When Liam started solids we did the whole baby puree thing. And by baby puree I mean I was spending hours prepping, cooking, blending, mixing, freezing, and thawing various mixtures of fruits and vegetables. It was honestly pretty exhausting and the only thing that ended up happening was I had a picky eater who had texture issues for years to come. When I became pregnant with Ella, I knew there had to be a better way. So I researched and researched until I found the right approach for us; Baby Led Weaning (BLW for short).
What is it and why should I do it?
In simple terms, BLW is a concept in which you allow your baby to feed him or herself as soon as you start solids. So basically, no spoon feeding your baby purees like we are traditionally used to. Most pediatricians will tell you to begin solids between 4 and 6 months of age, however, in BLW you will begin once your baby shows clear signs of interest in eating and foods. All babies are different but usually it’s between 6-11 months that the signs become obvious (screaming for food when everyone else is eating, licking his/ her lips and mimicking chewing when food is around, etc). You also want to make sure that your baby can sit upright, unassisted.
Why is this better than feeding purees? Here are the top 5 reasons why BLW is so beneficial;
- It helps develop positive eating habits. Think about it; your baby is eating various foods of different colors, textures, and tastes. With purees, everything is just blended together so that’s the only texture baby knows and it all tastes very similar. The individual veggies and fruits now all taste the same. Babies who are exposed to BLW generally become less picky eaters in the future.
- Baby is developing proper chewing skills. We are born with an innate desire to chew anything that is put in our mouth, however, as soon as you begin exposing your child to pureed food, they learn that they don’t need to chew, rather just swallow.
- Helps baby develop hand- eye coordination. At a very young age, baby is taught to pick up small foods and put them in his mouth. This skill will be useful in many aspects of your child’s development.
- Baby controls how much to eat. With purees, mom and dad are in control of how much baby eats. Even if baby starts spitting his food out or turning his head, we tend to always try to sneak in one or two more spoonfuls. With BLW, your child controls exactly how much he puts in his mouth and actually eats. Children are extremely intuitive with how much they need to eat so it’s important to teach baby from a young age to stay in control of intake of food.
- It’s quicker and easier for mom and dad. With BLW you can get your baby used to eating what the family is eating from as young as 6 months without having to have “special” food just for the baby. Sure, you can go to the store and buy a bunch of purees and give those to baby. Easy Peasy. Except now you’ll be spending a good amount of dinner feeding baby rather than eating your own meal. Then as baby gets older, you may have to continue to make separate meals for your baby (and later, toddler) because your child isn’t used to eating what you’re eating. In the long run, it’s a whole lot more work.
How do I start?
Starting is actually really simple but there are a few important things to remember and keep in mind before you begin with BLW.
- Start slowly. Just like with purees, you need to watch out for food allergies. To be safe, you’ll want to introduce one new food every 3-4 days and watch for signs of allergies (rashes, tummy issues, and so on)
- Cut food into safe and manageable sizes. Once baby is older, he’ll learn how to bite off small pieces of larger foods, but in the beginning, you’ll want to make sure you are cutting food into thin strips or pieces that can be safely swallowed without lots of chewing. Your baby most likely won’t have enough teeth at this point to truly chew food so food has to be either very soft, or cut into safe sizes.
- Prepare yourself for gagging. Yes, there will be gagging even with very small bits of food. This is COMPLETELY NORMAL. Gagging is a normal reflex to prevent choking and one you will need to mentally prepare for. If you start panicking when baby starts gagging, it will just scare your baby. Do familiarize yourself with the cues for choking though, and how to prevent it. Here is a post on how to tell the difference.
- Messes are unavoidable. Your baby will be a mess, the highchair will be a mess, and the floor will most likely be disastrous. There are a few products that help manage messes (see below), but for the most part, it’s a learning process and messes are just a part of it.
- Watch for cues that baby is done. Like I said above, baby is in control of how much he eats, however, it’s also important for the parent to somewhat manage this to avoid bad habits in the future. Once your child starts throwing food left and right, it’s generally an indication that he’s had enough and it’s time to remove baby (or the food) from the high chair. This teaches baby not to play with food. Keep in mind, this is the general rule of thumb once eating solids is already established. When you first start BLW, it is inevitable that baby will both play with and throw food, and that’s ok since this is the time for baby to get used to the feel of food. He will quickly lean to mimic the rest of the family by putting it in his mouth, chewing, and swallowing it.
