The Beginner’s Guide to Baby Led Weaning
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When Leopold first started solids we decided to take the Baby led weaning approach. It suited our parenting style and fit into our routine really well. I am not a professional nutritionist or baby food expert. In fact Leopold has been my only experience with BLW so far. I just did a TON of research and it was very successful for us. I’m just going to share with you the things I learned and my personal experience!
Before we started baby led weaning
James and I decided this was the approach we were going to take when Leopold was probably 2 or 3 months old. I was in a couple of Facebook groups with moms who had used baby led weaning on their other children with much success. I studied up and it sounded perfect for us!
I’m not going to sit here and pretend I’m not a slightly lazy parent. I am. I’ll admit it. I definitely want the absolute best for my son, but bonus points if it requires minimal effort on my part! I know that the less an activity stresses me out, the better mom I can be while it’s happening. Duh!
Some examples of what I mean:
AMAZING benefits for both of us. He is rarely sick, it decreases my risk of lots of ailments including breast cancer, and if he isn’t eating a lot I know he is still getting the nutrients he needs from my milk. But I also love breastfeeding because I’m kind of lazy. There are no bottles, No remembering to bring all the formula/bottles/water when we go places. I don’t have to spend a ton of money of the best kind of formula. I am lucky enough to stay home so I don’t have to pump, either.
*Nothing at all wrong with formula feeding or pumping moms*
I am not doing this lately because it’s so HOT but it’s so much easier to throw Leopold on my back than to bring the stroller everywhere! And everything is much more accessible.
Baby led weaning-
The thought of making all of his baby food from organic fruits and veggies is exciting. For like a day. Then I’m over it. Babies can eat a lot, so I’m really glad I never had to do this. Then you have to spoon feed them. Bleh. This can take forever and I very much prefer to eat with my family, not after them. Baby led weaning is messy but spoon feeding can be messy too!
Okay so before I started I did a lot of research. There is a great book you can read all about baby led weaning that is the go to resource for a lot of parents and BLW groups on Facebook. You can check it out here!
There are also some great Facebook groups out there but some of them are really judgy if you don’t stick to the book so keep that in mind. One I stayed a member of was ‘Baby led, combo and traditional weaning’. It was a lot of everything but people weren’t as rude. You can also find Pinterest boards or other groups with recipes and simple meal ideas as inspiration.
For those with anxiety about the idea of just handing your toothless baby a strip of steak, do what I did. I went to YouTube and looked up ‘Baby Led Weaning Choking vs. Gagging’. Believe it or not there is a huge difference between the two. I also watched a few videos on baby Heimlich/CPR so that if he did choke I would have a plan of action. He never once choked though, thank goodness!
Here are my top tips for starting out with Baby led weaning.
- Wait until your baby is ready. Not you, your baby. They will need to be sitting unassisted with good neck control. Just because they watch you eat and act interested at 3 or 4 months absolutely does not mean they are ready. If you search ‘Virgin Gut’ you will read a lot about how important it is to wait until baby is at least 6 months old to start. Some babies aren’t even ready or interested at 6 months, and that’s okay as long as they are still getting adequate nutrition from their milk. Babies sensitive tummies just aren’t ready to process solids before 6 months.
Starting too soon can cause issues later on!
We started about a week before Leopold turned 6 months. He was showing all signs of readiness and he didn’t really eat much of anything for a couple months anyway.
- Be patient. Regarding the end of number one, chances are your baby won’t actually eat much for a few weeks.
Everything you offer them will end up in their lap, on the floor, or mashed up on their tray.
The first few times you offer your baby food they will probably just play with it, explore the textures, tastes and smells. That’s okay! They don’t really need to chew and swallow anything. In the beginning it’s just practice.
- Cut anything you give to baby into ‘finger sized’ pieces. Just long and wide enough for their little hands to easily grab on to.
- If something breaks off in their mouth, don’t panic. Sit on your hands if you need to. I actually had to do this at times. At this young age, a baby’s gag reflex is very close to the front of their mouth. This keeps the food from going too far back in their throat. The point of baby led weaning is for them to learn to chew and manage food in their mouths. So if they get a bite, give them time, let them work it around in their mouths. Chances are they will work it around a little bit and then spit it out.
- If your baby gags (and they probably will at some point) remember that it is normal. Think about those videos you watched. Are they making noise as they gag? If so they are totally fine. Give them a minute to work the food out of their mouths.
Do NOT stick your finger in their mouth to fish out the food.
This is really tempting and I’ll admit to doing this once or twice when it was close enough to see, but it’s really important to try and avoid this. If you are digging around in their mouth you are more likely to push it back further and cause them to actually choke. Like I said, sit on your hands. When Leopold gagged, instead of acting worried or freaking out, I would encourage him. “Good job baby, you’re doing great! Good job!” If I’m calm, he is calm. If I’m losing my mind and trying to fish food out of his mouth, he is going to be alarmed and feed off your energy.
- Avoid feeding baby purees. If you start with baby food, just continue with baby food. Or wait a few weeks between that and BLW. If you teach your baby to simply swallow their food first, they are more likely to choke when they start eating true solids.
It’s better to start right off the bat with BLW if you plan to do it.
I still gave Leopold purees on occasion but I didn’t feed them to him. I gave him a spoon and a bowl and let him figure it out! We got baby food from WIC for free so I had to get creative with it. Aside from just giving him a spoon and bowl, I have spread it on english muffins, put it in squeeze pouches, or mixed it with oatmeal.
- Try to keep from making baby eat something they show no interest in. I found a lot of people liked to try and make Leopold eat something when he didn’t want to. One of the benefits of baby led weaning is letting the child decide when they are done eating. I see people spoon feeding their baby all the time who beg baby to eat and finish the entire jar of food. This just encourages baby to ‘clean their plate’. I would rather my son eat until he is full and know when to stop!
- Don’t be afraid to mix things up. Try to avoid added salt, and no honey until they are at least a year old. Those are the only two things to avoid! Unless of course you have a family history of certain allergies. Obviously take your time and carefully add these to baby’s diet after talking to your pediatrician about it.
There is nothing wrong with adding some herbs and spices to your meal and sharing with baby.
We generally just gave him whatever we were having for dinner, I would just cut it into baby friendly strips. Once he became a pro and got some teeth (at 11 months old) is when I started cutting his food up smaller. We gave Leopold peanut butter right at 6 months old. I smeared it on his arm a few hours before his 6 month check up. That way if he reacted, we were going in anyway! One huge benefit to baby led weaning is supposed to be kids who are less picky. I tried to add different flavors so that he would have a very diverse palate!
- Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean your child shouldn’t try it! I don’t like fish, mushrooms or tomatoes, but I still encourage Leopold to try all of these things!
- If they make faces, spit it out or generally avoid certain foods, don’t give up! It can sometimes take many different tries for a child to take to a certain food. If you make peas and they didn’t like them last time, give it to them anyway! The worst that can happen is they just don’t eat them.
Well there you have it, folks.
My beginners guide to baby led weaning! Hopefully some of this was helpful! Don’t stress, you can do it! Leopold is a fantastic eater now, at 19 months. I hope it continues! Either way I know that our baby led weaning journey was a huge success for us and we had fun doing it!