Last September I spent some considerable time sharing our adventures in baby-led weaning (see here). Slightly more than one year on, and it feels like a good time to revisit the issue to relate what impact this style of weaning had on our family, and in particular, on our daughter's eating habits.
Izzy is now 22 months old and is hitting the toddler stage that every parent loves to hate (terrible twos). From everything I've read (and heard from friends and peers), many toddlers express their budding independence through eating, and refusing to eat. Our experience has been that, by following BLW, we've encouraged our child to feel in control of her eating right from the start. She has been encouraged to handle a wide variety of different foods, and experience a range of tastes and textures - we didn't spoon-feed anything, or puree anything, and she always ate exactly what we did. Izzy was able to choose what to eat, how much of something to eat, and when to finish and I think that this has resulted in a toddler who, whilst pushing at other boundaries all over the place, is relatively relaxed around meals and continues to eat a wide range of foods (most days!). She will occasionally be 'picky' and refuse an item that has previously been acceptable, but this seems only to last for a couple of months at most, before the food will be eaten again without comment - I've often wondered if this is more to do with developments in her tastebuds that change the way certain foods taste or feel in her mouth.
I think that following BLW has also helped us as parents to be more relaxed about eating. From what I have gleaned from my fellow mummies, the puree/spoon-fed approach seems to go hand-in-hand with a concern for measurement and quantities-consumed, which is continuing into the toddler years. With BLW, most of the meal is on the floor, or baby's face, so it is almost impossible to tell how much has been consumed, meaning you may as well not worry about it! Now, if Izzy refuses to eat a meal (a rare occurrence) we tend to accept it as a 'not hungry' day and move on (although keeping her at the table whilst we finish can be a bit of a challenge!)
If anything, now that we're in that terrible, dichotomous stage where toddlers at once feel they must be independent, but also long for reassurance, Izzy is 'choosing' to be 'babied' at mealtimes. She regularly demands that we "hulp!", pushing the spoon/fork into our hands. This does tend to wear off as the meal progresses and she'll often be happily spooning/forking/picking up her own food by the time we're all finishing. Still, an interesting outcome and one that just goes to show that, regardless what weaning method you choose, your toddler will still be the one calling the shots at the end of the day. Perhaps the most important thing I've taken away from the experience is the security of knowing exactly what my baby has eaten during a crucial stage of her development - yes, I won't be able to keep her away from junk food indefinitely, but she's had an excellent grounding in 'real' food, prepared from fresh ingredients, and it has made it easier to strike that balance between 'normal' foods and 'treats' that is likely to serve us well in the years ahead. Here's hoping, anyway!