Exploring Baby-Led Weaning as alternative solids introduction

July 12 | Guest post by Brooke Edwards
Поел глазами :)
Photo by Kate Ferrara, used by Creative Commons license

The task of feeding another human being is an enormous responsibility. It can really make you think about the foods you eat when you start considering them going into your baby's mouth.

Prior to my online discovery of baby-led weaning (acronym alert: "BLW"), I had made and frozen a bunch of baby food purees—squash, green beans, sweet potatoes, peaches, pears. I had this image of Sadie dining on locally-grown produce, picked and processed while in season. We got a little hasty with starting Sadie on solids (she just seemed SO READY), so we stuck with rice and then oat baby cereal, putting the pureed fruits and vegetables on hold. Once she reached six months, we started experimenting with the purees. It was going fairly well, and I'm not even sure what prompted me to Google "baby-led weaning." But once I'd done my usual amount (like 100 hours or something) of online research and ruminating, we went full-steam ahead and haven't looked back since.

The basic principle is that, at or around six months, babies are developmentally ready to learn—not just to eat—but to feed themselves. What an idea! Instead of shoveling mush into Sadie's mouth, I could give her whole foods (in appropriately-sized pieces, mind you—the definition of which is open for interpretation) and let her figure it out. There's not a ton of information out there about baby-led weaning, so some of it involves just winging it and paying attention to common sense.

Basically, I try to feed Sadie some of what we're eating. Of course, we only feed her the parts that are Sadie-appropriate (so, no fried catfish or anything like that). For example, the other night we had a dish with eggplant, onion, garlic, herbs, tomatoes and green olives. I didn't want her to have the tomatoes (possibly allergenic—but I'm starting to question all of the allergy rules) or the olives (way too salty), so I just pulled out a few pieces of the eggplant before I added those ingredients. Should have pulled out more—she loved the eggplant! Sometimes our dinner is totally inappropriate (we're working on this), so I'll do a little something special, like steam up some carrots or give her some toast. And she almost never eats all that I've got for her, so I save it for a meal the next day.

So, let me clarify: I am by no means a nutritionist. Or a doctor. Or anything other than a mom who reads and writes a lot. Don't take my word on anything—do your own research! I definitely don't claim that this is the best or the one right way to teach babies about solid food. It's just what makes the most sense to me with Sadie. If she weren't the proactive baby she is, this might have gone horribly. Disclaimers aside, this REALLY clicked with me.

Ok, tips from my personal experience:

  • I feel like Sadie is truly learning how to eat real foods. Yes, she gags. No, she's never choked. A couple of times I've helped her get a tricky piece of food out of her mouth with her finger, but she's even learned how to do this for herself. The gagging has taken some patience on my part to get through. Having always seen adults jump out of their seats at the first sign of difficulty and whack the baby on the back or swipe a finger in the mouth, I had to re-train myself a bit. Instead of assuming she's about to need the Heimlich, whenever she's having trouble, I just wait her out. And she works it out on her own. Oh, and this is all with just two teeth. She puts those gums to work!
  • I feel like this will help her develop healthy eating attitudes and habits. My job is to present her with healthy food options. Her job is to decide what goes in her mouth. No force feeding (this goes along very well with Attachment Parenting principle two, Feed with Love and Respect). At this point, her nutritional needs are still being met by my breastmilk. Any solids she eats are just for the experience of it. I'm not sure how things might change after her first birthday, when she will need a more complete diet of solid foods, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there.
  • I suspect this will also help her be a less picky eater. For one thing, she's already been tasting my diet every time she nurses (so she's good and ready for Ben and Jerry's as soon as I let her, I'm sure). Aside from salt, I'm no longer avoiding seasoning the food I give her. There have been very few things she's fully rejected, so I take this as a decent sign.

If there's a Next Time, I definitely plan on waiting the full six months before introducing any solids and starting with whole solids from the beginning. No mush at all! I'm pretty sure that pureed baby foods came about at a time when the trend was to start your baby on solids at three or four months. And an industry was born. But at six months, many babies can sit unsupported/in a high chair, can pick up smallish objects, can put these objects in their mouths, and can do some chewish movements with their jaws. Sounds like a good case for not spoon-feeding a six-month-old to me!

