I just finished power-reading Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. Of all the parenting books I have not yet found time to read, I am so very glad I chose to read this one!
If they are given a chance, almost all babies will show their parents that they are ready for something other than milk simply by grabbing a piece of food and taking it to their mouths. (p. 3)
The key to success with BLW is to see things from the baby’s point of view and try to forget rules that adults apply to eating. (p. 137)
I didn’t want to start Vivian on solids until she was six months because that is what the World Health Organization says is the right time. Of course, many people start between 4-6 months and that is fine - Viv’s pediatrician even said we could - but I just wanted to exclusively breastfeed for as long as possible. So when Vivi started getting interested in food earlier than I thought she should, I was a bit caught off guard. I wasn’t ready!
I think that is the main lesson of parenting - you never will be ready, they grow up too fast!
Since we knew we wanted to give baby-led weaning (BLW) a try, and the whole idea is that Vivian is in control of her transition to solids, I had to act fast.
If they are given a chance, almost all babies will show their parents that they are ready for something other than milk simply by grabbing a piece of food and taking it to their mouths. (p. 3)
But the very best sign that a baby is ready is when she starts to put food into her mouth herself-which she can only do if she is given the opportunity. (p. 9)
The best thing about my desire to breastfeed as long as possible and BLW is that they go very much hand-in-hand.
These first solids-sometimes called complementary foods-are not meant to take over from breast milk or formula but to add to (or “complement”) it, so that the baby’s diet gradually becomes more varied. (p. 2)
I also can’t lie. The first thing that attracted me to BLW was the fact that I wouldn’t be making purees or have to rely on the potentially-life-threatening-garbage-in-tiny-glass-containers also called baby-food [read that in a very sarcastic tone because really, REALLY, everyone is going to go to commercial baby food if they are a parent of a child who is eating.] Anyway, it all came down to parental laziness mixed with excitement that my child could eat the same thing I am eating… but wait, that also means I need to make sure I am eating healthier - so win, win! Of course, there is also some extra work and messiness that comes with BLW and this is another reason spoon-feeding is more popular.
Many parents prefer to spoon-feed babies and young children simply because it is quicker than allowing them to feed themselves. (p. 60)
I’ve seen my sister-in-law do BLW with my niece and nephew but without really calling it anything. Sure it’s messy but seeing it in action with real, live children really made it seem very doable and fun.
Many parents, especially those who have three or more children, have discovered almost by accident that letting the baby take the lead makes life easier and more enjoyable for everyone. (p. 11)
Of course besides being easier to prepare than a bunch of mush, there are many benefits from BLW like hand eye coordination, practicing fine motor skills and the ease of preparing meals for the whole family. That seemed obvious to me, but I never thought of the other benefits.
So, once I decided this was the route to solids we wanted to take I had one hurdle to jump. It was a big one too. CHOKING! It terrifies me and it is paralyzing when I see someone “choke.” To this day, I will remember one Easter when my oldest niece was starting to eat puffs and she “choked” on one. Her face got a little red and she was coughing it out and then it was over and she was perfectly fine. It scared the crap out of me and clearly has stuck with me. Now, after reading Baby-Led Weaning, I know that was not truly choking but rather some vital reflexes in action.
Young babies have a reflex called the “tongue thrust,” which they use (unconsciously) to push anything but the breast or bottle out of their mouth. (p. 42)
The gag reflex may well be a key part of babies’ learning how to manage food safely. When a baby has triggered this reflex a few times, by putting too much food into his mouth or pushing it too far back, he learns not to do it. (p. 46)
So now that I’ve gotten a little clarity on the whole gagging versus choking thing, I feel much better. The book does remind you though that,
However, while gagging is not cause for concern, it’s important to remember that this responder is essentially a safety mechanism. For it to work effectively the baby must be sitting upright, so that any food that has gone too far back in his mouth is pushed forward-not backward-by the reflex. (p. 47)
You may find your baby gags occasionally in the early days… This may look alarming, it is unlikely to worry her, and there’s no need to try and stop it from happening. In fact it may play an important part in her learning, teaching her how to eat safely… (p. 76)
… babies who are allowed to explore food from the start learned not to overfill their mouth because they have been trained by the gag reflex, which is triggered quite far forward on the tongue when the baby is young. (p. 202)
Another good safety reminder is about letting your baby control herself but always under your careful supervision and being diligent on checking for food when mealtime is done.
