Lesson 88: Consider (real life) Baby-Led Weaning

I don’t think I would have been comfortable doing Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) with my oldest son because I was worried about everything—too much, really. I’m much more relaxed this time around, which I hear is pretty normal. I don’t know if I should attribute it to not being a first time mom, or to having twins and a 4-year-old: I don’t have time to obsess over every little thing.

Even so, what my children eat remains one of the things that I care about most. I want to give them the best that I’m able to give them. There’s only a small window in my children’s lives when I’m 100% in control over what goes into their little bodies. Too soon, they’ll be choosing. And as anybody with a toddler knows, they’ll eat what they damn well please. I want to do my best to give them a good start and to teach them great eating habits. That way, when they turn 2 and refuse to eat anything that isn’t white, at least I know I tried, right?

I absolutely love making their food. I truly enjoy it. Cooking, recipes, food…it’s where I get to be creative. So when my friend Emily did BLW with her daughter, I was intrigued. I asked her a million questions and watched as her daughter ate foods that I never imagined a child so young could or would eat. When I got pregnant with the twins, I knew we would try BLW. I won’t lie, not having to spoon feed 2 babies seemed like a really good idea. And the idea of never having to transition them over to eating the same food the rest of the family eats at mealtime (a transition we’re still struggling with, with our oldest) won me over.

So I did what I do when I become interested in something: I started researching. I read Baby Led Weaning and Raising a Healthy, Happy Eater. Though it’s not an actual BLW book, Bringing Up Bebe was also an inspiration for me. I talked to friends who’ve done it. I Googled. I joined Facebook groups. I’ll share what I’ve learned, but I’m also going to share my actual real life experience, because I’ve had to edit it for both babies. As with all things, read about it, learn about it, then apply it to your life. All kids and their needs are different. There are guidelines, but there is no one-size-fits all.

What is BLW?

I view BLW as the first step in a long process of weaning my babies onto solids, not off of breastmilk. Babies need to continue to receive the majority of their calories from breastmilk or formula until at least 12 months; solid foods should not become your child’s main source of nutrition before then.  BLW is the introduction of solid foods as a compliment to the nutrition they’re already receiving.

No matter your method of introducing solids, babies should be offered breastmilk or formula before each meal. In addition to needing the calories from milk or formula, if a baby isn’t actually hungry before you offer solids, his frustration level with learning this new skill will be much lower.

Wait until your child is at least 6 months before beginning solids.

Waiting until 6 months to begin solids allows a baby’s digestive system time to mature. That said, there are readiness signs to watch for and 6 months is a guideline.Watch for your baby to be able to sit up on his own, to lose his tongue-thrust reflex, the development of fine motor skills, and an interest in you when you’re eating.

S was clearly ready to begin solids at 4.5 months. I ignored his readiness cues for several weeks, because I was determined to stick to BLW guidelines and because he couldn’t sit unassisted. But at 5 months, I threw that out the window, strapped him into a booster seat that held him upright, and offered him some carrot puree on a spoon. He picked up the spoon, put it in his mouth, and we’ve never looked back.

B, on the other hand, was completely uninterested and remained so until he was about 6.5 months old. However, offering him food at the same time we offered it to S allowed him to play with it and further develop his fine motor skills. Following my babies’ leads on this worked well and I wouldn’t change a thing about how I approached beginning solids.

Food before one is just for fun.

No it’s not. I don’t think this is an actual BLW “thing,” but I’ve heard it a lot in BLW mom groups, and I’ve even said it myself before I educated myself on it. It’s wrong and I just want to go ahead and clear that up before you dive into an online BLW group and start hearing it every which way you turn.

Babies do need the bulk of their calories from milk or formula for the first 12 months. However, they also need iron. If a baby is 100% breastfed, she’s not getting enough iron (formula is iron-fortified). Around 6 months, the iron stores a baby received from her mother in utero are depleted, so she must get it elsewhere. She can get it from food or a supplement. Since our boys are breastfed, we choose food (because poly-vi-sol stinks and they hate taking it). In addition, chewing helps to develop oral muscles. Food before one is not just for fun.

BLW babies sit at the family table during mealtimes. They are trusted to know when, how much, and what they should eat.