  1. Interesting. We waited the full 6 months with our first but this time we started a bit before 5 months on the recommendation of our pediatrician. I definitely think the 6 months went better, our baby still pushes most food out at 5 months. I was wondering recently if mothers in other cultures feed their babies straight table food or if they smash it up for them. Even at almost 5.5 months, our baby's favorite food is somewhat-smashed banana rather than truly pureed food or cereal. So maybe he is trying to tell me something.

    • I spoke to an Indian colleague of mine about this a while back – she said that when her daughter was a baby, she just fed her curry. Not dumbed-down curry, but the stuff that Mom and Dad were eating. Apparently that's common in India (or at least the part of India she and her husband are from)!

      • I've lived in East and West Africa, and it's basically the same as in India. In my experience, nobody gives babies specially puréed foods! Basically you breast-feed until 6-24 months, then move to soft foods, generally whatever everyone else is eating. A lot of women in East Africa chew food first before giving it to their babies if the food is going to be hard to eat (but in areas where there is high HIV-prevalence, this isn't recommended). Anyway! The point is, specially marketed baby-food is a bit of a western commercial invention.

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  2. Oh, man. Thank you.

    I just had an argument last week with my mother about my future child and baby food (I'm ten weeks pregnant — thus the anonymity; I'm super paranoid about my boss finding out before I tell him).

    I was telling my mom that I didn't see very much reason to feed my kid baby food from a jar. My mother was appalled at this idea. I'm delighted to hear that there are other people who are just feeding their babies (completely appropriate) food.

    My partner, who hasn't really ever been around babies, was like, "There's baby food you buy at the store? What is it?" "Pureed things," I said. He replied, "Hell, I can puree things!"

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    • The only thing I found the pre-packaged baby foods were good for was the packaging. We saved a bunch of single serving plastic heinz babyfood tubs, and theyre like free tupperware, and exactly the right size for ice cubed purees or a fistfull of cheese, cheerios, berries, etc.

      • I remember those, they are great tiny little tupperware to take snacks in with little lids and everything!

        • Ball makes tiny canning/jam jars that are the PERFECT size for transporting baby-sized portions of food around. I used them to give gifts of apple butter to friends at Christmas last year, but mentally noted that they'd be great for baby food along the line.

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          • Oh man, my son is just getting to that stage of development, and I've been looking for baby food sized containers. Excellent idea! And glass, too boot, so no worries about BPA.

          • We use the little canning jars in a 1/2 cup (125ml) size. We stick them in the freezer and thaw them as needed. They are about the perfect amount.

    • A baby food mill, which is about $12 new or $3 used is incredibly useful for pureeing your food into baby food.

      My daughter decided at 7 months and no teeth that she wouldn't eat mush. She wanted to feed herself.

  3. My daughter is almost a year old, and she eats EVERYTHING. Aside from really spicy stuff, I have let her try everything that I eat, and she loves it all. I believe that we can sometimes create our own picky eaters. I have seen it time and time again with family members deciding for their kids what they do and don't like before giving them a chance to really try for themselves. I am also no expert though, but I just am not the most organized person and the thought of having to prepare two different meals seemed a little daunting to me, so I have encouraged self feeding and experimenting with all foods.

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    • I have to say that our kid was a "eat everything" kid until about 2.5 years. I don't know why, but it seems like he stopped eating everything at this point and just wanted favorites. He wouldn't touch things he's had a hundred times. I think there are stages where it is hard to prevent kids from being picky, but continuing to offer them variety is supposed to help them regain an open mind once that stage passes. Still waiting for it to pass, so no personal experience there…

      • That's an evolutionary thing! Think about cave-babies; babies who aren't mobile eat everything because their parents are in charge of their food. But once they begin toddling, the "picky eater" defense kicks in to prevent them from eating poisonous berries or plants in the wild!

