Photo by: iStock

Try This: Baby-Led Weaning

Photo by: iStock



Disclaimer: I don’t often write about really specific parenting-related things, but this is one of those times. If you’re not a parent or going to be / want to be a parent soon, you may want to skip this post. (Alternatively, you could send it along to a friend with a young one or one on the way!)

Feeding is like the primary task in year one of Keeping a Small Human Alive and Happy. First there’s breastfeeding and/or formula to figure out, and then around the six-month mark it’s time to “start solids.” There’s a lot to learn and many choices to make, so it can be stressful for first-time parents. (I know it was for us!)

What I want to share with you today is our experience with “baby-led weaning” (BLW). In a nutshell, BLW is an approach to “starting solids” that
*lets babies decide when to start eating solids instead of you deciding
*has babies feed themselves instead of you feeding them
*gives babies food in its real form instead of “baby food” (namely, purees)

I’m not going to go into too much detail here about reasons to choose baby-led weaning. I knew I wanted to try it, but I had questions and hesitations and it was all a learning experience. So I’m going to share those hesitations and what I learned to overcome them, as well as the products that have really helped with this way of feeding (cuz anything that makes things easier is a gift in parenting, amIright?!).

BLW seems to be a trend among moms these days, probably on the heels of the book which was published in the UK in 2010. Also, I have to say that the phrase “baby-led weaning” to me is a bit of a misnomer, as the approach is much more about starting solid food than about weaning from breastfeeding. Perhaps it’s different in the UK? Anyway, I’m not at all interested in its trendiness; I just want to share about it because it’s been an interesting journey, with some really clear payoffs. She is a confident eater who will try almost anything. We are super happy about this, and we believe we have BLW to thank!

Okay, onto it! Here are the main hesitations I’ve heard (and/or felt myself) about BLW, and what I’ve learned along the way.


FIVE HESITATIONS ABOUT BLW ADDRESSED!


1.WHAT IF THEY CHOKE?!
This is probably the number one issue people have. Purees feel so much safer for babies to eat. No one wants to even think about their baby choking on a piece of food—it’s a terrifying thought. I was totally there too, and here’s what I did.

First, I learned the difference between gagging and choking. What many people think is choking is actually just gagging, which is part of the natural process of learning to manage food in your mouth. Learning to eat is just like learning to do anything else—you have to figure it out! Gagging is a part of that. Here’s a great video!

Second, I took an infant first aid/CPR class. It was probably overkill, but I’d been wanting to get certified for a long time anyway just to be a good human being, so it was a good excuse. Having the confidence that I’d know what to do if she would choke helped so much when we were first starting BLW.


2. HOW CAN THEY EAT FOOD WITH NO (OR FEW) TEETH?
They can! (Alice has been on the slower end of getting teeth – at 13 months, she still only has the bottom two!) It seems counter-intuitive—we need teeth to chew our food, don’t we?—but babies’ gums are actually really strong. They can manage food without teeth just fine. There are some things they can’t yet eat, like nuts and leafy greens. But babies can eat a ton without a mouth full of teeth. Weird, huh?


3. DON’T YOU NEED TO FEED THEM TO MAKE SURE THEY’RE GETTING ENOUGH TO EAT?
Big question here, one that is sort of foundational to the approach. In general, it’s recommended to begin solid foods at 6 months at the earliest. However, the BLW approach doesn’t rush this. As soon as certain signs are there that they’re ready (sitting up well, among other things), you can begin to offer foods. However, this doesn’t mean they’ll actually eat anything right away! And that is okay.

Alice didn’t begin eating until about 7.5 months, and we didn’t really begin offering until around 7 months. Meanwhile, I had other friends whose kids had been eating “baby food” 2-3 times a day (along with breastfeeding) since six months on the dot. I thought, “Other people’s babies are downing puffs and purees like crazy, and we’re over here still just breastfeeding! What is she’s not getting enough nutrition?!” Cue self-doubt (and messaging other BLW friends). This is just the point though—THEY determine when they want to begin eating more (baby-led!). To me, this is an example of new-parent comparison trap—it’s easy to panic when you see someone else doing things differently, because this is your first time around the block. And I think this topic is especially sensitive—no one wants to feel like they are starving their kid!

Since I was worried about this, I was trying to help Alice eat the food I was offering her. Another (more experienced) BLW mom advised me to offer food more often and NOT try to help her. I was hesitant—it’s frustrating going to the effort to put food in front of them, only to have them play with it, drop it on the floor, etc. (I hate inefficiency and waste!) But sure enough, within days she was eating much more! It’s like I just had to give her a chance to do it herself and not stress about it.

The BLW approach trusts the baby to begin eating when he or she is ready and interested. I’ve heard many BLW proponents say “Food before 1 is just for fun.” I’m not sure that’s 100% true, but I know it’s true that you don’t need to freak out if your baby isn’t eating solids right at six months or if they’re not really eating much when you begin to offer food. Just keep offering.


4. WE DON’T EAT VERY HEALTHY.
This is a concern because in BLW, you don’t make a lot (or any) separate “baby food”—you give baby normal food, often what you yourself are eating. Doing BLW is great opportunity to start eating better! Small steps! Making the BLW approach with Alice has caused me to be more mindful of my own food choices, since we basically eat the same things. We have tried to be really intentional about our food for the last few years, but it’s hard! BLW has given me yet another reason to put in the effort. I’ve heard many parents say the same thing—doing BLW has helped them develop better eating habits themselves/as a family.


5. ISN’T IT MESSY?
Yes, yes it is. This is a downside. And to be honest, I sometimes spoon-feed Alice things that she could eat herself because I don’t want to deal with the mess. (AHEM SPAGHETTI.) Luckily, she doesn’t mind that. However, the benefits far outweigh this downside.



Amber is a thirty-something wife and new mama living in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She is a freelance writer and editor. She blogs at Alternative Grace where she muses on things like intentional living, faith, and books. You can follow Amber on Facebook and Instagram.

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