I’ve promised this post for ages, ever since we started to wean our little man on to solids, so well over a year. Given the mammoth leaps that Aiden has made with his eating in recent months (i.e. there is more food going in his mouth than on the floor) this seems like the perfect time to share our baby led weaning journey with you all.
Although this post may not be to everyone’s interest, I’ve been requested a lot to write about it on the blog. So with all things in life, it’s always best to start at the beginning…
Why Baby Led Weaning?
Well, why not? BLW is a pretty new concept compared to traditional weaning that consists of purees and working up to finger foods. Instead, after the gut has matured at 6-months (according to NHS guidelines) you can basically give your baby what you’re eating, so solid food which they can breakdown with their gums if they don’t have any teeth yet. Spoon feeding your baby is a big no-no, it’s all about letting them experiment, feel, play and feed themselves. It’s a kind of like messy play for them as well as transitioning on to solids.
Initially, all I wanted from the BLW concept was the hand-eye coordination skills that it helps to develop. However, after doing my research and now from my experience, it teaches little ones so much more. Firstly, it teaches baby’s how to chew their food and move the food around in their mouth to prevent choking. Learning how to chew early on gets them using their jaw muscles which helps to encourage speech later on. Since the baby is feeding themselves, they get to learn when they are full too and can prevent overeating later on. I also liked the fact that it makes a big focus of family meals because the baby is eating exactly the same food as everyone else. For this reason alone, BLW is often considered the lazy parenting option because you don’t have to mash or puree their food. Although I would have to disagree, it’s still hard work especially the amount of cleaning that is involved after every meal.
We’ve always been baby-led when it comes to Aiden and always follow his cues so BLW seemed like the natural path for us to follow.
Ready, Steady, Wean!
When we reached the 6-month milestone, even though I knew that BLW was the weaning route I wanted to go down with Aiden before he was even born I was still nervous to get started. Handing your baby lumps of food to eat is daunting and it was the risk of choking that scared me the most, especially since he had been exclusively breastfed since birth. Thankfully, we never had any choking incidents in the early days, but we did experience lots of gagging as Aiden was learning to move the food around his mouth. As terrifying as this was to watch, I knew that he wasn’t choking and trusted that he would move the food to the front of his mouth…and he did each time! During these gagging incidents as weird as it sounds I sang to Aiden, encouraged him and used a positive tone so he didn’t become scared, which really worked well for us.
With that in mind, you may be thinking why didn’t I just give up and give him purees? Well, there is still a risk of choking with purees, especially when moving on to finger foods because they haven’t learnt to chew yet. I’m not going to lie, I was dubious at the beginning and Aiden has eaten purees, but I will get to that later, but I decided to stick with it and now I’m so glad that we did.
Our BLW Set Up, First Foods & Experimenting
Although nervous I was so excited to get started. We fell in love with the Stokke Tripp Trapp highchair long before Aiden was born and purchased it a few days before we started weaning. Our favourite feature about the chair is that it doesn’t come with a table, which means Aiden sits right at the table with us rather than having a separate table attached to the highchair. To save on the clearing up, we later purchased a Tiny Diner, which we love! Although there is still mess to be cleared up, it’s handy for when you’re eating out if hygiene is a worry for you as it’s easily portable. At first, we didn’t bother with bowls and plates at every mealtime as they normally ended up on the floor. We were firm about introducing cutlery to his mealtimes from early on though and he’s really good with them now, but still likes to use his hands when he can.
More experienced BLW parents will say that there is no such thing as first foods when you start out because after 6-months babies can practically eat anything, except salt, honey, whole nuts and being conscious of sugar content. I was conscious of starting at the ‘deep end’ with meat and more complex food, so at the beginning, I started with single foods like apple slices, avocado, scrambled egg, banana, porridge, sweet potato chips before graduating on to proper meals.
Aiden was so ready to start weaning, so within 2 weeks we were up to 3 meals a day. I would say it took a little while before he started to actually consume his food rather than playing with it. Sometimes he would nibble on bits, other times he would inhale his food and sometimes he just wasn’t interested. Even though I knew that his main source of nutrition was still his milk, it didn’t stop me worrying about the times that he didn’t eat a single thing.
It didn’t take us long to graduate from single foods onto proper meals, he basically ate what we ate but I would separate his portion before adding the salt. This has made mealtimes far easier! Gill Rapley’s BLW recipe book was a great source of inspiration for me to cook BLW friendly family meals as well as a couple of decent BLW Facebook groups. My freezer was also an invaluable friend because it meant that I could stash foods suitable for Aiden (with no salt) when Alfie and I fancied a takeaway or pizza night.
Handling the Judgmental Looks
Baby Led Weaning is different, innovative and not everyone will agree with why you’re doing it. You will get sly remarks, questions like “won’t they choke on that?” and dagger eyes in your direction because you’re not feeding your baby a puree. Ignore them, you’re not a bad parent. You’ve just chosen a completely different weaning method to the majority. BLW is fun, messy and a joy to watch your baby explore food. Enjoy the journey and forget the haters!
It’s Not So Black & White
A purist would say that we haven’t done BLW at all. Yes, Aiden has had the odd puree since we started weaning him onto solids. They’re handy and convenient when travelling or eating out, especially in the early days when you’re not sure whether to commit to it or not. He hasn’t had many and in our experience it didn’t affect any of his BLW skills or confuse him, but all babies are different.
As mentioned above, spoonfeeding is totally against BLW, but I’ll openly admit that we’ve done it. Normally, and this is fine with BLW protocol, we preload the spoon or fork and hand it over to Aiden to feed himself. In the early days, I used to hold the end of the spoon lightly as a guide to save my walls from a porridge flinging! However, sometimes if Aiden was clingy, tired or just lazy he didn’t want to feed himself and wanted to be spoonfed. We weren’t forcing the food onto him, he was happily taking it from the spoon, but he wasn’t holding the spoon himself.
All parents, new and experienced will tell you that nothing is as simple as black and white when it comes to parenting – we all wished that it was! You have to do what is right for your own child and this will vary from day-to-day. I always say and will always say that we’ve done our version of BLW and it’s been a massive success for us, so that’s that!
Aiden is a massive egg muffin fan!
Where We Are Now
At 18-months old, there is much less food on the floor because Aiden is a typical boy and hoovers up practically everything that is put in front of him. This boy loves his food, particularly curries, fish dishes, pasta, baked sweet potatoes, stir fries and he is partial to his mama’s green smoothies too. He really isn’t fussy at all, which has made this whole weaning process easier for us. Trying to spoon-feed Aiden anything is a massive no-no in the BLW handbook, but also in his eyes too. Now being so independent he prefers to feed himself using his cutlery. We’ve taken him out to restaurants from an early age, so he’s pretty well-behaved (most of the time) and will sit and devour his food himself. He now also asks for ‘more’ if he’s struggling to load his spoon himself or will quite happily eat his rice grain by grain and refuse your help…ahhh toddlers!
There’s no right or wrong weaning process, it’s about finding the right way for your baby and what works best for you as a family. BLW was definitely the right path for us and Aiden has flourished because of it. I will happily be using BLW again should baby number 2 come along. 😉