        Fascinating stuff. 🙂

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        • thats so neat I never thought of it that way, very very interesting and seriously food for thought

        • I've read about this, before! I always feel happy when I realize that humans have retained a little bit of their evolutionary instinct.

    • I hear you with the organized thing. I opennly admit my first though when I read about baby-led weaning was, good, less work for me! Meal time is stressful enough as is! 😀

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  4. We kind of do a mix of spoon feeding and BLW. Our son is almost 8 months old LOVES things like yogurt and applesauce and doesn't mind being spoon fed things like that. We also give him little pieces of whatever healthy stuff we're eating and he has had no problems with gagging or choking, which I was really afraid of.

    Right now his favorite things are strawberries and blueberries. We aren't really holding off on giving him things that could be allergenic, seems like that would make for a fussier eater later on down the road, as everything these days seems to be an allergen for someone.

    • Seriously with the allergens! I was so scared to feed my first baby anything, and now I have a friend who is an allergist who tells me that that might be a part of the reason kids end up with a lot of allergies, because the breastfeeding mom avoided them or they were not introduced until the kid was older. So now I don't really know what to do with things like strawberries and eggs and all the things I was told to be afraid of the first time around.

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      • The allergy thing is sort of funny in that the experts flip around a lot. The current guidelines from Health Canada, interestingly enough, are to wait until six months, then introduce whatever you want, just one at a time so you can watch for reactions.

    • We're doing the same type of thing with Miles. I actually didn't even realize it was a "method!" He seems to really enjoy certain "squishy" foods (cereal, yogurt) that he can't really feed himself (that spoon thing is tough!) so I feed him those, but I tend to just hand him little chunks of whatever I'm eating to experiment with, and so far, so good. And yeah, I am sooooo bad about that "wait 3 days between new foods" rule. Like, really bad. I'm just not organized enough to remember what I gave him when.

      • I can never remember either. And I haven't done the "single ingredient food" thing either. Joaquin's first food was gazpacho!

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  5. I'm so glad you wrote this. I've always disliked spoon feeding babies! It was fun, for like, two bites, then I was ready to do something else. I've always been the first one to hand my kids stuff and watch them figure it out. Once, I put the highchair in the bathroom and let me son eat his yogurt with a spoon. I took a bath. Then, I got out and just put him in!

    Of course, then there was the time that my son kept reaching for my spicy mexican food. I figured he would learn best by trying it. Now, I have an 8 yo who puts jalopenos on his fajitas!

    Also, what happens when you hand a baby an apple slice? Give him a few seconds and it'll be mashed in his fist in no time. That's the easiest way to make puree!

  6. I'm totally doing the "little bits of whatever I'm eating" with Tavi, and thus far it's been really great. I do spoon feed him when it's goopy stuff like yogurt, but for the most part it's finger food he can jam into his little face all by himself. I found this video pretty interesting:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/louisianablue2000/2629434614/

    I've been pretty "daring" I guess — strawberries, eggs, peanut butter, little pancakes. Basically, whatever I'm eating, he gets to try. To be fair, I think my fearlessness with Tavi' food might be in part because I live behind a hospital — if anything were to happen (choking, allergic reaction) I'd just run out the back door to urgent care.

    Also, this is another one of those parenting things that I'm like "That's a THING?" It feels like common sense to me: babies reach out for your food, so you give them little bits of it to try. It blows my mind a little that it's enough of a THING to have its own (twitch) acronym.

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    • I also didn't realize this was a "thing". I know lots of parents who do this, I wonder if they even know it's a "thing"!

      • I didn't realize this was a thing either, I just thought it was what you were supposed to do. We have a really pro-women/kid's health maternity hospital in my area, so all our public health pre-natal parenting classes included instructions to wait till 6 months, start with family foods and encourage self-feeding. I just thought that's what everyone was being advised to do.

