Baby-led weaning, y’all. It’s been one helluva ride.
I could say that about most aspects of my baby girl’s first year of life, but this one took particular grit.
I remember having long-term projects at work that would take months. You know, weeks of planning, prepping, testing, revising, launching, relaunching, picking up the pieces of the inevitable catastrophe, relaunching again, then putting a bow on it and calling it a day?
That’s what baby-led weaning felt like. But no one paid me. And instead of not thinking about it after 5 pm, I carried the ever-present weight of knowing I was teaching a human how to eat and I was responsible for not letting said little human choke to death.
Well that’s not a great introduction to baby-led weaning, is it?
Let’s start again.
Baby-led weaning (or BLW) is a method of teaching infants how to eat solids. But instead of spoonfeeding them a plethora of purees, you slowly help them learn how to self-feed with real food. The benefits are remarkable. Babies experience a variety of flavors and textures. They improve their dexterity by handling the food themselves. And they learn how to self-regulate. With no grownup shoving a spoonful of mashed whatever in their face, they decide when to stop eating.
Some moms swear it makes for less picky eaters. Lots of experts say it promotes a well-balanced diet and better relationship with food down the road. And every mom says it’s amazing to take their time eating their own plate of food without spoon feeding a baby the whole meal.
But for all of its benefits, there are a few points to BLW that cause hesitation for most moms. For one, it’s relatively new. Because of that, there are a lot of uneducated and inexperienced naysayers who will immediately write it off as dangerous, or just young-mom-nonsense. And the thought of giving such a tiny human such grown-up food is very daunting, and for many moms it’s easier to forego the whole endeavor and take the traditional puree route.
But now that baby girl and I are on the other side of beginning the BLW journey, I have a much different perspective on those downfalls and the fears that come with getting started. So if you’re considering trying the BLW approach to solids, here are a few tips to keep in mind as you make your decision or prepare to get started.
- Educate Yourself
One thing motherhood taught me quickly is the value of having a vague notion of the science behind what the hell is happening. Pregnancy, labor, infant sleep cycles, poop color, you name it. If I have read about the subject before I have to experience it, it’s much less likely to throw me into a spiral of maternal panic.
So do your research. While there are a wealth of blogs and forums out there, I also went old school and read a few books by nutritionists and pediatric professionals. It was like college all over again with highlighted sentences and dog-eared pages galore. Reading the words of experts gave me some much-needed confidence to move forward. And having an actual book on hand was great for a quick reference during meal times. Here are the two I used:
Born to Eat by Leslie Schilling and Wendy Jo Peterson
These women are nutritionists as well as moms. They break down the science behind what your baby’s diet needs, as well as their physical capabilities, in a way I could easily grasp. They also separate the BLW journey by phase dependent on your baby’s age and ability, and each phase is filled with helpful information and insight. Plus, there are fun and easy recipes to try at the end of the book.
The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett
This is the cookbook version of the “essential guide” to BLW by the same authors. But because I already had the above book, I decided to use this as a supplement. It still dives into the what, how, and why of BLW, but it offers way more recipes to try. Based out of the UK, the authors throw in meals that are a far cry from my southern roots, so it’s fun to try new dishes alongside the little one.
- Prepare Yourself. There’s Gagging.
Oh, the gagging. That’s what just about did me in before I even started.
With little ones around 6 months to a year old, their gag reflex is much further up on their palate than an adult. It’s nature’s way of helping them learn how to eat and cough food up long before it can get stuck further back in their throat. But it’s hella scary.
So it’s important to educate yourself on the difference between gagging and choking. With gagging, their face may get red, their eyes may water, you’ll hear some sputtering, and they’ll work hard to cough it up. When you see this, you don’t intervene. You let them work it out. That is SO hard to watch. But if you step in before you need to, you may actually put them at risk of choking because you distract their body from doing its job.
Nearly every BLW resource will tell you to learn infant CPR and choking safety. While YouTube and Google are good outlets to familiarize yourself with what to do in case you ever do have to administer back blows, stomach thrusts, or CPR, hands-on is best. I went back and forth and ultimately decided to take an infant CPR class. In case something awful were to happen, I wanted to know I had educated and trained myself as well as I could to handle the situation.
I should mention many sources say doing the BLW route as opposed to the traditional one doesn’t put your child at a greater risk of choking. They’re going to learn how to handle real foods eventually, they’re just doing it at an earlier age with BLW. But educating yourself, preparing food correctly, and knowing when and how to step in if needed can help you navigate the whole experience with confidence.
- Follow Moms Who Are Rocking It
Mom-comparison on social media can be the death of happiness. But sometimes, like a ray of sunshine through the clouds, you find a virtual friend whose posts inspire you and encourage you to take on whatever scary motherhood pothole lies ahead.
My sister-in-law told me in passing about her friend, Min, who started to document her son’s BLW journey on Instagram. So stop what you’re doing right now and go follow her feed: @calebthefoodie.
She’s a registered dietitian who has shared her BLW experience with her son Caleb on Instagram, and I love love love her content. She comes up with exciting, delicious, and nutritious recipes, and her candor in her posts resonates with the thoughts running through my own head. I found myself often scrolling back to her first posts when I got started doing BLW with Emma, just to get a feel for what those first days would look like. It was so refreshing to have a real person to identify with and mimic as I stumbled into trying to teach my child how to feed herself.
- Find a Buddy Mom
Pre-children, I might have thought texting a friend videos of my baby gagging on a green bean or covering herself in yogurt might be weird. But now? I count myself lucky.
If you know of a mom whose baby is within a few months of your own on the BLW journey, I highly encourage you connect with them. Encourage each other, be honest about how the process is going, share recipes, and celebrate each others’ triumphs (like clearing a plate for the first time – yay!).
Without my buddy mom, my only companions on this ride would have been Google or my own psyche. And that’s not good for anyone.
- Be Patient
I was this close to giving in and whipping up a buttload of purees. My kid acted like a hostage in her highchair from day one, flat out refusing to touch any of the lovingly prepared food placed gingerly before her.
Hard boiled eggs? No.
Luscious avocado slices? Absolutely not.
Steamed sweet potato wedges? Get out of my face, Mom.
But persistence is key. Keep putting that food in front of them. Patiently let them explore the different textures (and eventually tastes). Maybe most of it’ll wind up on the floor in the beginning. Or your dog will become so shockingly fat off of leftovers that the vet “can’t find his ribs.” But Emma eventually turned a corner and transformed from highchair hostage to tiny garbage disposal. So stick with it. I’m so glad I did.
Remember, I am not a professional, nor should my advice be taken as such! But, if like me, you’re a first-time mom wanting to give baby-led weaning a go, I hope these tips offer a bit of insight and encouragement.
Now I’m off to prep a delightfully pretentious and veggie-filled dinner, because thanks to BLW my super awesome baby is now a super awesome tiny foodie.