Don’t put food into your baby’s mouth for her… Letting the baby stay in control is an important safety feature of BLW… NEVER leave your baby alone with food. (p. 92)
Occasionally babies tuck away a piece of food… It’s probably a good idea, once the meal is over to check that this hasn’t happened before your baby starts playing or has a nap. There’s no need to poke around inside her mouth… Just make a game of asking her to open her mouth wide… (p. 75)
Vivian’s first time enjoying raw broccoli and
first time eating while on the go.
Let’s move forward with this solid adventure! When comparing the BLW process to spoon-feeding, I again, didn’t really think about it much. Everyone spoon-feeds and that is normal. But when you think about the act of spoon-feeding, it seems strange. If you put yourself in your baby’s shoes - or let’s be honest, socks with shoe images - being spoon-fed is probably strange and hard to wrap your head around.
If someone approached you with a bowl and spoon and started to spoon-feed you the chances are you would reach out to stop them so you could hack what the food was and how much was on the spoon. You would want to control when and how it went into your mouth. These basic checks would let you predict how to deal with the food once it was in your mouth; planning how to deal with food helps to prevent choking. (p. 48)
That imagery really hit home with me. Of course I wouldn’t be compliant if Tyler propped me up and tried to feed me - unless it was chocolate covered strawberries while I am on a luxurious chaise lounge - I would protest and he would get an ear-full. Then, only if it was something delicious, I’d probably eat and eat and eat until his arm got tired because, heck, I’m doing no work and am mindlessly eating!
Persuading young babies to eat food they don’t want is especially easy to do if they are spoon-fed. Babies who are allowed to feed themselves will naturally manage their own intake-they simply stop eating when they are full. This means they eat as much as they need-and no more… If a baby is allowed to feed himself he will eat at his own pace, taking as much time as he needs with a particular piece of food… Being in control of how much and how quickly he eats not only makes the meal more enjoyable for him, but means that they baby is able to recognize more easily when he is full. (p. 45)
As I was reading I was getting even more pumped up about the possibility that I will raise a daughter who might have healthy eating habits - no binging and purging at our house! And maybe this is the first step in the right direction for a healthy and happy body image too?! All I need to do is release some control! Another amazing comparison came to light about controlling weaning versus general development:
Learning to eat solid foods is a natural stage of development. We don’t control when a baby starts to walk, so it’s not clear why we should control his move to solid foods. No parent would actively prevent their baby from walking when he is showing signs of doing it-it would be seen cruel and potentially harmful. But many parents, without realizing it, exert negative control over their baby’s instinct to eat, by preventing him from feeding himself or not allowing him to make any decisions at mealtimes. (p. 60)
I was already pretty on-board with BLW before I read the book but not even a quarter of the way in, I was really getting gung-ho! So the first steps to BLW are
All you need to do at six months is to start to include your baby whenever you eat… (p. 64)
… your baby shouldn’t be the only one eating. (p. 80)
Aim to treat your baby with the same respect you would any other mealtime companion. That means not telling her what to eat it how much, not constantly wiping her face, and resisting the temptation to do the washing-up while she is still eating! (p. 81)
Talk to her about the different foods, naming them and describing their colors and textures, so that’s she learns new words at the same time as she is developing new skills. (p. 75)
Check! I was off to a good start. That’s where my jumping the gun came in. Against my initial judgment, I learned that,
It’s also important that your baby isn’t hungry when you sit her down to explore food, because in the early weeks of solids, “mealtimes” have nothing to do with hunger and everything to do with play, sharing, and copying others; they are opportunities to learn rather than to actually eat-they are playtimes. (p. 64)
Ok, so I started off wrong there but that wasn’t a big deal. Easy to correct. Vivian now is offered solid food only after nursing which means I don’t have to worry about letting go of breastfeeding because I’m not ready to wean anyway! I can’t imagine not breastfeeding Viv yet and with BLW I most definitely still breastfeed while real food is only a secondary thought.
