I qualified as a health visitor at the tender age of 22. I was lucky enough to have tutors who taught me to question accepted wisdom, and what mothers told me about their struggles to introduce their babies to solid foods made me sceptical about the conventional method of weaning from very early in my career.
When my first baby reached four months I went through the motions of pureeing delicious meals, freezing individual cubes in an ice cube tray and lovingly warming them up to feed to him. But my heart wasn't really in it and I was delighted when he made it clear he wasn't really ready. When he hit six months he just started feeding himself with food from our plates.
With my second son, I did much the same thing but in an even more laid-back way, taking my cue from him. It wasn't until I had my third child (a girl), and simply didn't have time for all that messing about, that I discovered what so many mothers had found before me: that babies are quite capable of deciding when to start solids all by themselves - provided they are given the opportunity.
When I went back to health visiting (following a brief stint as a midwife), it really struck me how much easier weaning was when the control was handed over to the baby. Parents who were struggling with getting their baby to accept a range of foods or whose baby had difficulty coping with lumpy food all seemed to find that listening to their child and letting him feed himself provided the answer. And I started to suggest to the new parents I met that they might want to wait until their baby was nearer six months before bothering with solid foods. Since the recommendation at that time was to start between four and six months, this wasn't a huge leap. But it seemed to make all the difference to how easy the process was.
Doing a Master's degree gave me the chance to look at whether babies would move on to solid foods spontaneously, if they were given the chance. The answer was not just that they would but that it became an easy and pleasant experience for the parents too. The theory of baby-led weaning was born, and the official change, in 2002/3 to a minimum recommended age of six months for all solid feeding made it a piece of parenting wisdom whose moment had arrived.
I've just (November 2015) completed some interesting research comparing spoon feeding and self-feeding, which I aim to publish in a few academic journals in the near future. Oh yes, and I'm now Dr. Rapley as a result!