Baby-led weaning is all the rave amongst attachment-y parents these days, and I can see why. It's low-maintenance, family-friendly, and enables you to give the baby what your family eats. For those who don't speak infant, baby-led weaning is essentially a non-practice. You don't do the baby purees and you don't feed your baby with a spoon. Rather, you just give them appropriately-sized chunks of whatever is good for them: usually fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins. You let them put everything in their mouths and gum or tooth it (trust me: at this age, everything goes in the mouth anyway, so it's not like you have to coax them to do it). You still typically follow a slow introduction schedule, where you give one food at a time for several days to make sure there are no allergies. It's not a total free-for-all. But it's a pretty easy-going way to start giving your baby some first foods.
And then there's the Montessori style. Of course, there is a method. There is equipment. It can seem fussy if you don't embrace the principles behind it. And, like everything Montessori, you can bet there are principles at play. The sensitive period for weaning begins around four months, and lasts for awhile after that. Because four months is a little young to be giving chunks of stuff, purees and traditionally textured baby foods are encouraged. Juices as well. A weaning table and chair are for the child who is able to sit unassisted (or with a little help), and give the child a more exact replica of the reality of eating successfully on one's own.
(Not my baby! Photo credit.)
Like most of my adventures with Montessori, I've done it a little half-fast. I haven't bought a weaning table and chair, but we did get a pull-up-to-the-table infant/child chair with no tray. That's a step in the right direction. We have done both baby-led weaning and purees. The baby wants to eat when we eat (one of the signs that she is ready for food), so if we're at a restaurant or eating supper, she gets little bits of whatever isn't seasoned (carrot sticks, cucumber chunks, cantaloupe cubes, etc). I happen to believe that proper nutrition is the key to almost all health (even if I don't always practice what I preach on this one!), and I have been so excited about the possibilities of introducing Vicki Jo to excellent, whole foods from the beginning. So, here's a typical meal for us (dinner tonight):
(Excuse the poor photo quality - a photographer, I am not.)
(Sugar snap peas, pureed with a little homemade chicken stock made specially for baby: a whole chicken simmered in water with no salt or additional ingredients.)
(Avocado, plain mashed.)
(Yogurt I made myself from raw milk.)
(A little cup of water to practice drinking.)
(Very important: a hungry pup to help with cleanup.)
We do a mixture of me spoon-feeding her and her spoon-feeding herself. Needless to say, more gets into her mouth and down into her tummy when I'm in charge of the spoon. However, I want her to gain experience with using utensils, so I give her an opportunity to do it herself. She is surprisingly quick on the uptake with this.
Of course, things get a bit messy.
And the yogurt, which we tried for the first time tonight, was a little tart (but teeming with amazing probiotics!).
We also practice drinking from a cup. This is a wooden shot glass I found at the Renaissance Festival a few weeks ago. I'm diverging from traditional Montessori practice here, as the suggestion would be for all materials to be real (read: breakable) to encourage natural control of error (i.e. if you drop it, it shatters.) Also, it's encouraged for everything to be clear, so the child gains understanding about the volume of containers as they are eating. I thought the wood was a good compromise as it is still a real and natural material, but not so breakable.
She really, really loves drinking out of a cup. It is probably her favorite part of the whole meal. Now, whenever I'm drinking from a cup, she demands a sip! I just have to ensure that whatever I'm drinking is suitable for her.
Overall, mealtimes have been very pleasant and fun for us so far. Vicki Jo is showing no signs of being picky. She has enjoyed all foods that we've tried this way (off the top of my head: carrots, broccoli, sugar snap peas, bananas, avocados, yogurt, chicken broth). She also has a very hearty appetite. Now, if only I had a juicer so I could give her little tastes of healthful, live juice . . .
For those who are interested in more information, here is a fantastic post and chart comparing Montessori-style weaning and baby-led weaning from the very articulate Kylie of how we montessori.