Before introducing solid foods, S did some cursory online research. What she found was a battleground between parents who advocate for baby-led weaning and those who favor the more traditional, spoon-fed approach. As is typical of parenting disagreements, this debate is characterized by impassioned exhortations from parents and experts on both sides who fervently believe that theirs is the only right approach.
Search parenting sites for “baby-led weaning” and there is a plethora of information on how to have one’s baby feed himself from his first mouthful of solid food. “No runny rice cereal, no applesauce, no airplane spoon games,” boasted one New York Times article. Instead, start with finger foods such as steamed carrot sticks, whole bananas, and even chicken drumsticks. With this approach, babies share in family mealtimes and in the process, the theory goes, become more adventurous eaters while acquiring a feel for portion control. Advocates of this approach claim that by six months babies are developmentally ready to skip the mush.
It all sounded very logical and appealing, so S waited until well into Munchkin’s sixth month and then steamed carrots and cauliflower for his first meal. She knew that we had to be patient while he mastered the necessary hand-eye coordination to feed himself, but the learning curve proved a little too steep. In practice, Munchkin still is not coordinated enough to feed himself after a month and a half of trial and error. Even if he manages to pick up a piece of food, which is not often, it does not usually make it into his mouth. While we would love to leave Munchkin to his own devices and have our hands free to eat our meals at the same time, we know he needs our help right now.
Even so, we are not squarely in the spoon-fed faction either. Munchkin may be getting more calories from his purées than from his own exploratory eating, but he does not seem to enjoy being fed this way nearly as much. He loves yogurt and sweet fruit mashes, for example, but feeding him some of the less appealing vegetable purées can be a trying experience. On the other hand, there is nothing Munchkin loves more than to devour a nectarine or plum, moving his head wildly from side to side and running his gums back and forth along the juicy flesh. Most fruits are soft enough that we see no need to mash them and just give them to him whole.
Rather than worrying about following a particular feeding philosophy, we are simply trying to follow Munchkin’s cues, letting him eat what he can on his own and helping him when he needs it. The most important thing is that he seems to be really interested in food, especially if it’s what we’re eating. For now he eats just about anything he can get his hands and mouth on — purées, cereal, and yogurt alongside cut-up chicken, avocado, bread, or whatever else we have on hand. We learned long ago that everything with babies is a phase, so we’re trying to enjoy this one while it lasts — before he becomes particular about what he eats.