A Finger-Friendly Approach to Solids: Baby-Led Weaning

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baby-led weaning
When my older daughter was born, to be a “good” mom you had to make your own baby good. And being the frugal naturalist and “good” mom that I am, I jumped on that train! No preservatives and no extra money spent on jarred baby food. (Hope you catch the sarcasm there!) But after a month or so of homemade purees, I realized there might be an easier way. What if I gave her the food on my plate? At the time, it seemed easy enough to just cut my food into small enough pieces for her to “mouth”. She would eventually figure out how to chew and swallow them.

Upon having my second child, a friend recognized my thought behind my approach and realized I was only a few steps away from what she did with her kids. That friend lent me her book with the original title, Baby-Led Weaning. This approach totally resonated with me. Why would I feed my baby “special” food just for her, as if she were not capable of our food? Is that really what our ancestors did? Why not just give her a chunk of food off my plate for her to hold, explore, and “mouth”? Wouldn’t she eventually learn how to chew it and swallow it? And thus my experience with baby-led weaning began.

For those of you new to this approach, I will explain as I go, but bear with me here as I share just a bit of why I LOVE baby-led weaning!

1. There’s no extra meal prep work for Mom and Dad. (Compare this to taking the time to make purees and then thaw a frozen one, while preparing a different dinner for your family.) I just gave my daughter food off my plate. Chicken, avocadoes, tomatoes, strawberries, eggs, broccoli, sweet potato, oatmeal cakes, you name it! I avoided (and at 10 months, still am) processed foods, sugars, and bread. (I only recently introduced gluten in the form of pasta, though I still choose to avoid it. Simply because I think there are healthier options from which to choose.)

Since we do not have food allergies in our family, I did not have to avoid any certain foods, other than too much salt and spices, or anything of my choosing. I was okay with her having a meal I cooked that consisted of more than one ingredient. Perhaps it’s my mentality, perhaps it’s the fact that we don’t have food allergies, or maybe it’s the fact that my baby is a second-born. But whatever the reason, this just was not a concern of mine.

Here is an example of what I feed my little one!

baby-led weaning foods

2. Everyone in the family can eat at the same time. This becomes even more crucial with every additional child added. With purees, even if Baby is eating with the family, Mom or Dad is still having to spoon feed the baby, which means they are missing out on their hot meal. And who knows when they will get to eat after that. Once Baby is done, she’s done. Know what I mean? I love that with BLW, we can all sit down to eat, and the baby eats her food as we eat ours. Before she was actually eating it, she was exploring it with her hands and mouth, so she was still occupied and sitting with the family.

3. Baby gets used to many different textures. Since we live in a day when so many children have texture issues with foods, I love that this exposes babies early to different textures. I am not making any claims as to the cause or cure of food texture issues, but BLW makes sense as a great starting ground to hope to encourage eating a variety of foods and textures. I did a BLW-esque approach with my older daughter, and other than typical 3-year-old opinions, she does not have any food issues. She’s generally a very good eater.

4. When a baby is nursed, they are in control of how much they drink and for how long, so continuing that trend makes sense. The baby is a very active participant in the nursing process. With purees, suddenly the baby is being spoon-fed and has no say in what she’s eating or how much. I love that BLW allows the baby to eat on her own and allows her to learn how much to eat – when she is full and still hungry.

Some questions I am often asked include:

Q: Aren’t you afraid she is going to choke?

A: No. The book above does a great job explaining this, but here’s the short answer. An adult’s gag reflex is near the back of our mouth, by our throat, where we would choke. A baby’s gag reflex is actually at the center of their tongue, much sooner than where they would choke. So if my baby begins to gag, she has had plenty of time and ability to get the food out of her mouth before choking would occur. Believe me, as a mom, this still took some getting used to. Neither of my girls has been much of a “gagger” but still they have their moments and I have sat on the edge of my seat ready to pounce and act. I’ve watched attentively as my baby learns how to get food out of her mouth but allowed her to learn. This is actually an important skill!

