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At nine months, my baby eats ‘cocido’

The “baby led weaning” method is starting to catch on in Spain

Mateo gets stuck in to his chick-pea stew.
Mateo gets stuck in to his chick-pea stew.R. DEL BLANCO.

Like the good Madrileño he is, our baby, Mateo, was aged just nine months when he tucked into his first cocido, the chickpea-based stew the capital is famous for. And it hadn’t been through the blender first: he ate his chickpeas, potatoes, carrots and meat piece by piece on his own, using his two teeth and his hands, sitting at the table with the rest of the family. You don’t believe me? Then you haven’t heard of baby-led weaning, or BLW as it has become known. And if you’d told me a year ago I wouldn’t have believed it was possible either. But the simple truth is that babies can chew with their gums, and no, they don’t choke, because they intuitively known how to manage their food. When a piece is too big, they cough it up and just carry on. The trick is to trust your baby and give them time. At the end of the day, pre-prepared baby food is a recent invention, as is the blender. How did babies eat several centuries ago?

At the end of the day, pre-prepared baby food is a recent invention, as is the blender. How did babies eat several centuries ago?

Most people mistakenly believe that babies have to eat pureed baby food, and little wonder: it’s the recommendation of most pediatricians, who, unfortunately, are not always well trained in nutrition. In fact some tell mothers to start feeding their babies purees at four months, when the WHO recommends breastfeeding exclusively on demand until at least six months. Some doctors even advise mothers to stuff their babies full of cereals at night, “so they’ll sleep all the way through until morning.” Breastfeeding does not have all of the support that it should from pediatricians sometimes. 

I heard about BLW through my postpartum group at my local health center, who recommended I read Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett’s 2010 book on baby-led weaning. There are also a huge number of Facebook pages dedicated to the topic, where parents share advice, recipes, and their experiences – in particular the Spanish site Baby Led Weaning de buen rollo.

I’m no expert – just a mother sharing her experience – but BLW isn’t hard to understand: it consists of introducing complementary food to your baby’s diet through solids, without putting food through a blender, and only when the infant wants to eat. There is no pressure, no “open wide”, no songs, and no drama. It doesn’t matter if the child doesn’t want to eat, because the milk option (breast or formula) is there. That’s why it’s called complementary food, because it complements milk.

We decided to try BLW with Mateo, and it’s been a complete success. I know plenty of other families that have done the same, and we share recipes and tricks. In the United Kingdom and United States, BLW is fast becoming the norm. Here in Spain it’s only just arrived, and to some people seems strange: “So you don’t give him formula? He’s still breast feeding?” are among the questions I get asked. But when people see Mateo eating, they soon see the sense in the approach.

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At the age of six months, when Mateo was able to sit upright on his own – an essential requirement for BLW – we put him in his high chair and he began to eat. We started him off with bread dipped in olive oil. Little by little we introduced him to what we normally eat: tomatoes, zucchini, potatoes, onion… Each foodstuff was given for three days in a row to make sure that there was no allergic reaction (except for eggs, where we followed the advice of SEICAP, the Spanish Society for Clinical Immunology, Allergology and Pediatric Asthma).

We sit down together at the table as a family and eat together: as everybody knows, children learn from what they see their parents and siblings doing. Initially, Mateo would play and throw his food in the air, and so we used to put a plastic table cloth under his chair so we could save the food. I have to admit that things were a little messy to begin with, but soon improved. He would play with the texture of his food before putting it into his mouth – although it didn’t always make it into his tummy.

When starting out with BLW, you have to give your baby the food in reasonably large pieces, big enough for them to hold properly. This allows them to literally get the feel of what they are doing. I will never forget how Mateo’s face lit up with pleasure the day he ate orange, tomato, broccoli, grilled zucchini, eggplant, chicken and beef. He loves his food, and so far hasn’t rejected anything. That said, like everybody, there are things he prefers over others.

Mateo is now aged 10 months, weighs almost 10 kilograms, and his favorite meal is lemon-roasted chicken, turkey, baked organic apple (picked from the garden), grilled salmon, banana ice cream…

He makes a lot less mess than he used to, and is much better at handling his food. He doesn’t like wearing a bib much – I’m beginning to think that it’s because none of us are wearing one. And what’s more he has learned to use his thumb and forefinger to pick things up. He chews with his gums and is now beginning to learn how to use a spoon and fork to put food in his mouth, as opposed to employing the utensils as a highly effective catapult...

He would play with the texture of his food before putting it into his mouth – although it didn’t always make it into his tummy”

The benefits of BLW are many: Mateo has learned hand-to-mouth coordination, and we can now take him anywhere to eat. Best of all, we have managed to leapfrog the puree phase in moving toward eating solids. How many children have problems later in infancy with eating because they find food that has been blended to a mush a turn-off? We have also benefited, and no longer eat foods that have no nutritional value or are packed with sugar. What’s more, I cook more than I used to. I never thought I would enjoy making bread with garlic and tomato, or banana, oatmeal and apple biscuits.

Mateo has managed all this with just two teeth: imagine what he’ll be like when his upper teeth come through! In our house, there are no tears at mealtimes: if lentils are on the menu, he wants to eat them, and if he doesn’t, no problem (not that he ever refuses food). He is a happy boy and is still breastfeeding. Oh, one thing I forgot to mention: Mateo is half-English, so, following our success with cocido, we’ll soon be introducing him to baked beans – he’s already tried shepherd’s pie. We’ll let you know how we get on!

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