This post is part of my series, “Kickin’ It Old Skool: Why and How We Are Old-Fashioned” or KIOS for short. If you’re new to the series, please read my disclaimer before continuing on. I’m keeping a table of contents to this series here so you can see what I’ve already written about and what more there is to come. I promise, I’ll write about pregnancy and childbirth soon but this is more on my mind today!
The second major principle of attachment parenting (which I discussed here) is “Feed With Love and Respect.” I’ll write more specifically about breastfeeding and baby-led weaning in particular in other posts but today I want to talk generally about trusting our baby when it comes to food.
Our mantra since Ellie was born has been, “Trust the baby.” So if she told us she was hungry, I nursed her, regardless of how long it had been since her last feeding. We did not force her to go onto an artificially rigid schedule but listened to her cues and fed her when she asked to be fed. We like to call this “feeding on cue”. This is opposed to the scheduled feeding method that many “experts” recommend.** I still nurse Ellie on cue today, at 17 months. She just doesn’t need to nurse as often as when she was two months old!
It gets harder to trust your baby when it comes to eating solid food but we decided that we wanted her to continue to be in charge of her own nutrition (just as she had been when she was exclusively breastfeeding). So we decided to do baby-led weaning – as in, Ellie has always fed herself from day one, with no spoon feeding. (Or at least, sometimes an occasional spoonful here or there but mostly when she’s clearly wanting me to do it for her). We love this way of feeding your baby – mostly because it’s SO EASY!!
One thing that baby-led weaning has helped us continue to do is give Ellie the respect and autonomy that every person deserves in regard to feeding themselves. Our rule with her has been that we only say something to her about food that we’d be willing to say to each other. So just like I don’t tell Nik, “You need to eat three more bites of chicken before you get dessert,” we don’t say anything like that to Ellie. This doesn’t mean that she gets to eat whatever she wants! It just means that the only food we make available to her is what we also are eating at the time. We eat almost our dessert after she’s asleep and if we do eat dessert when she’s awake, then I’ll give her a little bit or two if she asks for it.
We’ve been assured by our pediatrician and by the Baby-Led Weaning book that babies won’t let themselves starve (except in very rare cases) and will eat plenty to thrive if you just leave them alone. As our peditirician emphasized with hus at Ellie’s one-year appointment, the parents’ job is to provide nutritious food and the baby’s job is to eat it.
“Most mealtime battles with toddlers are the result of a mismatch over what the parent thinks the child needs and what the toddler thinks he needs. With BLW, this shouldn’t happen as long as the parents continue to trust their child’s appetites. Children have a strong survival instinct, especially where food is concerned. They have an extremely reliable sense of when they need to eat, what to eat, and how much. It is up to their parents to trust them.”
Gill Rapley, Baby-Led Weaning
So feeding with love and respect for us comes down to “Trust our baby” and “Treat her like we want to be treated when we’re eating.” So far, it’s working! (I’ll let you know if/when we reach the picky toddler stage and how we deal with that!)
**Please know that I am not referring to the very rare situations in which a newborn is not requesting to eat and so starts to lose weight. In this case, a feeding schedule is necessary and appropriate in order to make sure that the baby is eating enough. This is very different than ignoring your baby’s cues for nursing and making him/her wait until a prescribed time for feeding. The vast majority of babies will ask to eat when they are hungry!