On research, Thai curry, and baby led weaning

We’re so happy to introduce our newest contributor, Danielle Hunter. Danielle and her family run Spring Mill Farm in Central Virginia, where they keep pastured milk goats, laying hens, pigs, meat rabbits, and beef cattle. It’s a deep shame indeed you can’t taste their amazing goat cheese truffles via the internet … but you can benefit from Danielle’s adventures in baby led weaning with 10-month old Olivia. This is the first in what Danielle hopes will be a series of posts about starting solid foods with her daughter. Check back soon for more!  Learn more about Danielle and Spring Mill Farm here (for now scroll down to Danielle’s bio — hoping to have a more direct link soon).

Being a first-time parent is hard in many ways. I am a researcher. In college I studied microbiology and spent a lot of time performing laboratory research and poring over research articles. My microbiology career didn’t expand much past a brief stint at Harvard post-graduation, as I then moved to an area where my skills weren’t needed. Instead, I took a job at a veterinary hospital as an assistant and took up researching everything else. When I became pregnant, I researched my birth options. Now, as a parent, I try to research information, trying to stay “ahead of the game.” My approach is simple: read a bunch of articles, blogs, and reviews; then, when a new stage presents itself I’ve done my homework. At that point, we experiment with what I’ve read and find what works for us.

And that’s how I found myself breastfeeding, co-sleeping, cloth diapering, and baby wearing. In the post-birth stage under the haze of sleepless nights with a newborn, I missed some research time. Thus, at Olivia’s two month checkup, the topic of vaccination arose and I wasn’t prepared. I hadn’t done my research as thoroughly as I had hoped. I didn’t want to be unprepared again. Knowing that I wanted to hold off solids for as long as I could, at least until the six month mark, I started researching solids before Olivia was four months old. I wanted to be prepared.

My research led me to a method called “baby led weaning,” which despite its name (it’s a British term) is more about how food is introduced to babies rather than the process of weaning from breastmilk or formula. Of course, the latter is the ultimate goal, but it happens gradually with BLW. Lately, BLW is gaining press and more acceptance into mainstream society, thanks to a recent article published in the British Medical Journal, who stated in conclusive statements, “Our results suggest that infants weaned through the baby-led approach learn to regulate their food intake in a manner which leads to a lower BMI and a preference for healthy foods like carbohydrates.”

So, how is our attempt at BLW going? I started offering a few solids at meal times when Olivia was a few days shy of six months. So, in the past four months we’ve learned a lot about Olivia’s eating habits. Interestingly, just like researchers in the University of Nottingham study, Olivia prefers carbohydrates. Of course, carbohydrates aren’t just limited to breads and pastas (which we try to use only whole grains), but includes vegetables, fruits, and beans.

We started off slowly, as Olivia was relatively uninterested in solids. I began by first offering steamed carrot sticks and cucumber sticks. We branched out from those to bananas, sliced fruit, and then roasted veggies, and strips of cooked meat. Now, at almost 10 months old, I offer Olivia just about anything we’re eating. Her favorites are strawberries, bananas, sweet potatoes, beef tenderloin, Thai curry, and fajitas. I have withheld a few items: egg whites, shell fish, and honey. The proteins in egg whites are hard for their bodies to digest and can pose an allergy risk, so many sources recommend withholding them until at least 12 months of age. I will admit: Olivia has consumed them cooked into other dishes on occasion.

In the meantime, we continue to offer small bites of our meals. While it IS messy, it’s a lot of fun to watch her explore a variety of tastes and textures. It’s almost like mealtime has become educational – I try to discuss the foods that she’s exploring, describing the taste and texture. Taking this approach has been relatively easy on me, as a parent. Because I’m continuing to breastfeed on demand, I have relatively little anxiety over Olivia’s nutritional intake from solids. I know her nutritional requirements are being met, and that allows us to embrace the BLW motto: “Food before one is just for fun.”