AILEEN Cox Blundell’s 19-month-old son, Oscar, has a great relationship with food. He owes it mostly to the lessons his now 13-year-old sister, Jade, taught his mum when she was a baby.
“At seven months, Jade wouldn’t let me near her with a spoon. She was so independent. I used to make her bites of food — little pastas filled with goats’ cheese and spinach, muffins with kale, little fish patties — nutritious things I thought would satisfy with her,” says the Dublin-based graphic designer.
So successful was the approach – Jade loves food, her favourite is sushi – that Aileen has been practising baby-led feeding with the youngest of her three children since he was seven months. “Baby-led feeding means no spoons, no purees, just healthy little bites he can feed himself. I’ve spoon-fed Oscar only a handful of times — when he was sick or teething.”
Aileen has begun sharing her recipes (no refined sugar or processed ingredients) through a website (www.babyledfeeding.com) and Facebook page. She has had a massive response on social media, including a recent increase of 5,000 Facebook followers in 24 hours. She’s now gathering her recipes for a book she hopes to release next year.
She says parents get very anxious when they first start feeding baby solids – about what to feed the child, how much and what to do if food is left unfinished. “Parents think spoon-feeding is the way to go, but babies — even with no teeth – can learn how to chew food right from the start, rather than simply letting a puree slide down into their tummy.”
A big parental fear is that the baby might choke but Aileen says she tests food prior to offering it by making sure she can squash it between finger and thumb. Oscar’s favourite food used to be beetroot (she’d make him beetroot pesto with pasta). Once he started solids, she made him easy to hold foods — spears of banana, avocado, butternut squash and sweet potato, the latter two she’d heat with olive oil in the oven until they were soft enough to eat. Also on the menu are pancakes with berries, little veggie pizzas and fish goujons.
Baby-led feeding gives children autonomy from the start, she says. They learn to self-regulate.
“When Oscar’s finished eating, he’s finished – it’s not like you’re trying to get him to eat one more spoon.”
It also promotes good hand-eye coordination — Aileen knows one mum, who followed the approach, whose child is using a cup without lids at 11 months.
- Be patient — it takes baby a lot longer than an adult to eat their dinner.
- Don’t stress about the mess — allow baby to explore the food.
- Introduce a wide variety of food. If baby initially doesn’t like a particular food, keep offering it — at least up to 10 times.
- With spoon-feeding off the menu, enjoy eating together as a family.