I hope you don’t mind me addressing what is essentially an idea as though you’re a person, but I’ve seen so much of you on Instagram that I feel like I know you. Despite being a concept, you seem to have fallen into the typical social media trap of self-presentation as something much more glamorous, unattainable and complex than you actually are.
Baby Led Weaning, let’s break you down a bit. The Weaning bit just means giving the Baby some stuff which isn’t milk, the Led bit meaning as and when the Baby looks like it’s interested in having a bit of some stuff which isn’t milk. The devil in the detail being that with BLW, the food the Baby eats should be stuff the Baby can hold itself, shove generally towards its own face, and chew / gag on itself, with the only parental intervention being the initial purchase of ingredients, the combination of ingredients into something generally accepted as food which actual people eat, putting it near the baby, performing the Heimlich manoeuvre, and finally spending several hours scraping macaroni cheese from every surface in the house. Other than that, the baby does literally everything else itself.
This differs from conventional weaning in that it cuts out the arduous steps of boiling the absolute living shit out of stuff and then blending it, followed by attempting to push spoonfuls of this mush into your baby’s closed mouth. The financing and cleaning are still very much on the parental shoulder(s). Overlook for a moment the blindingly obvious fact that the hand eye coordination of a 6 month old extends to being able to occasionally and unintentionally kick itself in the face, and this self-feeding gig feels like something that might be worth a go.
What does baby led weaning mean to you? A quick search on Instagram suggests:
Refined sugar free
Brunch in restaurants
A lot of talk about sweetcorn being critical to the child’s mastering of the “pincer grip”. Apparently there are children growing up now without the ability to pick up small items such as coins, due to the fact their corn was provided avec cob. It’s tragic. Heartbreaking, etc.
What does baby led weaning mean to me?
Cleaning the fucking floor and walls several times a day whilst crippled by guilt and inadequacy. Licking salt off a few of my crisps before handing them over. A home covered in the milky smears left by a damp cloth wiping up greek yoghurt.
Hashtag baby led weaning is a bit like hashtag veganism. It’s all propaganda, a dog whistle approach to food preparation which encourages people to participate in a spiralling, endless, unspoken competition to spend the most money on the most excessively nutrient dense foods, motivated by a mistaken sense that beans on toast does not provide adequate sustenance whilst simultaneously being both vegan and baby friendly. Contrary to what Instagram would have you believe, feeding your child doesn’t have to mean making your own Nutella from black beans and whatever the fuck “cacao nibs” are. If you’re sensible about it, baby led weaning will just mean giving the baby a bit of whatever shite you’re eating every time you have a meal, until you eventually break their spirit and they realise they face a binary choice between eating this crap and stunted growth.
The major flaw in what I’m advocating here is that your own diet may be less than ideal. One fateful evening, I walked into the kitchen to find my then 20 month-old daughter, in a flagrant display of worryingly learnt behaviour, biting chunks out of a packet of supermarket own brand salted butter. Now, don’t get me wrong here, I don’t have a cavalier attitude towards infant nutrition. If a baby’s natural awareness of its dietary needs, coupled with it’s primary carer’s hunter-gatherer behaviour in the supermarket, means the kid is endlessly reaching for multipacks of Quavers and Haribo Starmix, you’ve got yourself a problematic set up and it might be worth trying out a bit of brown toast and some carrot sticks. The “fed is best” mantra trotted out by anyone wanting to apologise for breastfeeding their kid somewhat skews the reality that “fed” is actually the bare bloody minimum. There is an act of cruelty in pumping kids full of sugar then expecting them to be able to behave in a calm way, listen to instructions or keep a handle on their emotions. In much the same way, I ought not to be expected to talk at a reasonable volume or stop swearing after seven glasses of Sauvignon Blanc and a larger chaser. I’m just saying that the daily ritual of serving up free range chicken satay with cashew butter, endame and spelt noodles with a side of sesame dipped tofu skewers and fresh-mango-chia-pudding, to an infant who has no teeth, and posting the before but never the after photo on Instagram, is a behaviour pattern indicative of an internal battle with inadequacy. Put down the agave syrup, step away from the coconut flour! You are loveable and you are enough. Ask a friend or relative to watch the kid for a couple of hours while you get yourself to a therapist. Try not to have heart palpitations at the thought that said friend or relative might give your kid a Digestive.