Try not to feel under pressure to gauge how much your baby is eating. As long as he’s offered a variety of nutritious foods and is still having plenty of milk feedings, it doesn’t matter. (p. 207)
With that in mind we went for it! The first food tip that is good to know is:
Wash your baby’s hands and make sure she is sitting up securely, then simply offer her some stick shapes to play with. If you are offering vegetables, bear in mind they shouldn’t be too soft (or they’ll turn to mush when your baby tries to handle them) or too hard (or she won’t be able to gnaw them easily). (p. 66-67)
Vivian enjoying a breakfast of mango and
banana (notice how to cut the banana and
mango with skin washed and left on).
Of course, I didn’t know about the whole too soft and mushy thing until we tried bananas. The book had some really great suggestions for how to prepare and offer food to your baby. Paraphrased from pages 106-108, some food guidelines are as follows.
Carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips shrink when roasted so cut extra wide finger shapes. Softer vegetables can be offered raw. Large fruits can be cut into sticks or wedges while smaller ones (grapes) need to be cut lengthwise in half. Apples, pears and nectarines can be offered whole - take a bite to get it started for your baby. Some fruits (apples, pears, avocados, mangos, bananas) are easier to hold with some skin left on - just be sure to wash the skin well. For a banana, trim it so the skin makes it look like an ice cream cone. Meats can be offered in large pieces and even on the bone (if unsafe splint bones and gristle are removed). Cut meat across rather than along the fibers but with poultry it is easiest cutting along the fibers so it does not crumble.
Boiling or steaming is good, but a tasty alternative is to toast sticks of vegetables in the oven. This gives them a slightly crisp coating and makes them easier to grip… (p. 106)
Some easy first finger foods for babies are the following: (adapted from p.109-110)
- Steamed (or lightly boiled) whole vegetables, such as green beans, baby corn, and sugar-snap peas
- Steamed (or lightly boiled) florets of cauliflower and broccoli
steamed, roasted or stir-fried vegetable sticks, such as carrot, potato, egg plant, sweet potato, parsnip, pumpkin, and zucchini
- Raw sticks of cucumber (tip: keep some of these ready prepared in the fridge for babies were teething - the coolness is soothing for their gums)
- Thick slices of avocado (not too ripe or will be very squishy)
- Chicken (as a strip of meat or on a leg bone) – warm or cold
- Thin strips of beef, lamb or pork – warm or cold
- Fruit, such as pear, apple, banana, peach, nectarine, mango – either whole or as sticks
- Sticks of firm cheese, such as cheddar
- Rice cakes or toast “fingers”– on their own or with a homemade spread, such as hummus and tomato, or cottage cheese
Foods to avoid or watch out for:
- Whole nuts (or large pieces)
- Fruits such as cherries need to be pitted
- Cut small round fruits in half lengthwise (i.e. cherry tomatoes, grapes)
- Bony fish
- Gristle on meat
- Salt (no more than .4 grams aka 400 mg of sodium per day)
- Artificial sweeteners
- Raw honey
- Raw bran and bran products
- Peanut butter
- Hydrogenated fats (or trans-fatty acids)
Potential allergy triggers to watch out for:
- Peanuts (and other nuts and seeds)
- Shellfish and other fish
- Citrus fruits
- Dairy products
As we get more comfortable with BLW and Vivian’s abilities, we can start giving her our food at any time! This can include sandwiches with cheese and spreads (such as avocado) or pasta. The possibilities are endless and this is going to be one messy and fun ride! I can hardly wait :)
While all these food recommendations and aversions are given, it is also important to keep in mind that this is baby-led weaning. So stay within the guidelines but don’t force anything.
