We started Baby-Led Weaning with Isla last week, just one day before she turned six months old. It’s been really fun and a little nerve-wracking so far so I want to share our story with you. Before I go any further, let me say that this was something we discussed with our pediatrician long before we gave it a try. We wanted to get her advice/take on the whole thing, discuss which foods are safe and, essentially, get the go-ahead. If you’re considering BLW, I recommend you do the same. I am by no means an expert (we’ve been doing this for only one week), so I have read (and continue to read) dozens of blogs and information on the web about BLW to get prepared. Especially that gag reflex, which I’ll get to shortly.
(Side note: I’ll be posting about our journey each week on the blog, but you can also follow along on Instagram for real-time updates. There I’ll share videos and pictures with updates about new foods and experiences. I’m also using #BLWwithIslaBee.)
So what is BLW? It’s a fancy term for letting your baby feed herself real foods. No purées, no spoon-feeding, no helping baby get food into her mouth. It is weaning by the British definition, not the American one, meaning milk from breastfeeding remains Isla’s main source of food. This is just a way of introducing solids. The recommendation is that you wait until six months to begin BLW. Or until your baby can sit up on her own and shows interest in the foods you are eating. At five-and-a-half months, at the recommendation of our ped, we introduced rice cereal (for three days) and then oatmeal (for about two weeks — we stopped once we started BLW). She loved the cereal and we knew at that point she was definitely ready for solids. The purpose of starting with cereal was to introduce a spoon and get Isla some iron. Plus we trust and love our pediatrician so her advice is very important to us.
BLW allows your baby to learn to chew her food and swallow at her own pace (there is some research that suggests babies who do BLW are less likely to choke on their foods, but I can’t tell you if this is true or not). BLW also allows the baby to control how much food she’s getting and is supposed to encourage healthy eating habits later in life. She’s getting real, healthy, natural foods. None of that multiple veggie/fruit mixture with lots of added extras (though I’m not by any means hating on mushy baby food. There are many healthy options out there now and only you (and your doctor) know what is best for your baby. We decided after careful consideration that this was the best way for us). Another bonus is the idea that baby can eat what you eat both at mealtime and when you’re out and about at restaurants and on the go (minus all the additions like salt). To find out more about the benefits of BLW, I suggest you spend some time on this website. Also read up on how to prepare the foods you’re serving. There are some very important things to know, such as that salt can be deadly for babies. Again, do your research and talk to your doctor before starting BLW.
Okay, now for our story. We started with avocado on day one. I nursed her about 15 minutes before so she could leisurely explore the food, not freak out and get frustrated because of hunger. We cut a ripe avocado lengthwise into a few thick chunks for easy handling and stuck it on her high chair tray. The idea is that if the chunks are too small she won’t be able to grab them (the pincer grip doesn’t develop until eight or nine months) and this way she’s mushing up the avocado with her gums, not choking on chunks she’s not quite ready to handle. After watching a bunch of videos of babies eating a variety of foods at Isla’s age, we were prepared for her to kind of push the food around, try to grab it, maybe get a lick and call it a day. We were so wrong and it was incredibly exciting and, I admit, a bit overwhelming. She grabbed that avocado and went to town! It was amazing (and did I mention a bit overwhelming?). Proof that Isla was ready for real food. And the mess! I mean. seriously, how cute is an avocado-covered baby? Make sure you have a camera ready because the facial expressions are the absolute best as she gets a taste of this new, weird texture and flavor. So so amazing. Did I mention it’s amazing?
On day two we gave Isla a banana, which is the stickiest, yummiest, messiest thing ever. I peeled it completely, broke it in half, removed any of those stringy pieces and gave her the entire chunk. Once she was done with that I gave her the other half. The key is to let the baby tell you when she’s done. Just follow her cues.
And now let’s talk about the oh-so-scary-but-totally-normal gagging thing. Read up on this. I repeat, READ UP ON BABY-LED WEANING GAGGING! Find out the difference between gagging and choking. Gagging is normal. It can happen no matter what age you introduce solids (as can choking, by the way). I also hear it’s just as scary at nine months as it is at six, so there’s that. It’s baby’s way of learning to control the amount she swallows and it’s a defense mechanism against choking. Apparently it continues until she gets the hang of things. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does it can be pretty scary. You’re ready to grab her and start smacking her back like there’s no tomorrow. But before you can freak out she’s figured it out and handled it on her own. Above are two pictures … during and after a bit of gagging. She gagged and before I even registered what had happened, out came that banana chunk. Two seconds later she was sucking on the banana again, completely unfazed. I read that the gag reflex is more sensitive at this age, which is a good thing. A couple times she gagged on the broccoli and I could see inside her mouth that the piece was on her tongue, nowhere near her throat, which made me feel better. So look, it’s nerve-wracking, but these babies are more capable than we think. Watch videos, get informed, DO NOT EVER leave baby alone with food, feed her with your spouse or another person so you’re not alone at first, take an infant CPR class and stay calm. That’s what we’re trying to do. I’ll keep you posted …
On day three we introduced broccoli. I cut it into medium-sized trees and left the trunk on for a ready-made handle. Then I steamed it for six to seven minutes, let it cool and served her one tree at a time. She broke it apart almost immediately with her mouth and ate a good portion (I am certain of this because of what I found in her diaper!). We made sure to take away the stringy parts from the trunk as she started to break it apart. We introduced new trees every time she seemed to get all of the good stuff off. She ate about four the first time. Dare I say broccoli is her favorite so far?
We introduced three foods in three days and fed her only those three through the first week. On days six and seven we gave her avocado and banana in one sitting since we were pretty sure there was no allergy. We’ll be introducing more foods week-by-week (two to four each week at first). Talk to your pediatrician about which foods are safe. You might be surprised by what the baby isn’t supposed to have.
We were away over the weekend so we didn’t have our amazing high chair, which has the ideal tray length and height for Isla, so we used the Bumbo seat instead. To say the Bumbo is messy is a huge understatement since the tray is far away from her and she kept dropping foods onto her diaper (our favorite bib didn’t fit while sitting in there either so she had a ball rubbing food all over her chest). So I recommend starting in a high chair to make things easier, but the Bumbo works, too! And bonus, you can take it out back and hose it off when you’re done!
So what’s the best thing about BLW? This smiling face. Isla LOVES feeding herself and getting messy. She’s an old pro, I tell ya. We are so proud.
If you have any questions I’d love to hear them in the comments below. And if I can’t answer them, maybe some other readers can. I would love to hear about your experiences with Baby-Led Weaning so we can all learn a thing or two and experience this together! I am so new to this and I would love to hear your advice and stories!
Next week: peaches + sweet potatoes + ???
*Please note: This post is meant to provide useful tips about baby-led weaning. This is our family’s personal journey and is not meant to replace the advice of your doctor. I am NOT a doctor. I am a stay-at-home mom with a background in public relations so taking medical advice from me would be straight up crazy. Seriously. We’re exploring baby-led weaning in consultation with our pediatrician … every step of the way. You should do the same.