I (habitually) jest! Providing sustenance for your child in your own absence is a complicated affair. How do you ensure your child receives adequate nutrition whilst simultaneously not letting the person you’re entrusting their care to know that you think they are nutritionally illiterate and intent on giving your child diabetes? This is a challenge I faced in England, where Grannies are hell bent on feeding their progeny’s progeny “chippies” and a selection of sugary, branded yoghurts they refused to provide for their own children in the 90s. As far as I can tell, this is all done as a sort of two fingers up at you for not respecting their authority to tell you how to look after your own child, slash a divorced dad style attempt to buy love via pick n mix. My Mum once genuinely tried to justify allowing my two year-old child to consume a caramel, fresh cream chocolate eclair by claiming she didn’t know where it had come from and that the kid “must have found it on the floor”. It’s similarly difficult in Cambodia, where aunties might give the kid an afternoon pick me up of a can of coca cola. My 6 year old niece once responded to my query about where she’d just strolled in from with the immortal words, “oh I just popped out to grab a quick iced coffee”.
The good news is I have a solution for you and it’s not only good fun but also good for you. That’s right it’s EGGS. In preparation for a recent 3 hour stint while both parents were at work, I hard boiled 4 eggs for my kid: two for consumption in case of emergency / emotional breakdown; a couple of spares for her cousin as compensation for being oppressed by someone half his age for 3 hours. When I got home, my sister-in-law announced, with a look of something akin to awe mixed with shock on her face, that my kid had eaten 75% of the eggs within 10 minutes and refused to allow her cousin anything but her discarded yolks. According to the theory of Baby Led Weaning, this simply means my child had intuited that her body needed low-fat protein to build muscle mass, whereas her cousin was in need of the more vitamin and mineral rich yolk. Evidently, since the butter thing, she has developed an awareness of the need to be careful around cholesterol, hence her eschewing of the “nennow bit” of every egg (can’t say y or l, which Google says is normal).
In an attempt to close this rambling mess, let me give you a tripartite summary of my child’s weaning “journey”.
Infant was given bowl of mashed banana and authority over spoon exactly 6 months to the day after being born. Was surprisingly inept with utensil, consumed no banana, yet managed to cover every textile within a 5 mile radius in it. Is like cement, impossible to wash out, do not recommend. Continued to not eat anything for a further year, 89% of which I spent on Instagram maniacally “following” the “weaning journeys” of other people’s children, cooking, barking at my exceptionally healthy, perfectly well-nourished, breastfed child and hating myself.
Around 18 months – 2 years old, toddler began to vaguely resemble a “good eater”, in the sense that she actually ate some things. Said things were specifically and exclusively: greek yoghurt, Pom Bears at Granny’s house, Teddy Faces at home (due to budget restrictions).
In the meantime, I myself put away a fair quantity of Peach and Mango Baby Breakfast pouches and optimistically purchased a plastic banana guard from amazon.com.
3 year-old, average height child currently thrives on a selection of reasonably nutrient-diverse foods, all taken from an extremely narrow group of items which occupy the overlapping bit of a Venn diagram depicting foods which are inexpensive, available in Cambodia, and which she will agree to eat. So far, this group seems to consist of UHT cow milk, cucumber, bananas, peanut butter, yoghurt, popcorn, white carbohydrates, more vanilla Panda shaped ice creams than is ideal, and the aforementioned substantial quantity of egg: boiled, fried, -y bread. One fateful day, she had a boiled egg and a fried egg within one 30 minute period, due to parental translation error / mutual disinterest in what each other say / do / feel.
Meanwhile, I spend my life back at the beginning of an ironic, vicious circle, painstakingly making my own bread, yoghurt, peanut butter, tahini and humous, since these things aren’t available at the supermarket which also doesn’t exist in small town Cambodia. In my spare time I enjoy leaving occasional pass-agg comments on baby led weaning Instagram accounts, such as the witty retort “oh are potatoes unhealthy now?!” in response to a person who posted a photograph of some homemade crinkle cut chips which they’d baked in avocado oil with a caption berating themselves for “not winning any prizes for super healthy” due to the fact they’d made their chips from potatoes rather than butternut squash. Another person had recommended a particular supermarket own-brand fruit flavoured fromage frais as suitable for infants “at the start of their weaning journey” since it was “one of the lower sugar options available”, to which I quipped “plain yoghurt is sugar free” and posted a link to some reusable baby food pouches.
Three days ago I received the inevitable karmic kick-back from my online pursuits, my palms sweaty as my kid eyed her 35 cent panda shaped ice cream and threw a comparative glance towards my own $1.50 Classic Magnum, before uttering a bittersweet offer which I instantly recognised as bullshit. An faux offer of communism, a suggestion of an act of true socialism I knew she would fail to deliver, “Mummy, shall we share?”