My part-time temporary job quickly became a full-time permanent job. I'm really excited about it. I'll be teaching the Social Communication classes at my school. The best part about it is that these classes are still in their infancy so I will get to shape and define the curriculum. Since I'm having trouble defining my own shape, I figure this is the next best thing.
While we were on our second break (for Early Childhood Special Ed, we have a summer session in July, and then crazy awesome breaks throughout the year, like a week off in the middle of February when airline and hotel prices are low), I was a guest speaker at the Baby and Me group at the hospital. It was a bit chaotic since both the toddler group and the older infant group were together. I was a bit overwhelmed. I learned a lot about talking to a large group that can't stay focused on what you're saying because they're focused 75% on their child, and I hope that some of the moms were able to take something away from it. We touched on some good subjects, and while we were discussing things, I kept thinking "I need to blog about this!" So, tonight is my debut. One of the women just posted a question on the facebook page about first finger foods, so now I will delve into my vast stores of knowledge and present my opinion.
Since E was my first, I made a shit-ton of purees, froze them in ice cube trays and did all sorts of up-front work so that we would have enough food stored until she went to college. When I was pregnant with L, I cleaned out our freezer and found some broccoli and squash cubes - perfect for an iced tea. (Really! Try it! I double-dog dare you.) We moved from purees, gradually. I found that tofu was a perfect finger food, which she loved, and the peaches and pears that my mother-in-law canned for us came in quite handy since they have a laxative effect, and E needed such things. When L came around and I was looking at our food processor with disdain because I had half as much time and energy to put into it, I remembered a book that a friend talked about when E was a baby. It was called Baby Led Weaning. I promptly hopped on to my laptap (who am I kidding? I was already on it) and requested it from the library.
Being an Early Childhood Education Specialist, I found the philosophy behind BLW to make perfect sense from a developmental standpoint. It also made perfect sense from a historical standpoint as well. Before food processors and Gerber, what did babies eat? Think about this one for a bit. Now, think about this: before stoves and ovens and microwaves and all that other stuff (I'm thinking post-cave man, yet pre-Industrial Revolution), what did babies eat? Holy. Shit. Yep, babies ate solid food, and most likely, exactly what their parents ate.
"But my baby doesn't have any teeth," you say. And those babies probably didn't, either. This leads me to a tenant that I tell all moms when they start asking about adding solids and dropping nursing or bottle sessions: Babies don't need nearly as many calories from solid food as you think. They are merely eating for sport until they are about a year old, and still need that milk and/or formula for their daily nutritional needs. Now, they will definitely request to nurse and/or drink from a bottle less as they get closer to one, and you'll know when they're ready to drop a feeding. And if you don't know, don't worry, your baby will let you know.
OK, so back to this whole baby led weaning stuff and what kids ate and how in the hell can my kid eat that stuff? Won't he choke? Well, this is where the developmental stuff that I get all geeked out over comes in. We'll start with simple motor development. Babies don't start walking ten minutes after their slide down the birth canal. They need to develop their core muscles first. They need to practice rolling over, then sitting up, then pulling up to stand, then balancing, then taking a first step. And then you blink your eyes and they are shooting past you down the hall with the roll of toilet paper trailing behind them with a wicked grin and maniacal laughter. It's best to keep your eyes open at all times the minute your baby takes that first step.
In the same manner, a baby needs to develop motor coordination for eating in a series of steps. Babies have a tongue thrust reflex that automatically pushes big things away from the back of the throat to the front of the mouth. In addition, babies also have a chewing reflex when things are placed in the front of the mouth, and a swallowing reflex when things are placed in the very back of the mouth on the tongue. So, when the lactation consultant is helping you get your nipple as far back in her mouth on top of her tongue because they are raw from being chewed, that is why. Additionally, when you put a spoonful of pureed beets in the back of baby's mouth, you bypass the chewing reflex and get pureed beets all over yourself thanks to that tongue thrust reflex (since your nipple isn't holding down that tongue), and it takes a while to shut down that reflex and "teach" the baby simply to swallow.
Motor and hand-eye coordination are also in play here, too. At 5-6 months of age, a baby is grasping objects using a sweeping motion and palming it in his fist. It then moves directly to the area of the mouth. Over time, the grasping develops into a thumb/forefinger pincer grasp, and the object (hopefully food) goes right into the mouth without much trouble.
So, after reading the BLW book, I informed my husband that the food processor would stay in storage and we would feed L the same food we ate. Being a Land Surveyor who geeks out over old maps and bearing trees, it took a little while for him to buy into the plan. His big thing was the choking factor, and that really should be any parent's big fear when they are told "Hey, let's feed our kid a long, skinny piece of soft carrot today!" Lucky for us all, he has survived.
The thing I love most about BLW is the fact that I absolutely, positively, 100% REFUSE to ever ever ever ever ever ever ever ever (E has recently taught me that repeating the same word over and over again lets people know you really mean it) be a short order cook. Since I wasn't making a special puree for L, and instead just making sure that what was served had a component or two that was baby friendly, I wasn't getting into the habit in the first place. In addition, having an older child (having more than one changes the playing field in the most interesting and unimaginable ways) meant that 1. I had to be fair and not cater to either child, therefore had to serve them both the same thing; and 2. I did not have nearly as much time or energy to sit at the dinner table and feed my child when I needed to eat. BLW saved me on both counts. L had something to do, E wasn't looking over on his plate saying "What's he eating? I want that instead!" and I got to sit and eat my meal. I will not say "enjoy," because currently there are too many things being dropped, splattered, thrown and spilled at the dinner table. One of these days, though. One. of. these. days.
So, for the mom who posted the question, and for other moms who may see this post and be asking "What do I feed my baby?" I will let you know what we did. [I know. I've been writing for over an hour and haven't gotten to the meat of it, but I promise, it's almost here. Bear with me.]
First of all, because L was at the full-fisted palming of items and bringing it to the general area of the mouth, I cut all food that was being served to him into long, skinny pieces (about the size and shape of french fries). This gave him enough space to hold the food and get some to his mouth. As he got older and his grasp improved, I made the pieces smaller. He now picks up peas with a pincer grasp and if he's hungry and not bored, he will pop them in his mouth. If he's bored and not hungry, he will squeeze them into mush and wipe them all over the table and high chair, then drop the empty husk on the floor with a gleeful giggle.
Secondly, these are the foods I served (at first. All foods were softened to the point of near-mush).
As he got older, I added in olives, pasta (penne was an awesome shape in the beginning), squash, really tender meats, bread, strawberries, eggs. I also introduced applesauce and yogurt, but gave him the spoon.
And as his pincer grasp developed, I added smaller and smaller foods. He's been eating everything we eat since he was about 10 months old. Except nuts. I only just introduced them when his top molars cut through about a month ago. But yeah, peas, green beans, chicken, pickles, tomatoes, lettuce (he's still unsure about that one), beans, pizza, pb&j, tacos, bacon, etc.
I can't say enough good things about BLW. I think L is a more open-minded eater than E was at this age. In fact, I'm pretty sure that at this age, E decided she didn't like eggs anymore, so we had to feed her eggs for three meals in a row to get her to eat and like them again. We haven't had that issue with L, and I think it's because he's always had control, so he's more likely to try that new thing than she is.
Of course, it could just be that he's a boy who hurls himself through time and space without regard for anything (like safety) while she's a girl who thinks about everything a little too much before taking that first step.
For more information on Baby Led Weaning, you can check out their website.