Baby-led weaning

I thought I would write a post about our weaning experiences.


Firstly, a bit of background. Breastfeeding did not get off to the best start for us. I was ill advised to feed on schedule, to aim for every 3 hours. I was advised by my midwife that this would encourage our Tiny Piglet to take a full feed every 3 hours, rather than snack. But Tiny Piglet made it quite clear from the beginning that he wanted to be fed far more frequently, and I struggled to stretch him out to feed every 2.5 hours. I faithfully (and foolishly) followed my midwife’s advice and after a slow start Tiny Piglet gained the satisfactory weight. But 2.5 weeks in, Tiny Piglet was looking very thin and we became very concerned. He was taking a good feed every 2.5-3 hours and also starting to sleep for longer stretches, so I had assumed things were going well. But a trip to the hospital confirmed our fears. At 3 weeks old, he had dropped (again) below his birth weight (6 lbs 8oz) and action needed to be taken. We took the drastic step of introducing formula milk tops-ups and I tried to pump in between feeds to maintain my milk supply. Tiny Piglet was a hungry little piglet and he drank everything he was offered, from bottle and breast. He had always been very sleepy at the breast so breastfeeds took a long time, and as his weight increased and his appetite returned he fed for longer and longer.

I was becoming increasingly concerned about my dwindling milk supply and after regular weigh ins at the hospital confirmed that there was no underlying problem, I was determined to reduce the top-ups and breastfeed as much as possible. For weeks I breastfed for hours on end, but we continued to give small top-ups of both expressed milk and formula milk. We were given lots of conflicting advice about weight and feeding. Tiny Piglet had been born on the 9th percentile and had dropped below the 0.2nd percentile. My health visitor suggested we offer enough formula milk to accelerate his progress until he reached the 9th percentile again; the paediatric consultant at the hospital was happy with him to sit on the 0.2nd percentile providing he continued to gain weight at a steady pace. I was determined to breastfeed, so I took the latter advice. We continued to top-up with small amounts of expressed and formula milk, and were pleased that slowly, my milk supply improved and we were able to reduce the volume of formula milk. Finally, at around 8 weeks, I was delighted that Tiny Piglet was thriving on my breastmilk alone.

My determination to breastfeed surprised me. Before the arrival of Little Piglet I had been very pragmatic about his feeding, prepared (or so I thought) to feed formula milk if it was in his best interest. Initially, I was perfectly content to offer a bottle: both my husband and I were very anxious about Tiny Piglet’s failure to thrive and I felt incredibly guilty that I had allowed him to lose so much weight and desperate to feed him by whatever means. He had clearly been hungry but as a first time mum I had missed all of his cues (even his endless hours of crying!). But as Tiny Piglet hungrily guzzled down ounces of formula, I found myself feeling rejected and saddened. I felt that I had entirely failed him as a mother and I began to mourn the loss of the bond brought about by exclusive breastfeeding. During those endless hours of breastfeeding I was glued to the internet, researching every aspect of breastfeeding and over time I became well informed. I was less concerned with the nutritional benefits of breastfeeding than the emotional benefits to both myself and our Tiny Piglet.

Baby-led weaning

Since then we haven’t looked back. Tiny Piglet went from strength to strength and now sits around the 40th percentile. I trust my instincts. He looks healthy, he has a good appetite (for milk!) and meets his milestones, so I no longer weigh him. As he approached 4 months, some friends from my NCT group started to discuss weaning their little ones. I knew that NHS guidelines advised weaning from 6 months and I was loving our breastfeeding relationship so I was in no rush to wean, and certainly not before 6 months. I did a lot of reading around both traditional and bay-led weaning and I decided that the latter was for us. I will not provide a detailed explanation of baby-led weaning here because there are excellent resources online, including a comprehensive baby-led weaning website and an excellent baby-led weaning community on Facebook. In addition I devoured Gill Rapley‘s original baby-led weaning book.

Below I have summarised my reasons for choosing baby-led weaning

1. I loved our breastfeeding relationship and it did not seem natural to start feeding my little baby pureed food from a spoon. I constantly found myself asking what would our ancestors (cavemen) have done and how would another mammal feed their offspring? To allow Little Piglet to determine when he was ready to eat solid food sat well with me.

2. I am incredibly lazy. Again and again, I came across the mantra “food before one is for fun” and friends who had followed baby-led weaning with their little ones testified that even though they might have eaten very little before one, they continued to thrive on breastmilk. If that was the case, why would I bother to prepare separate meals for Little Piglet when he could share in what we were eating?

3. In fact, Little Piglet made the choice for me. When he turned 6 months I began to offer solid food, but he did not seem interested. As an anxious first time mum I questioned my intention to allow him to lead the weaning process, and I did begin to offer small amount of mashed food on a spoon. But he would not open his mouth. This confirmed my decision to allow him to lead the weaning process.

As to be expected we’ve had our ups and downs. Little Piglet showed very little interest in solid food until around 8.5 months. I have also made modifications to our approach along the way, guided by the needs of the whole family. Strictly, baby-led weaning does not encompass spoon feeding and we did introduce a spoon around 8.5 months for sloppy foods such as soup. Little Piglet did not enjoy handling wet and sloppy foods and I soon realised that I was not inventive or motivated enough to create non-sloppy ways of eating such foods! Also, he has struggled with large pieces of food. At first he chewed heartily on pieces of toast and carrot but over time increasing amounts of food were ending up on the floor. I realised that because he was not able to bite off a small enough piece to swallow he gave up (once again, testament to his impatient nature!) and threw the food onto the floor. Once he had mastered the pincer grip I started breaking food up into swallow size pieces and a lot more food went down. It is important that I do not put too many pieces of food out at any one time because once Little Piglet has selected a piece to eat, anything remaining in front of him is swiftly swept onto the floor. If he is unhappy with the selection he has been given he will eye up my plate until I offer the appropriate food.

It is still early days. I would guess that Little Piglet is still consuming 80-90% breastmilk (on demand) whereas a lot of friends’ babies are eating 3 solid meals a day. But it has been a relaxed and enjoyable process. My husband has remarked how impressed he is that Little Piglet is eating at all! And it does mean that if we have been short of time or the Little Piglet has been under the weather and refusing solids, he has received adequate nutrition from my milk, and he continues to thrive. However baby-led weaning might not be appropriate for everyone. I am fairly relaxed and prefer that I am not worrying about the quantities of food that Little Piglet consumes (knowing that breastmilk is providing adequate nutrition) but friends have explained that baby-led weaning would stretch their patience and they prefer to have more control over their baby’s solid intake. My feeling is that it is important to trust your own instincts and act in the most practical and appropriate manner for your own family. Little Piglet joins us for every mealtime and this works really well for us, although his appetite is small and his attention span is short, so my husband and I do tend to gulp down our own meals before initiating the daily game of “pass the baby”!