Q&A: "baby led weaning" for a formula-fed baby

Suzie writes:

"At our 4 month doctor visit the other day, the pediatrician brought up the idea of already starting to feed the little Pumpkin solids (rice cereal, purees, etc.), and my internal thinking was, "OK, whatever, I'm waiting for the girl to want to eat before offering her anything to much on." But the ped did leave me wondering: when you start your baby on "real" foods, do you offer only one thing at a time (a la "wait 2 weeks before adding anything new") or just go whole hog and offer a little bit of everything? How do you handle the potential for allergies?

Also, I know the whole premise of BLW is breastfeeding; but that doesn't mean I shouldn't give it a go with my formula-fed baby once she shows interest in what hubby and I are eating, right?"

First of all, BLW (baby led weaning) is explained by researcher Gil Rapley on this page, which now has a photo of a woman nursing about halfway down, with exposed nipple. (I'm not sure why that's necessary. And if anyone knows who makes that sexy nursing bra, please post in the comments.) If you don't want to or can't look at that page, just read the quick and dirty on Wikipedia (taking it the same way you take everything you read on Wikipedia). If you don't want to do that, the basics of BLW are:

Kids will eat solids when they're ready to, and if they aren't ready yet they won't swallow. They tested a bunch of babies and found that in general they were interested in tasting food at around 4 months but wouldn't really swallow until 6 months. Kids have more control over big chunks of food they can hold onto and shove in themselves instead of purees that are shoved to the backs of their mouths that they can't control. So in general they develop the smal muscle coordination to pick up small pieces about the time they can safely eat them. Keep giving them breastmilk or formula until at least a year, and they'll just transition to solid foods gradually and naturally. The End.

Anyway, the trend in the US is to offer only one thing (and people usually start with the totally disgusting rice cereal, which by now everyone knows I hate and think people should skip and go straight to bananas or avocado or something orange instead) for a few days because then you'll know if the baby is allergic to it before you move on to something else.

The problem is that I don't think that there's been any research about whether that has any effect on allergy rates or discovery of allergies, or if it's just something people came up with because it's logical. I don't think there's any harm in doing one thing every few days, but I also don't know if it's necessary. I'd like to see if there are any differences in allergy rates or allergic reaction rates in groups that separate and groups that don't.

I also think that parents know a whole lot about what our kids may be or probably aren't allergic to before we get to the solids phase. You know if they have problems with dairy or soy if you're using formula, and perhaps if you're nursing (anyone who's had to eliminate that sweet, sweet ice cream because of a baby's dairy intolerance is cringing right now). If your baby is your biological child you also know some family history of allergies, and you may have this info if your kid is adopted. Lots of food allergies seem to be connected to skin rashes and other external things you alreayd know about. So definitely take all of this into account, and if your child tends to have allergies to one thing, be cautious about introducing too many new things that tend to be allergens.

And, yeah, of course you can do BLW if you're formula-feeding. She's a human baby, after all, so all the stuff about food size and choking and her learning process (which BLW is about, as much or more than it's about actual nutrition) is the same for her and you as it is for the kid on that site whose mom is wearing that black lace nursing bra. Formula should be her primary source of nutrition for at least the first year, and she'll tell you when she's ready to eat other stuff.

Just beware of veggie burgers, because garlic poop is indescribable.