Due to the fact that Caitlyn is far more interested in what we are eating than her purees, we have taken a much more baby led weaning approach this time.
I wanted to share some more information for those thinking about baby led weaning. I am no expert myself, so today I have asked the lovely Donna from Redhead Babyled to share a bit more about baby led weaning, and her experiences weaning her now 2 year old.
I first heard about Baby Led Weaning shortly after my Daughter LP was born. I didn’t have any friends or family with young children so most of the information that I gathered about weaning (and anything else baby related!) was from internet forums and online research. However, everything pointed me in the direction of Gill Rapley’s book ‘Baby Led Weaning’ as a good starting point to decide which route we wanted to go down – traditional weaning or Baby Led.
I’m by no means a BLW expert but thought I would write a post with the things I have learnt during my BLW journey with LP and the things I will be putting into practice when Little Man starts weaning next month.
Baby Led Weaning is basically where you give your baby the same food that you eat and don’t mash or puree it first. The baby will spend time playing with the food, touching it and getting a general feel for it. They’ll even chew it, suck it and lick it and most babies won’t actually eat very much of it at all when they start baby led weaning – the whole process is about the baby learning about food, how to handle it and how to eat by themselves.
To start BLW, a baby needs to be able to sit with little or no support – this is for safety more than anything – as a baby that isn’t sitting upright can have a greater risk of choking and the baby may not be ready to start weaning just yet. BLW also shouldn’t really be started before 6 months – before this time a baby’s digestive system is still maturing and just having milk is enough for it to cope with.
From 6 months a baby can have literally everything that you or I would eat apart from a couple of exceptions – It’s advised that honey, shellfish and undercooked eggs aren’t given before a year. Salt should be minimal if at all and it’s best to read packets of things you buy to make sure it doesn’t have a lot of salt or sugar in it – I was amazed at the level of salt in everyday things like bread and cheese when we started weaning – it’s best to limit food items that have added salt in them – we only gave bread once a day as an example. Also, never give whole nuts (as they’re a choking hazard) but nuts in general – peanut butter or things with nuts in them are said to be fine as long as you don’t have nut allergies in your family. Anything small and round should be cut in half to reduce choking risk – grapes, cherry tomatoes and even blueberries although we found these easier to squish slightly! Small things like raisins are fine to give once your baby’s pincer grip has developed and they can pick them up for themselves.
From a month or so before we started weaning LP she would sit either in her Bumbo or Highchair with us at meal times and play with a spoon and sippy cup, practicing her co-ordination. When she actually started weaning I started by giving her stick shaped chunks of fruit and vegetables. We also gave breadsticks, toast fingers and rice cakes. The food items would be laid out on the high chair tray so that LP could pick them up and play with them. Generally the foods were things that we knew LP could hold easily. She also had a first stage drinks cup with water in that we offered her at every meal.
It’s really important that when doing BLW you don’t put anything in the baby’s mouth – the baby needs to feed themselves. This is because, to reduce choking risks, the baby needs to be in control of the food at all times. You may find that at first your baby gags a lot on the food and may make the food come back out of their mouth. This is because their gag reflex is very far forward on their tongue. As they get used to dealing with food this gag reflex subsides and they gag less. Most of the time if a baby gags and is left to deal with the food by themselves they will work the food to the front of their mouth and it won’t be an issue. Most of the time choking occurs because the child has had food put in it’s mouth that it hasn’t been in control of or the baby has started to gag and someone has tried to ‘help’ them and inadvertently moved the food so the baby can no longer deal with it. I was told when we started weaning to sit on my hands whilst LP was eating and if she started to gag to count to ten and resist helping until I’d reached ten. This was the best advice I received. We had two moments where LP gagged until I reached number 7, at this point she was sick and the food came up. She then carried on eating as if nothing had happened. Gagging is horrible to watch. It isn’t nice at all, but it isn’t the same as choking and it’s something that the baby has to deal with and get past in order to handle food and eat by themselves.
When LP was weaning, she played with food for about the first month before we saw any signs (in her nappies) that she’d actually eaten anything. After that she ate sticks of food for the next month or so and then we progressed to giving her a smaller version of our meals. We also did ‘loaded spoons’ with LP where we would put something on a spoon for her – dip it in a yogurt for example – and then give her the spoon to hold and feed herself. We’ve never actually ‘fed’ LP anything.
I won’t lie – There was a lot of mess and a lot of waste. It was at about a year that LP started to get less messy and eat most of what we were giving her. For the first 6 months at least we put a plastic sheet under her high chair that was easy to clean. It also meant that if any food fell on to the sheet we knew it was clean and we could give it back to her.
The best advice I can give to anyone interested in Baby Led Weaning is to read the book, talk to other people that have done BLW and embrace the mess! We really enjoyed doing BLW and there was a very smooth transition for LP from using her hands, to using a spoon, to using a full set of cutlery – as well as the transition from chunks of food, to little meals to having a mini version of our meals.
The main thing to remember when starting BLW is that food is fun until they’re one. Your baby gets everything they need from the milk they are consuming and they don’t actually need any extra nutrients until they are a year old. The first 6 months should mainly be about the child learning to eat – a lot of the time, the first month or so especially, the baby won’t eat very much at all.
BLW was the best decision we made, it definitely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea but it worked for us and I’m really looking forward to starting BLW with Little Man in November – If you have any questions please ask, I’ll be happy to try and help if I can. Remember though, there is no right or wrong way to wean – it is whatever suits you and your baby. Some people do BLW, some do traditional weaning and some do a mixture of both with purees and finger foods.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about Donna’s experiences, and to read more from Donna and her family, don’t forget to visit her lovely blog Redhead Babyled.