Let her decide what she is going to explore or eat, so try to avoid making these decisions for her by handing her pieces of food. Baby-led weaning works best as a “hands-off” approach-the more you can trust your baby to explore in her own way and in he own time, the faster she’ll learn and the more confident she’ll become. (p. 70)
If he isn’t mature enough to feed himself… then he probably isn’t really ready to digest solid foods either. (p. 121)
Bear in mind that if you offer too much, you might overwhelm your baby otherwise you could be asking for a bigger mess than you bargained for.
Give your baby only a few pieces of food to play with at once; if you overload him he’s likely to want to “clear the decks” just so he can concentrate. (p. 204)
It’s funny to see in practice that the “clearing of the decks” is true! The other day, Viv was done and she shoved all of the leftovers into the corner of her tray or on the floor and started swiping her hands all around.
Most important, never scold your baby for making a mess or letting her know that it bothers you at all. (p. 138)
Of course Glory loves this new family activity. I think having a pet might be a necessary to balance the mess of BLW. I love that the book even considers BLW as a cost saving method with pets,
If you have a dog you may even be able to cut back on dog food; dogs quickly learn to patrol the area around the baby who is self-feeding! (p. 203)
As your baby’s skills develop and she discovers the delights of actually eating the food you offer her, the mess will quickly get less… The secret to coping with the mess is to welcome it and prepare for it in advance. (p. 83)
And this is one of the reasons we will always have a dog in the house - the easiest way to prepare for the starting solids mess!
Another thing I learned from the book is that contrary to what I thought – when you see food in the poop – it
…doesn’t mean that your baby can’t digest the food; it just shows that her body is adjusting to it and developing the enzymes needed to break it down. It will also happen less as she learns to chew foods thoroughly before swallowing. (p. 140)
After feeding Vivian bananas we definitely saw it come out the other end so I knew she had actually eaten a decent amount. However with strawberries, I didn’t see it make its way through to the diaper but rather as a rash on her belly. Tyler fed her the strawberry not knowing it was on the “try later” list but luckily
Many children who have reactions to foods as babies can tolerate those foods by the age of three. (p. 102)
While we won’t be giving Viv anymore strawberries, we are giving her lots of other things to try
Your baby should be offered a small selection of food and allowed to do what he wants with them. There is no need to put food into his hand – and pieces should certainly not be put into his mouth. (p. 177)
As long as you offer her nutritious food, you simply need to trust your baby’s appetite and instinct to know what she needs and when she needs it. (p. 139)
Even though she may have eaten less than you think she should have, she doesn’t need you to “top her off” with something from a spoon; she may well take it to please you-but that doesn’t mean she needed it. (p. 73)
So don’t be surprised if your baby shows no signs of wanting to replace her milk feedings with solids for several months after taking her first mouthful of food… As they begin to eat more at mealtimes, the need for breast milk or formula gets less; how fast this happens varies enormously from baby to baby. (p. 150)
BLW attributes poor manners and temper tantrums at the table to the fact that kiddos can’t control what they are being fed. So in theory BLW should help if I can stay hands-off and not try to control everything since
Small children want to assert their will and become more self-reliant and independent and your child will be happiest where he can succeed on his own and have a sense of achievement. (p. 158)
To be the most self-reliant, Viv needs to first get the hang of eating, then we will start letting her experiment with plastic silverware.
Babies need time to acquire the basic skills before they can start to think about fine-tuning their actions to fit in with their parents’ ideas of polite behavior. And they need to be included in family mealtimes as much as possible, so they get to see how others behave. (p. 163-164)
When you include him in your meals, really include him, and as soon as he has learned the basics of eating, set a place for him with his own [child-sized] utensils… he’ll work out what to do with a fork or spoon (using a knife will take quite a bit longer). (p. 158)
The book mentions that while spoons seem to be the obvious choice for a first utensil because they aren’t pokey but in reality, forks are easier than spoons because they hold on to the food better. Once Viv has enough coordination we should also offer real cups of water at home and sippy cups while out and about.