    • whatever i eat aiden eats, it makes life easier

      but i've thrown out the allergy rules too, the recommendations on allergies actually just changed, most were thrown out

      when i asked my sons dr about he said "well they're always changing guild lines and i can't keep up"

      aiden has eaten all the "no no" foods and we're allergy free! (but i am keeping my fingers crossed)

    • I guess, for some of us, it's a "thing" because we only know what we were exposed to. Certainly, every baby in my family was spoon-fed, all our food was cut up into tiny, tiny bits and I never saw anyone give their baby whole pieces of food except maybe a bagel to gnaw on. When I did BLW with Alice, I was met with a lot of arguments/skepticism until I sent my mother the BLW guidelines from Gil Rapley's book. She slowly came around, and came around quicker when she saw it in action. Some people were hesitant to be in charge of feeding Alice when I wasn't around and I just told them to do whatever they were comfortable with, spoon-feeding or otherwise!

  7. I have done this method with both my children (the eldest is 2 and my youngest is 7 1/2 months.) I love it, the mush approach never seemed right for us. My son is like me, he very much picks food based on new interesting textures. Mush is just… gross texture wise.

    As for the allergen thing, I think it is very much an individual choice. With the exception of seafood (my husband is allergic to shellfish) I have always fed them everything we eat. Eggs, peanuts, cheese… All the no nos without any problems, even heavily spiced foods. My son will eat virtually anything now (except raw tomatoes) and even picks vegetables over junk food! If in doubt, start with a little and wait and see.

    My one suggestion with doing this method is to know how to handle a choking baby, the method is different then with an adult. It is good to know even if you are not doing baby-led weaning!

  8. We give our little man (9 months) bits of pretty much everything we eat. His main food is formula and mixtures of the pureed baby foods with baby cereal. We feed him with a spoon, but are teaching him how to do it himself too. It's pretty entertaining watching him aim that spoon for his mouth. He definitely has finger foods down, but I want him to know how to use utensils too, so we do that as well.

    As for allergens, our doctor told us that as long as your family has no history of allergies, you should be okay. I'm pretty sure we've never worried about it too much…our son was eating scrambled eggs with Dad for breakfast at 6 months, and he hasn't died yet 🙂

  9. We did the baby food thing, a lot because until recently I didn't cook dinner every night, and it seemed like the easiest way to make sure he was getting decent food.

    That said, it very rapidly became he would want what we were eating, and that works well for us. If I thought he could gum it into small pieces, I let him have it. If he couldn't, I'd cut it up for him. Before his first birthday he'd had Indian with us, loved spices, and could not get enough of eggs.

    I knew a mom who didn't feed her baby solids until said baby was almost a year old — because the mess made the mom nuts. I mean seriously; I was there once, and if the baby spat anything out the mom could not deal with it. She got over it.

  10. As a funny side story, I had just introduced my oldest to potato logs (homemade fries w/out salt- well, we salted ours, not his.) Anyway, we noticed that he would pick up a potato, bag it on the table a couple times and then put it in his mouth. We were puzzled till we realized that we were doing the same thing- except dipping it in ketchup. He had no ketchup, so was just banged his on the table! Evidence of the copycat!

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  11. We did a mix of BLW with our son…and he started demanding food WAY early. By 6 months he had completely weaned himself of nursing (literally, I would offer and he was like, NO,) and was eating anything that was on my plate AND tub after tub of baby food.
    He's 18 months old now and is starting to get a little more picky, but he is always willing to eat fresh fruit and veggies. And if you try and give him chocolate, he refuses :]

    • I aslo refused chocolate till I was 4 or 5, on the grounds that it was dirt-colored. Maybe that's the reason?

  12. The rule in my house growing up was I always had to taste everything. If I didn't like it that was fine, but I had to taste it. I followed the same path with my oldest, she will now at least try anything I give her. Which has turned into she will basically eat anything I give her. I love to watch other peoples faces when we are out at sushi, and my 8 year old is eating raw fish like it's candy. After seeing how well this has turned out with Nevaeh, I plan on exposing her 3 month sister to foods even younger than I did with her. My partner is a chef, and so are most of his friends, so unique food is always around.

    I was having a conversation the other day with one of our friends, he is half Japanese, and was telling me how babies in other countries barely eat pureed food. Feeding babies small bits of the food we are eating is just common sense, not a "THING".