BLW babies are offered appropriate finger foods and are encouraged to self-feed with the family. They’re not given purees and you never stick a spoon or food in a BLW baby’s mouth. This allows them to explore different tastes and textures on their own. It also teaches them to eat when they’re hungry and to stop when they’re full.

Do I trust my babies to know when, how much, and what they should eat? Hell no. They’ve yet to be allowed to peruse the pantry, and they certainly don’t dictate when the family sits down to eat. Life dictates that. Also? If I allowed S to keep eating, he’d never stop. The kid knows no boundaries.

I like the idea of allowing them to explore a variety of foods. And I agree that it’s the beginning of learning to self-regulate their eating habits. But they need guidance and most people who implement BLW realize, and offer, that guidance.

I also offer purees for several reasons, which means that I sometimes (gasp) stick food in my babies’ mouths. One reason I do this is because I’m a control freak and I get satisfaction out of knowing my child just ate a full serving of spinach. Also, as I mentioned earlier, my babies need iron and they’re not getting that from my breastmilk. Another reason I do this is because BLW is messy and my husband and I tag-team the cleanup process after dinner. In the beginning, we only offered one solid meal a day in the evening time. Right now at 7 months, I feel like they need a little more, but I don’t care to take on the messy task of BLW alone during the day with two babies, so I offer them 1 pureed meal in the mid-morning. In the evening, they self-feed while sitting with the family for dinner. You can actually spoon feed your baby and not force feed him. There’s a difference.

BLW babies learn to safely handle their food by learning to chew before swallowing.

Babies’ gag reflexes are much higher up right now than they will be later, so they manage solids surprisingly well by simply coughing it up before it ever has a chance to choke them. There are some common sense guidelines such as not offering your child foods that are obvious choking hazards and making sure they never eat without supervision. No matter what feeding approach you take, it’s just responsible to learn how to save an infant from choking. Here’s an excellent tutorial.

BLW is educational.

It is so cool to watch my babies self-feed. Other than (hopefully) developing healthy eating habits, they’re developing hand-eye coordination and increasing their fine motor skills when they self-feed. There are a lot of other ways to learn these skills, but my babies can do so much more than I ever would have thought, and I’m thrilled we’re taking this approach. Honestly, it’s made me realize that my children are so much more capable of a lot of things than I realized!

What are some good first BLW foods?

You have so many more options than you might realize! So let me start with what not to feed your baby: high-allergen foods (if you have a family history of food allergies), honey before the age of 1, too much processed sugar, too much sodium, foods that are known choking hazards (peanuts, raisins, popcorn, uncut hotdogs, grapes, etc.). That’s pretty much it.

I serve my babies many of the same foods we eat as a family, just adapted to fit their needs. I don’t add much salt to my cooking; instead it’s added at the table as needed. However, I haven’t changed any other seasoning habits. I limit their intake of processed foods, including sugar. We don’t have a large family history of allergies (nothing more than a peanut-induced rash on a few of the kids in the family, all of which never turned serious and all of which were outgrown), so allergens haven’t been an issue for us. They’ve both had peanut butter and eggs before 7 months of age with zero reaction.

The best foods for BLW are foods that can be cooked soft without losing their nutritional value. In the beginning, steaming was my preferred method because it makes food softer than roasting. Now that I’m more confident in their ability to chew, I roast a lot also. Until she develops her pincer grasp, food needs to be cut into spears or large rounds so that the baby can easily pick it up with her fist and eat the food that is sticking out either side. Some examples of easy first foods are carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, avocados, and bananas.

Since BLW babies are offered a variety of foods from the beginning, they’ll likely continue to be adventurous in their eating habits as they grow.

Lord willing. That’s all I have to say about that.

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3 comments on “Lesson 88: Consider (real life) Baby-Led Weaning

  1. […] 4.5 months. By 5 months, I listened to his signs, rather than the books. I knew I wanted to to do Baby-Led Weaning with my twin boys, but we started with loaded spoons of carrot puree right at 5 months. Throughout […]

  2. […] in time for Thanksgiving, the perfect Baby-Led Weaning recipe for pumpkin pie! This was one of our first BLW foods and it was a big hit! There’s no […]

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