Cups that are slanted are designed for babies to learn about tipping; they need to be tipped less than standard cups and the baby has a clearer view of what’s in the cup and what happens when it’s tipped. (p. 162)
Another funny tip was to try using really small cups - not just child size cups - since they will be like drinking out of a bucket for a young baby so the suggestion was… shot glasses! Haha too funny! I tried it out with Vivian, but instead of a shot glass (since we only had real glass ones) I used the nipple cap to a bottle! It was the perfect size for play and drinking practice although she does have a long ways to go before using a real cup. I will continue letting her enjoy trying to hold it and dumping water all over her tray and playing in it.
Beef jerky (low sodium) and a carrot with a taste of water.
I really look forward to Viv experimenting with the water cup
Part of exploring, for your baby, may involve his finding out what can be put into a cup as well as what comes out of it. He may be fascinated to discover which foods float and which ones sink. While adults may not like their drinks to taste of sprouts or fish, this is unlikely to worry your baby. (It’s a good idea, though, to take out any small pieces of food, such as peas, before he drinks, to minimize the risk of choking.) (p. 163)
So that is a lot of advice on how to get going with baby-led weaning but another important aspect of it is nutrition. I was at a loss for how much my pint sized kiddo needed to eat. I know she is getting most of her nutrition from breastmilk but once she naturally starts taking less and less, I need to make sure I am giving her an array of nutritious food. And how often should she be eating? Luckily answers were given in great detail in the book.
Parents are sometimes told that all babies should be on three meals a day by eight months but although most babies may be keen to handle and play with food three times a day at this age, many still won’t be eating much, and even more won’t want anything other than breastmilk or formula for breakfast. (p. 130)
As for the nutrition guidelines, they are very similar to an adult’s but the serving size is going to be much, much less
Bear in mind that a baby-sized portion is a baby-sized handful… the handful “rule” won’t really be a true guide until [about one year]. (p. 186)
Nutrition guidelines to follow:
- 3 vegetables
- 2 fruit
- 2 to 3 grains or starchy vegetables
- 1 meat, fish, and other protein rich foods such as lentils
- 1 cheese, milk, yogurt, and other calcium-rich foods such as hummus and small-boned fish
- .25 healthy fats (olive oil, nuts and seeds)
Much like I believe with everything that has to do with raising a child and watching their development, with BLW
it’s best not to think much about what “should” happen and just let your baby set the pace. (p. 130)
You’ll probably find that by around nine or ten months she is eating pretty much the same range of foods as the rest of the family… she can manage most things without a problem. (p. 131)
To really help create the best relationship between baby and food, it is important not to use food as a reward. This one will be hard. I mean really hard because it is so embedded into our culture. However, the book brings up an amazing point that I truly believe in.
Treats for being good may seem harmless enough, but bear in mind that the reward you (or other members of the family) choose to give is unlikely to be a plate of vegetables or a banana – it’s much more likely to be chocolate, cookies, or candy. Your child will very quickly begin to see this food is especially desirable and come to expect them whenever he’s well-behaved… Your child may begin to see chocolate and sweets as “better” than other foods… (p. 171-172)
Maybe, when the time comes, if I used carrots and peas instead of m&m’s as a treat that would be better… just a thought!
Finally, I will end on this last quote about getting everyone who helps feed your child on board with the route you want to take.
Make sure [caregivers] know that you want your baby to be allowed to take his time over his food and that you really mean it when you say it doesn’t matter how much or how little he eats… babysitters would feel they were neglecting a basic duty if they didn’t make sure a child they were caring for ate as much as they thought he should. (p. 178)
It is important for caregivers to know the basics of the BLW principals not only for safety reasons, but also to better your child. I can’t imagine having all the control at mealtime then have someone come force food on me or something like that.
Anyway, I hope this overview might be helpful for some of you getting ready to feed your littles too. We are only a week in and it is a smashing success (pun intended)! Now go have fun with food!