    I think most people forget that babies are just small adults when it comes to most stuff. We supposedly are "protecting" our kids, I think we are just preventing them from being as capable as they are able to be.

    • Pureed baby food has started to catch on in Japan but I know when I was in SE Asia there was no such thing as little jars of baby food. Baby eats what mom and dad eats!

  13. I was just discussing this yesterday,now with my nephew (who I was a serious part time care giver to) I smooshed up whatever I was eating and with me he ate a vegan diet (just like Auntie) and he ate whatever mommy gave him too (although I have to comment he preferred tempeh to chicken nuggets)I have to say it did get him a variety of foods. Now with me I do all the cooking so we have a mostly vegan pantry and fridge but I am also allergic to peanuts and seafood I am worried if I don't give future imaginary children these things they'll end up with allergies but we can't even have those in the house. ahh the imaginary struggles we have.

  14. BLW seems to be more common over here in the UK I think? Even my health visitor was recommending it and it's definitely something we will do if we can (with severe silent reflux baby with multiple food intolerances it might not work). There's a book written on BLW by Gill Rapley who is a nurse/midwife/breastfeeding councillor in the UK and really pioneered it over here.

    • Indeed! When I was researching BLW online, almost everything I came across was from the UK. Which is why I wanted to share what I'd learned/figured out. Our pediatrician is pretty laid-back, so she was very supportive. She's not even worried that Sadie, now 15 months, refuses to drink any milk that doesn't come out of my boob.

  15. We tried feeding the purees but she had no interest. She never even finished off even one small jar. She hated the bland cereals, even mixed with my milk, or fruit. So pediatrician said, "give her what youre eating, within reason" and we did.

    Recently my MIL came over and sneered at my filthy high chair and asked why it was so dirty. As I explained to her that we let our daughter feed herself ( and at 13 months she is good with a spoon!)it dawned on me that my MIL would never have let her kids feed themselves or make a mess with food, and thats why she was so put off by my messy chair.

    My kid flings, smears, smushes, pinches and scoops whatever she shows interest in. She has faves,but she tries a bite of everything.

  16. hmm, I've been thinking about this kind of thing a lot lately. We fed Little Man jars since about 4 months or so. He's just turned a year now and has more or less lost interest in them. It's very interesting to see his tastes evolve, and he's always been very interested in what everyone else was eating (and likes to share). He's always been quite good at feeding himself, and if he gets messy, that why we have bath time after supper! Still quite the boob man though, that weaning is definitely not going as fast!

  17. Hamish could eat a whole banana at about 6/7 months. At Mama-baby group while the other Mums where trying to shovel mashed peas and cereal into their little darlings, I'd whip out a banana, peel it and hand it to the wee man who would scoff it in about 30 seconds! It became almost like a party trick. People would stare convinced he was going to choke.

    • At my parenting group last week, one of the moms happened to glance over as Tavi was scarfing down a bit of soft cheese.

      "What's he eating!?" she asked me, aghast. I think maybe she thought he'd picked something up off the floor.

      "Cheese," I shrugged.

      "Does he have teeth?" she asked.

      "Not yet," I said. "He just gums it into submission."

      She was amazed — like you said, almost like a party trick!

  18. Ha! The baby in the picture is in the same kinda Ikea high chair we used. We chose it because it was the easiest to hose down. Fancy fabric covered chairs are hopeless in the face of a BLW mess!

  19. I did BLW with Bunbun and she was one of the rare ones who had a choking incident (FIRST time she ever had food) and she also has some allergies (eggs and peanuts). Even with that there's no way I'd do it differently. She adores food and adores dinner time and has so much fun with food that I can't imagine sitting down and feeding her bland pap. She's a big fan of orange food but at the moment avocado is the favourite. Last week it was tomatoes. And always banana *shudder*.

  20. My 8 month old developed some sort of reaction to tomatoes after having them twice a week for a few weeks. It's too bad, he loves pasta and sauce. I'm hoping the reaction is temporary.

    He's doing pretty good with self feeding. Some bits of food get in his mouth, other bits hit the floor…or a cat or two.

