When I was pregnant, I heard about a method of introducing solids to your baby called Baby Led Weaning. It isn't anything especially new or profound. While most (I think) moms introduce solids between 4-6 months and start with items like cereal and pureed fruits and vegetables, baby led weaning (BLW) involves waiting until six months to introduce solids and allowing your baby to self-feed regular food. No purees, no cereals, just whatever you're having. When Elsa was approaching six months, I read the very informative book to make sure it was exactly what we wanted to do instead of the "traditional" method of introducing
After reading the book, I knew it was the right thing to do for Elsa. Now, I haven't consulted any of the studies cited in the book, so I cannot vouch for their methods, but the gospel BLW practitioners espouse makes a lot of sense. Some benefits of practicing BLW include having a baby that is potentially less likely to be obese later in life, is open to a larger variety of foods, feels more included in the family mealtime, and encourages her to practice more advanced fine motor skills like the pincer grasp. Since you don't start offering solids until your baby is six months old, his digestive system is more mature and thus there is a smaller risk of an allergic reaction (though if food allergies are common in your family, you should exercise caution when introducing those foods and consult your pediatrician). BLW is a natural fit for a baby's innate desire to explore her environment and put things into her mouth. Before beginning, it is recommended that your baby is able to sit up on her own, is at least six months old, and that she is ALWAYS sitting in an upright position for meals in order to minimize the risk of choking.
Speaking of choking, that is typically the main concern of parents wanting to try BLW. We have been indoctrinated to give our babies purees and after that, to cut their food up into little tiny bits. So if you give them a big hunk of food, won't they choke? The BLW book covers choking vs. gagging and it's important to know the difference. Gagging is a completely normal reflex that your baby will most likely exhibit when starting solids. She might turn red, her eyes might water, and she will spit her food out. The gag reflex is what prevents her from choking. In babies, the gag reflex is further forward on the tongue than in adults, so the odds that she will actually choke are slim. That being said, it's very terrifying to give food to your baby for the first (or second or tenth) time and see her gag. This is the main reason why I would say BLW is not for everyone. Certainly parents have to make the decision that is right for their baby, but I just wanted to share our experience for those people out there that might be on the fence about BLW. First, I would highly recommend reading the book. You could also check out the BLW website and forum. You can also search YouTube for videos of babies eating BLW-style to gain confidence about the whole choking vs. gagging thing.
The first thing we did to prepare Elsa for BLW was to assemble her high chair and allow her to sit at the table and play with her toys or spoons. My mom generously purchased Elsa a Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair which is perfect for BLW because it pulls right up to the table and will grow with her pretty much forever. Here she is prior to six months practicing sitting at the table.
The next thing we did was buy a dining table. Because one of the main benefits of BLW is to share mealtimes as a family, we wanted to have a nice setting for us to eat in. When we moved, we first focused on fixing up the yard and then fixing up the nursery, so we hadn't purchased a dining table for the sunroom yet. We ended up getting a great table from West Elm and now the sunroom is my favorite room to sit in.
Since BLW is incredibly messy, I also wanted to purchase a mat to go under her high chair for a few reasons. First, it would (mostly) contain the mess. Second, since a lot of food ends up on the floor, I could pick the food up from the clean mat and offer it to Elsa again. I chose this clear Jeep mat and it's been great. We have a clothesline in the backyard, so after every meal, I take the mat out and spray it down with the hose. This system has worked out very well for us.
Once Elsa hit her six-month birthday, it was time to offer her solids. I admit I had mixed emotions about this day. On the one hand, I was so excited to start this new adventure with her and to introduce her to a variety of nutritious and delicious foods. On the other hand, I knew starting solids would be the beginning of the end of our breastfeeding journey. Not that you can't practice extended breastfeeding with a child who eats solids, but there was something sad about saying goodbye to her little tiny babyhood as we introduced solids. Plus, breastfeeding is so easy and feeding solids is work and I'm lazy:)
A popular first meal for BLW babies is bananas on the peel and avocado on the peel. Those items are soft, yet the peel offers a firm substance for the baby to grip. Here is Elsa's first foray into solids!
She wasn't (and still isn't) into the bananas and the avocado was so-so. The next day we tried steamed veggies and those went over well. Broccoli is a great food because the stalk is a natural handle for the baby to grasp. Even without any teeth at that point, Elsa managed to gum her food and "bite" them off into manageable pieces.
Levi did not appreciate being left out of the meal.
From there, we just kept introducing more and more foods. These days, she gets everything except nuts, honey, and eggs. I also try to prepare as much as I can myself and to buy organic (especially dairy) and to minimize the amount of sodium and sugar she gets. Her favorite foods are cucumbers, mango, waffles, bread, full fat Greek yogurt, watermelon, and berries. Just tonight I gave her eggplant for the first time and she loved it. She even devoured tofu and has slowly been coming around to meats. I allow her to feed herself everything and if she is eating something like yogurt, I pre-load the spoon and hand it to her. Just in the last week or so, she has become autonomous with a sippy cup. It's truly remarkable what they can do when you just let them try do it themselves.
She has never choked on anything, but she has done some gagging. I made a veggie burger that actually made her throw up and that was no fun. I think it was too dry. But she was no worse for the wear and wanted to keep on going. She LOVES to eat and we don't hold back with spicy foods or things that are seasoned (not with salt) or full of garlic. The point is to expose her palate to a variety of foods and if she doesn't want an item, we don't push it. She might gobble something up one night only to eschew it the next. The saying is "food before one is for fun" and that's what I tell myself. No pressure, just fun. Here are some more photos of her eating.
If you have a baby who is approaching that six-month mark and you are thinking about trying BLW, I highly recommend reading the book. But if you take the more traditional cereal and purees route, that's great too. To each her own! Has anyone reading tried BLW or thinking about it? If you have questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.