Friday, October 16, 2009

The treasure basket

One of the things the Husbeast and I have found fit well with our natural approach to parenting is the Montessori set of ideals for how to treat a child (if you're unfamiliar with the Montessori method, here is a brief explanation, although it can really be summed up with three words: "follow the child").

Since the BabyBeast is sitting up so well on his own now (he's had a month to practice it, and has nearly perfected it), I decided it was definitely time to introduce his treasure basket. It's not nearly as flashy as it sounds. A treasure basket is simply a basket (or box) with a few interesting items. The idea is to give them 'treasures' that will stimulate their brains, simple items that you can find lying about the house or yard. Meg, a fellow Montessori mommy, posted about her own son's treasure basket, and the post is definitely worth a look (if only for her fantastic photos).

The BabyBeast's basket currently contains a hand-carved wooden spoon, a nearly empty bottle of sesame seeds, some metal measuring spoons, a knitted pot holder, a rough washcloth, and a plastic brush with soft bristles. He's spent the last couple days exploring each item until he practically has them memorized, and I'm already watching to see what items I should switch out, which ones he seems less interested in.

It's delightful to be able to sit back and relax, and watch the BabyBeast lose himself in exploration of things that I definitely take for granted every day. He reminds me to take it easy, to look deeper at things that I might otherwise dismiss.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Let's eat!

I've mentioned before that we're doing child-led weaning... one thing that goes hand-in-hand with that is allowing an infant to start solids when they're ready and not when a label on a jar of pureed vegetables tells you they're ready.

Child- or baby-led weaning is actually the most natural way to start solids with a baby. Very few things adults eat resemble a puree in texture (with the exception of apple sauce, puddings, and custards [and probably others but i'm not going to do an exhaustive list because, well, i don't wanna!]) and when we eat, we eat not only for flavor but for texture. Have you ever eaten stale popcorn, the type that kind of squeaks when you bite it? It tastes the same as fresh, but there's something about the texture that just throws you off.

Presenting babies with a lot of pureed goop isn't a good way to introduce them to the wide and varied world of foods. But it's not just that. Babies aren't just babies: they're people. They have the very natural desire to be the masters of their own destinies, even if that only extends to choosing what to put in their mouths and in what quantity to put it in. Baby-led weaning gives them the opportunity to make their own decisions on how much food to eat and how often to take bites.

Moreover, by not shoving spoons full of goop into their mouths, parents can actually prevent a lot of the 'normal' gagging babies do when switched from smooth to chunky purees. They gag because spooned puree tends to be sucked into the back of the mouth. Allowing them access to whole foods, they can get used to moving bites around in the front of their mouth (basically, learning to chew) before eventually learning to swallow. With purees, they learn to swallow before learning to chew.

I could go on and on, but there are books and plenty of Web sites and forums to cover the topics in detail.

We started the BabyBeast off with a very simple and traditional first food: banana. The difference was, I just handed him half a banana when he was six months old and let him take it from there. He managed just fine, although there was less 'eating' and more 'tasting' and 'smearing' and 'squishing.'

Baby-led weaning is, once again, the most natural approach to parenting. Very few cavemommas had blenders available to puree foods for their infants. When the baby was able to grasp and bite and swallow, that was probably when the baby started eating instead of nursing for all of its nutrition.

Even today, with babies who are extremely prone to allergies (for instance, with a family history of food allergies), pediatricians will recommend not feeding anything but breastmilk or formula for the first 12 months. By their first birthday, most babies have at least their upper and lower incisors, to facilitate biting things (if not chewing things).

The BabyBeast, as I expected, has teeth top and bottom now so he is able to take bites of things even if they end up drooling out of his mouth. He still nurses for 99.999% of his nutrition, and I'm fine with that. We've had a few bites, but he's learning that bites lead to the end of that particular nursing session and is being more careful not to clamp down.

I'm in no rush to get him eating whole meals. He'll reach that milestone whenever he's developmentally ready and not when I think he 'should' reach it. Taking it easy just comes, well, naturally.