, researchers at Swansea University found that babies who are spoon-fed baby food are more likely to become obese toddlers. With spoon feeding, the parent controls the eating and babies don't have the chance to develop healthy satiety responses; in other words, the babies don't recognize when they're full because they're put under pressure to finish what parents think is "enough". Baby-led weaning, on the other hand, allows babies to regulate their own intake and prevents overeating later in life.

Sharing the menu with my baby at the dinner table also gives me full knowledge of what she eats. I've been cooking even cleaner and healthier than usual. Ingredients are organic; plastic and aluminum food packaging are banned from my kitchen. An oft mentioned benefit of BLW is that babies learn to eat everything, and so far we've got no sign of picky eating. (Although I don't rule out a picky phase two years from now.) Tonight she ate Szechuan chicken, yesterday was eggplant curry. She munches on strong Austrian Alpine cheese, dark German bread, seasonal fruits, and vitamin-packed organic liverwurst. 

Oh yeah, and absolutely no added sugars, sweets, or junk food. Keep in mind that food preferences for life are heavily influenced by what baby is exposed to in the first few years. Babies are also visually primed to choose foods that look similar to what they know, so a variety of colors, shapes, and textures also prepares them for a life of better eating. 

By giving her a choice of food, baby selects what her body needs, unlike being forced to down a jar of mashed carrots. Mixing nutrients properly is important and babies absolutely require dietary fat; specifically vitamins D, A, and K need animal fats to be absorbed, so it's natural for babies to grab for cheese, yogurt, or buttered veggies. 

Historically, grass-fed eggs and dairy products have been humans' source of fat-soluble vitamins. Sadly, grass-fed products are more expensive or hard to find in American markets, which is how vitamin D deficiency has become so widespread despite Americans eating so much. But chickens and cows that are raised in the sunlight become clucking and mooing vitamin D factories. Here in Germany we're fortunate to have pastured animals nearby, and dairy packaging is not allowed to have pictures of sunny fields on them if the animals are raised indoors (thanks to Germany's hardcore consumer-protective Öko-Test). I'm telling you this so you can envision a better future for American nutrition.

Baby-led weaning also appears to obey a couple of Laws of Babyhood that I noticed long before Frieda was born. Firstly, kids don't like having things shoved into their faces. In fact, a lot of adults still don't like it. It's a protective mechanism, which is why it's often easier to wipe baby's face or nab a booger by approaching your baby from behind. That's also why it can be hard to get a baby to stay calm while a spoon is being aimed at her face. Secondly, babies yearn to do what adults around them are doing. That's what babies are here for, to eventually become functioning adults. So let them learn. Feeding themselves the same food that the grown-ups eat satisfies this need. For this reason, the Weston A. Price Foundation even calls BLW the "less-stress" method
From theatlantic.com: "How Canned Baby Food Became King".
Besides that skipping the baby food jars leads to supermarket savings and reducing your environmental impact by eliminating processed food and packaging, there's one more thing about baby-led weaning that's really important to me and maybe to you, too: You won't give money to an industry that has created an artificial need where there never was one. After World War II, 90 percent of babies were fed canned baby food as a result of mass marketing to a population of mothers who were intrigued by a "scientific and modern" infant nutrition. But it was scientific only in a marketing sense. As you can see in the graph above, Gerber and Co. managed to convince post-war mothers that baby food should be introduced as early as 6 weeks. There was no research to back up this assertion, only profits. In fact, the occurrence of baby deaths due to choking was highest in the 1970s due to babies starting on solid foods before the age of 3 months

Fortunately, we know better now. And for goodness sake, don't put your baby's health in the hands of a corporation.

But, for everything you need to know about natural, evidence-based infant nutrition for your baby's health, good teeth, and even healthy posture, see the Weston A. Price Foundation.


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  1. Frieda's fine engines skills tend to be amazingly well created now that she actually is 11 a few months. I can actually watch the girl coordination enhance as the girl picks via and explores her meals.

  2. Baby-led weaning (BLW) is "weaning" in the UK sense associated with letting child learn to give food to herself, not really stopping child.

    1. Thank you, Radhika! That is indeed an important distinction to make compared to the American definition of weaning.