Have we all lost sight of the bigger picture? Isn’t WHAT we feed our babies more important than HOW?

May 15, 2012
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I recently wrote a blog for Jojo about baby-led and traditional weaning and was surprised by the amount of debate about which was the ‘correct’ method, with parents arguing very strongly for both camps. While most agreed that a mixture of methods was suitable for their babies, a topic that wasn’t mentioned by any of the people who had commented on my blog (or me, for that matter!) was WHAT their babies were eating. Debates on blogs and parent sites on HOW our babies are eating seem to have overshadowed discussions on WHAT they are eating.

I got to thinking about the content in our babies food after reading the recent news stories stating that many shop bought baby foods (both finger foods and purees) have way below the recommended levels of vitamins and nutrients that babies need for growth and protection again illnesses. Somewhat unhelpfully, the researchers from Greenwich University haven’t named any brands (fear of libel perhaps?) but there findings have put WHAT we are feeding our babies back in the spot light.

These doom and gloom stories can be frustrating for parents. If it’s not that babies who are fed on purees turn out to be more overweight than their finger food fed contemporaries (incidentally, I know many children who buck this trend), it’s that babies eating shop bough food aren’t getting everything they need. I think that as with all sensationalist media stories it needs to be taken with a pinch of salt (but not for the babies!) but it does suggest that parents can’t naively assume that checks have been carried out on all shop bought food to ensure adequate levels of vitamins and nutrients.

Having said this, I am certainly not against all shop bought baby food. There is some fabulous nosh out there. Ella’s Kitchen and Plum are two companies that come to mind who have gone out of their way to use organic, fresh produce and no ‘nasty bits’.   

And there are those occasions when shop bought food is heaven sent. If you are out and about and time (as well as your toddler) has run away from you, it is reassuring to know you have an emergency food pouch in the bag for your baby.

Also, when my son was teething terribly, and with a high temperature, the only food he wanted was yoghurt with shop bought fruit purees. Anything else, especially homemade meat based dishes (which he usually hoovers down) were met with disgust.

In fact he had a special way of showing his displeasure at his Mum’s homemade dishes. He would accept a small mouthful, look at me with a ‘what is this muck’ expression, as though I had fed him snozzcumbers and then, delicately, spit it out. Then the mouth would clamp shut. Charlie has shut up shop. If he could have squeezed his eyes shut and shaken his head, he would have. The tone was very much ‘you KNOW I don’t want this, and where’s my yoghurt and puree?’

Lots of parents, myself included, have a ‘home and away’ strategy when it comes to food. They opt for homemade food at home, (I use my Beaba Babycook Steamer and Blender from JoJo-fantastic!) with more of an emphasis on finger foods, as the home is geared up for the mess with splash mats and high chairs with trays. However, when out and about, shop bought pouches are a much more practical solution.

So, in response to the latest research, I’m going to keep using a mix of homemade and shop bought baby food, but making sure it’s good quality stuff. Hopefully Charlie will be in on the plan!

Rosie Wright runs weaning workshops for first time parents in Brighton.

www.rosieweaning.co.uk

rosieweaning@gmail.com

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10 Responses to Have we all lost sight of the bigger picture? Isn’t WHAT we feed our babies more important than HOW?

  1. Nicky Norridge on May 15, 2012 at 4:44 pm

    Great blog,

    We are looking to feature guest blogs on our site if you are interested in helping us do get in contact with me x

  2. kate on May 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    I think the reason that there was no debate about WHAT babies eat is that, certainly for the parents interested enough to read and comment on a blog like this, there really isn’t much to debate. Most would agree that fresh home made food is ideal. Most would also agree that some shop bought food is ok too.
    Having read your other blog post though, I do disagree (and agree with one of the other comments) that you can combine baby led weaning with traditional or puree weaning. You can combine purees / spoon feeding and finger foods, but you cannot combine purees / spoon feeding with baby led weaning. Baby led weaning is not simply about finger foods. It’s about allowing the baby to lead the way. If you spoon feed your child, you are not doing baby led weaning. But there’s nothing wrong with that. As you said, different approaches suit different children and parents. Choose the way that suits you and your child.

  3. Andrea on May 15, 2012 at 5:06 pm

    I so hear you! It is what goes in not the method and a good mix of the both usually works. I could never have done baby led weaning alone for either of mine, both hungry babies and I started at 4 months for both. Milk was not enough and luckily was still BF at 14months with daughter and still going strong now with my son. I don’t know where I would be without my Babycook. I bought it for my daughter who is 3 1/2 and am now using for my little boy 7 months and it is a regularly traveller on holidays. I want to know exactly what he is eating and often has what we have. As for the the orange junk in jars. I wouldn’t want to eat so why should my little ones. I have found there are times that home made just wont work and yes the pouches from Plum and Ella are the only ones I use. They look natural and taste natural. I know it’s a annoying phrase but ‘Mum knows best’, I just think you have to do what is right for you and your little one.

  4. Helen on May 15, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    As a consultant paediatrician I am concerned at the amount of pure baby led weaning. There is absolutely no high standard research to back this method up and these babies are at risk of both calcium and iron deficiency, not to mention choking (had to rescue a friends baby from choking last year on inappropriate food). The most sensible weaning method is puréed high quality food, preferably home made or from a high quality source such as plum or Ella’s. Adding in soft followed my crunchy foods at an age appropriate time is also recommended. I realise mothers are tying to do what’s best for their children but pure baby led weaning is not a good idea. Also many parents do not realise that their children are supposed to have vitamin supplements until they are school age.