Q: Oh she eats chunks of food, so she must have a lot of teeth?

A: My children generally are on the earlier side of the “normal” range for teething, but that said, baby-led weaning has nothing to do with when they get their teeth in. Your front teeth, which come in first, are really for cutting food. Your molars in the back don’t come in until much later. Those are the teeth that help with chewing. So until they come in, babies chew with their gums. It’s really an act, a motion, that they are learning. We began baby-led weaning before she had teeth. The few teeth she now has are only partial teeth (still coming in), so I am going to assure you that her teeth really aren’t a huge part of this process.

Q: But if she is just putting food in her mouth, and then it falls out, what’s the point?

A: The idea behind baby-led weaning is that babies learn to chew before they learn to swallow. With purees, they learn to swallow first, so then when you give them chunks of food later, they still have to learn the skill of chewing. They basically have to reverse. Baby-led weaning is the opposite. Give them food to explore. First they’ll explore with hands and their mouth. Then they will eventually chew, though don’t expect much to stay in. Swallowing is the last thing they learn. So while it does take a couple of months (in our case) to figure the process out, it’s completely normal. I didn’t stress.

Q: But if her intake is so slow, are you waiting too long for her to eat solids?

A: Not in my opinion. I am a big believer in breast milk before solids throughout the first year of life. (I have not given my child formula, so I can’t speak to that.) So I want her #1 food to be breast milk. Feeding my baby solids is really more about her learning to eat solid foods, rather than filling her tummy with them. Of course, I let her eat until she is full (also a great thing to learn!) but I am okay with her figuring out how to get them in her body later.

Q: What about utensils? (I haven’t actually been asked this, though I’ve seen it asked, so I thought I would address it.)

A: You can give a BLW baby a plastic spoon or fork just as you would a baby with purees. In fact, it may be easier with BLW because they can hold a utensil in the same manner they can hold their other foods. Babies learn a lot by watching us, so using a fork and spoon yourself show them how to use these utensils. Also giving them a spoon or fork “loaded” is helpful for teaching them how to use them as well. You’ll notice in the photo above that I have a peanut butter spoon on my baby’s tray. She understands to hold the handle and put the wide part in her mouth.

*I know any mommy activity can be controversial, so I want to say that I totally respect other views! Do what works best for your family and your lifestyle! Since I get a lot of comments about homemade purees on this blog, I wanted to share an alternative I have taken a liking to this year. Ask questions and feel free to comment, but keep on your big girl panties please!

 

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Comments

  1. Thank you Ashleigh! Our older daughter is super picky and in hindsight it’s all my fault. She always had a “different” dinner than we did, whether that was pureed baby food or her few favorite meals that toddlers gravitate towards. Now it’s a fight at every meal to get her to branch out, sometimes even affecting where we can eat out because they don’t have something I know she’ll eat. Such a battle. I will absolutely be trying BLW with our second daughter. Thanks again for the informative post!

  2. Even though we don’t have kids yet I found this so interesting! This idea seems to make so much sense — thanks for sharing!

  3. ashleigh – wondering your thoughts on starting cereal (at 4-5 months) before food (at 6 months)? Do you think it’s bad for them to learn the act of swallowing the cereal and then have to reverse and learn to chew her food first just a month later? And, is it worth the extra iron to give them the cereal? Thanks friend.

    • Girl I am so sorry I just saw this! You should have texted me! This probably isn’t helpful now, buuuut I skip cereal. I try not to do any grains until closer to a year. I do give real oatmeal around 9ish months… whenever I start giving 3 actual meals.
      As far as learning to swallow versus chew first. I did actually give Adeline some egg yolk (spoon fed) first. Eggs are a great first food with so many nutritional benefits that I felt it outweighed the reversal of eating. Plus it’s more like just putting it on her tongue, since egg yolk doesn’t have the substance to swallow the way cereal does. That said, aside from egg yolk, I do think it’s better just to dive into BLW. Skip the cereal and go for it!
      Is this info still helpful? Sorry I just saw this!

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