Baby-Led Weaning

baby-led weaning: an overview

baby-led weaning six months old, banana, day four

{Isla eating a banana at six months}

In addition to the realization that introducing solid foods to a toothless infant is scary in general, figuring out how to start the baby-led weaning method can be a bit intimidating. At least it was for us. We’re about three months in and Isla is blowing us away with her eating skills so I thought I would share an overview of our experience thus far. Specifically, I want to answer some questions I had when we started and others you guys have asked me along the way. I’ll talk about how we started/where we are now, portion size, specific meal ideas and other things I think of along the way. You can look back at my previous posts about introducing specific foods, too, but I thought it would be nice to have some of this stuff all in one place. So here goes …

{update: I received a great question since I posted this and realize I should have included this … Isla is not actually weaning off of breastmilk. She still nurses every three to four hours (five to eight times per day). In the beginning, I nursed her about 30 minutes before giving her solids to make sure she wasn’t starving and frustrated by not getting much from the solids, then I nursed her again at her next scheduled feeding. Now that she’s crawling everywhere and very active, I find she needs the milk in addition to the three meals per day. Her interest in milk has not waned. I keep hearing people say, “Food is fun until they’re one.” I think that’s a great mantra when it comes to introducing solids vs. breastfeeding or giving formula.}

What foods should I start with at six months?
In the beginning, bigger is better in terms of chunk size so baby can grab it and suck on it. Also, think of soft foods to avoid choking. Great starter foods include:
– avocado (cut lengthwise in thick strips)
– banana (serve whole or cut in half)
– broccoli (cut into medium-sized trees and steam for 8 minutes)
– peaches/plums (peel, cut lengthwise into quarters)
– sweet potatoes (poke hole in top of SP, steam whole in the microwave for 6-8 minutes then remove chunks from skin and serve cooled OR peel, cut into fry shapes, toss in olive oil and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, flipping halfway through)

After the first two to three weeks when baby gets the hang of it, try these:
– watermelon (cut into long strips)
– zucchini/squash (cut into strips (skin on), toss in olive oil, add a shake of pepper and bake at 400 degrees for  approx. 20 minutes)
– carrots (use whole carrots, peel, cut lengthwise into fry-shaped strips and steam on the stove for 10-20 minutes, depending on size and thickness)
– hummus, but be mindful of the tahini if baby is allergy-prone (serve as a dip for carrots, broccoli, etc)
– mango (serve like a peach)

baby-led weaning strawberry

{Isla eating whole strawberries at seven months}

Moving on to seven months …
By seven months, Isla was able to gum her foods really well, spit out the bits that were too large to swallow and hold/pick-up a variety of shapes and sizes. So here’s what we introduced at seven months:
– strawberry (whole or cut in half)
– cauliflower (steam for 8-10 minutes or roast in the oven)
– pasta, rotini and farfalle are our favorites (cook until soft)
– avocado sauce for pasta (we used this recipe, and eventually I added yogurt to it)
– organic whole milk plain yogurt (served with a spoon (I’ll talk more about why I do this later) or as a dip for veggies and fruits)
– meatballs (if you’re going to use ingredients like onion, egg, etc. my advice would be to introduce those things separately first. We did not do that and Isla had a reaction but we don’t know if the culprit was the beef, onion or egg so we have to avoid all three until we can do an allergy test at one year.)
– blueberries, once the pincer grip is beginning to develop (whole or cut in half)
– chicken (shred in the crock pot with yogurt marinade OR marinade in olive oil and bake at 450 degrees for 10 minutes on each side until juicy and cooked through, then serve in long strips)

baby-led weaning peanut butter and banana

{Isla at eight months eating her favorite: peanut butter on banana}

Eight months …
– cheese, she likes mild white cheddar (serve in big squares OR shred over veggies)
– pancakes (we had to avoid eggs so we used this recipe for blueberry-banana yogurt pancakes)
– whole wheat toast (we started with spreads of hummus or avocado since she had already had these and then added peanut butter and cream cheese after we introduced them)
– cream cheese (on toast)
– peanut butter (on banana (her absolute favorite) or toast)
– cheesy broccoli bites (recipe here)
– apple (peel, remove core but keep whole, sprinkle with nutmeg (after first introduction), add chunk of unsalted butter in the center where the core was and bake at 400 degrees in an inch of water for 20-30 minutes, cut into slices)
– raspberries (whole or cut in half)

Other food ideas that we could have tried in the first three months but just haven’t had a chance yet:
– tomato sauce (Isla has sensitive skin, so we’ve waited on citrus foods but will introduce it very soon)
– baked potato or homemade fries (same as sweet potato)
– butternut squash (roasted)
– cantaloupe (like watermelon)
– pear (same apple rules apply)
– eggplant (baked? or with pasta?)
– peas (boiled? same blueberry rules/timing apply)
– green beans (sautéed in olive oil)
– asparagus (sautéed in olive oil)
– bell peppers (steamed)
– you can also play with a variety of spices (nutmeg, thyme, rosemary, pepper, etc.)
– muffins and other baked breads
– ground meats, such as turkey

baby led waeaning yogurt marinated chicken

{Isla eating yogurt-marinated crock pot chicken at seven months}

Meal ideas / portion sizes:
For the most part I let Isla decide when she’s full. This means I keep putting food on her tray until she starts throwing it on the floor and laughing at me, but I’ve tried to give a rough estimate of portion size below. At eight months we began giving Isla three meals per day. Sometimes we give her a handful of Plum Organics puffs before meals or as a snack when we’re out and about.