  21. My son is only 3 months old, but I am SO excited about weaning him. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE breastfeeding, but I can't wait watch him learn to eat and discover his favourites.

  22. My baby girl is 6months old now & we've been doing a mix of the store-bought baby foods and whatever. Also got some healthyTimes organic teething biscuits. She doesn't have any teeth yet, but she was showing the other signs of being ready a couple months ago and we started her on the cereals (one at a time) and she took to it like a pro. She's had all sorts of fruits and veggies and liked pretty much everything. We also have the Munchkin Fresh Food Feeders which have been nice for preventing the gagging even, but with Cheerios and the teething biscuits we've had some gags & she, too, has worked them out, though I was ready to go with the heimlich!
    The only foods she didn't seem to much care for were the lemon slice we put in the mesh feeder (though she gave it more than a fair try!) and the Cheerios but that may have been just because she was tired. 😉

  23. It's pretty funny reading back over this post. Sadie's now 15 months, and I definitely let her eat some fried catfish the other weekend. We're Arkansans, what can I say?

    It is strange that BLW is a "THING," and I guess it probably has a lot to do with your own family. The family I come from is a bit on the paranoid side. I honestly thought all babies choked ALL THE TIME, because I was so used to seeing my family freak out whenever a niece or nephew gagged a little. So, it was like a mini-revolution for me when I read about BLW.

    As for the goopy foods… we've always just let Sadie go after it. You'd be surprised how much yogurt she can shovel in her mouth with her little hands. We give her a spoon, and she's learning, but she's pretty adept with her paws.

    So the update is that Sadie would be a fruitatarian if we allowed it. She can just about eat her weight in (local) blueberries. She's also very into green vegetables (whew, for now at least). Not so much into the carbs (how is this possible, I wonder), so I try to be sneaky and douse the whole-grain pasta in delicious homemade marinara. She has still NEVER choked, and I can't even remember the last time she gagged. I'm sure she'll continue to have her pickinesses, but I'm so glad to have discovered BLW.

  24. We also did BLW with our now-2-year-old and I'll do it again with my new one when she's ready! (In fact, I submitted a post on this to OBM but yours is much better written than mine!) We started when she was almost 7 months old because I found the process of pureeing food to be a waste of time and tedious!

    At 2 years old, Alice is still a pretty adventurous eater, definitely more so than other 2 year olds, but she has her bouts of pickiness, which I chalk up to normal toddler behavior and exerting her independence.

    She's pretty good with utensils but still prefers to use her fingers of most of the time!

    I think of the biggest benefits of BLW is that we all eat much better/healthier because of it.

    Also, there have been some evidence that BLW helps to promote language development, for two reasons. The act of chewing food strengthens the jaw muscles. My speech pathologist- stepmother recommends straw cups (over sippies) for the same reason.
    Second, families that do BLW are more likely to eat meals together as a family, which means kids are exposed to meal conversations and included in the conversations as well.

    I highly recommend reading Gil Rapley's book because she really stresses the difference between choking and gagging, which helped me feel comfortable and relaxed while Alice was eating. You can't do BLW if you are at all anxious about it– you really do need to have a sit back and relax attitude during meals in order to avoid the tension and stress that leads to choking, or the curbing of exploration, which is the whole point really, in the beginning.

    • oh yeah, we skipped botles and sippies and went straight for the straw. So glad we did.

  25. I have to go back to the video link that Ariel posted. The face that the baby made when she tried mango was absolutely freakin priceless! Reading on their website I believe her mother (?) refers to it as the 'You've Poisoned Me!' face. Awesome!

  26. aw man i wish it had gone as well at our house as all the descriptions here. my daughter loathed anything pureed with a vengeance, had zero teeth (but all the teething symptoms early) until 17.5 months, refused to nurse *and* refused formula (i pumped for 19 months), and we dealt with lots of choking/gagging/throwing up with the stuff she was actually willing to try. our lives revolved (still do, really) around doing all sorts of "marketing" to get her to eat, including figuring out the right words to use to name things that she will eat if we "sell it" with the right name but totally reject if we call it the wrong (correct) name. revel in your successes, mommas!

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