  5. Rachel on May 15, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Well said!
    I think the only thing I would have to say is that sometimes you simply have to follow your baby and work with what works for them. This may mean puree or finger foods or a mixture of both, so, my arguement here is that all weaning is baby led in this respect?
    I would certainly agree that the most important thing is what the baby is eating rather than how they are eating it or in what form. I have always been suspect of shop bought baby foods, although nowadays there is such a selection of what appear to be much higher quality, organic, free from junk foods – these are the ones I was quite surprised to find still, often, contain high levels of salt and sugar. Also, what must go in to a food which contains meat so that it can be stored on a shelf, not refrigerated, for months on end??
    Having said this, I do think everything in moderation and along with exercise and healthy lifestyle is fine and these foods certainly come in handy when short of time and or out and about.
    Here comes the BUT… However good my intentions – and believe me they were/are – my son is rather fussy!! He is not really overly fussed about food at all, he still loves his milk feeds (breast) and I have tried so many different foods for him and in all sorts of forms. He would quite happily live on fishfingers (I buy shop ones, although do choose the 100% fish fillet ones) and at one point refused anything else, it was then that I bought vegetable fingers (totally against all that I believe in), he likes these too and I just feel that al least he is eating something and getting the idea?! He now also eats homemade chicken fingers (strips of chicken breast coated in breadcrumbs). He will also eat my homemade spagetti bolognese – this is the only thing that he will let me feed him with a spoon, he has refused everything else I try! Sometimes he will eat banana or kiwi fruit and sometimes bits of potato.
    He seems happy and healthy and so we will just carry on as we are and keep trying new things, he will get there one day!
    The last thing I want to do is make food/meal times a stressful time as I think this is far more likely to cause a long term problem with food, so we keep calm and keep it fun, even if sometimes I feel like I really want to scream!

  6. Kate on May 15, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    I think I spent far too long worrying about what and how to feed my little girl when we first started. I wanted to make it all myself but I just couldn’t keep it up. For the first six months of weaning she had a mix of shop bought food and homemade recipes. I spoon fed her because it was less messy but we started on finger food by eating blueberries as snacks. Now turned 1, she turns her nose up at shop bought baby food and refuses to be fed from a spoon so it’s good that she’s happy to pick up food (from anywhere) and stuff it in her mouth. I try to give her the same sort of meals I cook for myself and my husband; cottage pie etc.. I think my little girl gets a range of healthy snacks and the occasional bit of cake. After a short chat with my health visitor a couple of months ago, I’ve stopped worrying about what people say I should be doing and just doing what my little girl likes and keeps her healthy.

  7. Charlotte Collins on May 15, 2012 at 6:07 pm

    Firstly Well done you! I also do a mix of home made and shop bought, I have tried several brands and have settled on a suitable one for my daughter and I to use when we’re out.
    I do believe it is very important for parents to go with what feels right for them, yes having your friends or health workers advice can help but I dont agree with anyone telling parents that there way in incorrect or the ” well I would never do that” sentence we all dread to hear and the guilt sets in. The more flavours a baby can try the better, go crazy with it.

    Keep going,
    Best wishes
    Eva & Charlotte

  8. Sarah on May 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm

    Well said!….I have to say I make everything, and never used a shop bought puree as a main meal but I have used the fruit purees (ellas kitchen or Plum)to go with cereals or as a pudding, especially when teething!….I do see friends using the jars, which i understand is for convience, or friends who have panicked about feeding their baby so stick to jars as they are unsure of what to give their baby, but I think I would never eat that so why would I feed that to my baby….not tried using the ellas kitchen meals but they do sound and look much better than the jars…..my son is now 14mths old and he was a very hungry boy and started weaning him at 19 weeks on homemade purees, which i did take out with me when out for the day, but at 6 months I did a bit of baby led weaning along with using homemade purees or whatever we are eating i.e shepherds pie, homemade curry (not too hot! and all fresh ingredients) I now have a fantastic eater (i know that may not last!!)and manages most things even with 2 teeth!…However I never judge anyone if they use shop bought purees to feed their baby…everyone has a choice and you have to do what is best for you….and if i ever decide to have another child I think I will be relying on Ellas Kitchen/Plum etc than trying to struggle with 2 little ones!

  9. Rosie Wright on May 17, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    A massive thanks to everyone for reading the blog and writing responses to it. It’s great to receive your words of encouragement, and really interesting to hear other points of view. After all, the reason for writing a blog is to promote discussion about topics that are important to us as parents.

    Kate- I agree that baby led weaning (BLW) stands alone as an approach and can’t be combined with feeding your baby with a spoon, perhaps I haven’t made this clear enough. The main reason I wrote the blog is that I was surprised that not all shop bought food contains high enough minerals and nutrients for babies- something I assumed would be a given, if they were going to be allowed to sell that product.

    Helen- Found your comments very interesting. There is certainly a great deal of debate about BLW and I do think more research should be conducted to see if it is a safe approach.

    Rachel- I agree that you should be led by your baby and let them set the pace. It can be really frustrating when your baby takes time to get used to food. Some babies make the transition from milk to food smoothly, while others take longer in getting the hang of it, but they all get there eventually! Sounds like you’re approaching it the right way.

    Kate- It’s great you get your baby joining it with family meals (and I’m sure you’re keeping salt levels low)and it sounds like its working well for you and your daughter.

    It is important to know and follow healthy eating guidelines, but as many of you have said, trust your Mummy instincts (they are really good) and do what feels right for you and your baby….happy weaning!

  10. Sarah on January 29, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Speaking of Ella’s Kitchen, is everyone aware that their nutritional labels turned out to be bogus? They just started putting stickers on their puree packages and have knocked the nutritional content way-way down. On the spinach pack, for instance, iron has dropped from 120% to 4%. Calcium also went from 70% down to 4%. Salt is now quadruple what it was.

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