Breakfast (keep in mind, Isla has to avoid eggs so her options are slightly limited):
– 1 whole banana with a cup of spoon-fed yogurt
– two cups spoon-fed yogurt* + pieces of fruit if still hungry
– whole banana cut into long strips with peanut butter spread
– 1 slice peanut butter toast + fruit if still hungry
– half or whole avocado
– 1-2 pancakes
* I’m aware that spoon-feeding is pretty much the opposite of baby-led weaning, but it works for us with yogurt. She really loves yogurt and using it as a dip is great, but often she wants more. She eats a whole baby-sized bowl of it if I spoon-feed it to her so we just go with it. When she’s full she let’s us know (as I mentioned above and more below).

Lunch / Dinner
– 1 cup pasta with avocado sauce OR with garlic butter sauce and  a side of steamed broccoli
– steamed veggies dipped in hummus
– 1 piece of toast spread with hummus or avocado or peanut butter or cream cheese + fruit or 2-3 slices of cheese if she’s still hungry (I try to give cheese last if she’s still hungry because if I introduce it first she won’t eat anything else)
– 6-10 sweet potato fries (sometimes with hummus)
– 5-6 cheesy broccoli bites
– crock pot or baked chicken (she’ll eat a quarter or half of a breast) with a side of steamed broccoli (3-4 trees)
– 6-7 pieces of steamed broccoli with shredded cheese
– half grilled cheese sandwich
– if she could have the egg I’d give her a few meatballs with a side of pasta or fruit (we’re going to try pasta with tomato sauce this weekend or next week and then introduce ground turkey so we can eventually give her pasta with turkey meat sauce)

baby-led weaning, six months old, avocado, day one

{Isla eating an avocado on day one of baby-led weaning at six months}

Anything goes …
At nearly nine months old, really anything goes as long as Isla has tried it before and we know she’s not allergic. There aren’t any foods I wouldn’t give her at this point, aside from added salt, honey, which infants under one year of age cannot have, or egg/red meat/onion, until we rule out an allergy. I plan to make her some blueberry or banana muffins soon now that we have introduced apple and can use applesauce as an egg replacement and look forward to serving her a big bowl of messy spaghetti with tomato sauce. At this point, I’m confident she can handle most foods and recipes.

Follow baby cues …
In terms of portion size, look for cues. For example, Isla licks her lips when she’s still hungry and throws her food on the floor when she’s done. She has also started saying “up” or “done” when she wants to get out of the high chair and I’m working with her on sign language for “more” and “done.”

Recipes …
If there is a recipe you want to try and you’ve ruled out allergies for the ingredients, go for it! After the first few weeks when your baby is still learning and ruling our reactions, there is no need to avoid mixing things up as long as you and baby are comfortable with the textures and sizes.

Helpful resources
Unicef UK

What did I miss? Do you have any additional questions or tips of your own?

baby-led weaning baked apple

{Isla unsure about baked apple at eight months}

For more about our journey with BLW:
BLW week one | BLW part two | BLW part three | BLW part four | BLW part five | blueberry-banana yogurt pancakes | cheesy broccoli bites
Instagram (hashtag #BLWwithIslaBee)

Please note: This post is meant to provide helpful 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 single step of the way. You should do the same. 

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  • Reply Mary Hayes September 25, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    I’m curious to try baby-led weaning with our daughter (who is currently only 4 months) but I really don’t want her to actually WEAN. How much is Isla still nursing with the 3 meals a day, if you don’t mind me asking?

    • Reply reallyrisa September 25, 2014 at 3:22 pm

      Hi Mary, I should have included this. We are not actually weaning her from breastmilk. She still nurses every three hours, so between five and eight times per day. There’s a saying I keep seeing everywhere that “food is fun until they’re one,” which means breastmilk or formula should remain the baby’s primary source of nutrition for the first year. In the beginning I made sure Isla nursed about a half hour before eating solids and then again at her next scheduled time to nurse. So far this is working for us.

  • Reply Taylor Allison September 25, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    What a great post!! We’re about a month into BLW and I’m afraid I’m not very creative, and my own diet isn’t the greatest. How do you serve the pasta/what kind do you use? I gave my babe a few egg noodles with her roasted broccoli but she didn’t really try them. Would you cut up the spaghetti or just serve it long? That idea scares me a bit, but it’s so fun to watch them explore new foods! Thanks for the ideas!

    • Reply reallyrisa September 25, 2014 at 10:16 pm

      Thanks, Taylor! For pasta we use rotini or farfalle because she can pick them up easily. I use any brand really. In the beginning I started with organic whole wheat pasta but she hated that. Now it’s whatever brand we’re eating. I usually cook it until it’s soft and then mix it with a sauce, such as the avocado sauce recipe I linked to. It’s very similar to a pesto. Or I’ll pour on some olive oil and garlic. Either way she mostly sucks off the sauce and spits out the pasta, swallowing little pieces here and there. For spaghetti I think I would cut it since she only has one tooth that is just this week breaking through. I guess that would have to be trial and error. I’ll be sure to update the blog once we try spaghetti and meat sauce!

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