Best foods to start with
When it comes to foods, the key is to add variety and expose your child to various textures, colors, and tastes. Since you’re starting slow and introducing one new food every 3-4 days, it’s beneficial to switch up the type of food you are giving your baby. For instance, if you introduce sweet potatoes one day, maybe pick a different colored and textured food like zucchini or spinach the next time. I prefer to start with vegetables and fruits for the first month or two then add in one ingredient grains, legumes, meats and seasonings as baby gets exposed to a variety. We don’t eat eggs, soy or dairy, but if you do, those are also a great option to add in once your baby has had a little bit of practice. A few tips to remember;
- Baby can manage raw veggies. You don’t necessarily have to start with super soft foods. Sure, they are way easier for eating and swallowing, but one of the first foods we gave Kai were bell peppers cut into thin slices that he just chewed and sucked on. He didn’t swallow much of them but he got a taste of flavor and absolutely loved it.
- You can give a baby small finger foods right away. It may take some practice but he will find a way to pick them up and eat them. At 7 months, Kai could already eat small foods like peas and beans. Exposure and practice are key.
- Baby eats what you eat. Once baby has tried a variety of foods, its a great idea to get baby used to eating what you are eating. If you are having Taco night, give your baby part of that meal. Not only will this expose baby to a variety of foods and flavors, but it will make life easier in the future when you don’t have to make separate meals for everyone in the family.
- Allergenic foods are just fine. You don’t have to delay high allergen foods like dairy, peanuts, eggs, seafood, but I would monitor these foods closely and give a couple of extra days before moving on to a new food. According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, delaying high allergenic foods could actually increase your baby’s risk of developing allergies to these foods.
- Sometimes spoon feeding is OK. You can offer baby foods that require a spoon by filling the spoon up then handing it to baby to put in his mouth. Be warned; this is especially messy, but a great way to learn.
What you need
So maybe need is too strong of a word here because technically you don’t NEED much, but with that said, there are a lot of items that make life so much easier when BLW is concerned. Here is a list of some of our favorites.
1. Gathre High Chair Mat- I absolutely adore this mat and can’t recommend it enough. I feel fine giving Kai all kinds of wet, sticky, and slimy foods (think bananas that get mashed in tiny fingers and all over everything) because I know that cleanup will be quick and simple.
2. Ikea High Chair- So for under $25, this thing is awesome. I love how simple it is, yet so practical and also so easy to clean. We purchased the infant insert with it as well for when the little guy was just learning to sit up and loved it. Best part, Ikea now allows you to purchase online and pick up in store, making it soooo much easier than roaming the entire place to find one thing.
3.Sili-Stick table mats- These are one of the best, most affordable, silicone placemats that I have used. They stick really well and make it much harder for baby to rip it off the table. Must have for eating out.
4. Aden + Anais burpy bibs- These double as burp cloths and bibs and are the absolute best. You have to make sure they are the original Aden + Anais brand, not Aden by Aden + Anais, as they are much thicker and more absorbent! They also come in a ton of colors.
5- Ryan and Rose Cutie Tensils- These are amazing for little eaters. They are definitely not something your baby will use right away (unless you are helping spoon feed) but one of the best utensils we have used. My 3 year old actually loves these too.
6. Mini Popsicle Molds- These are so fun for frozen treats and teething remedies, and since baby is holding by himself, it’s still considered BLW friendly. They are also great for toddler treats!
7. Silicone Feeder- A lot of parents get the mesh feeders, but I always hated those. Food came out easier and quicker, but I found them to be a huge pain to clean. These work just fine and clean up is much easier. This isn’t something we use often but we do love it when we need to keep messes at a minimum, like when we are at a restaurant and are giving Kai avocado or banana.
8. Compartment mat- This is a similar concept to the silicone placemat, except this one has little compartments so it can double as a plate. I don’t recommend it for little ones who love to rip the mat off the table but it works great once that stage is over and all the way through toddler years.
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