Baby Led Weaning

Now that my baby is almost a year old, we’ve got nearly 6 months of solids food eating underway.  It has been such a fun experience watching her explore food.  She is an incredible eater compared to most kids her age and I am thankful she is always willing to try new foods.

When I was pregnant, I read the book Bringing Up Bébé (highly recommend!) that shares bits of wisdom from French parenting. One of the main topics in the book was about kids’ eating and it really struck a cord with me. The idea is this: Kids Eat What Parents Eat.  It involves eating mostly real food, eating a variety of food – including lots of colorful vegetables, tasting new items, having a healthy relationship with eating habits, and eating together as a family.  When we were getting close to starting solids with my daughter, I started to research more about how to implement this practically and discovered Baby Led Weaning (BLW).

(FYI: Weaning in this case simply means the introduction of solids, and not weaning from breastmilk.) BLW takes into practice the whole idea above in a safe way for little babies as they are learning how to eat.  Babies have been eating what their parents ate for thousands of years- far before we had blenders to make purees or little baby spoons. Many nations around the world follow the BLW way naturally.

We have loved the BLW process and I’m now a huge advocate of how it works to create a healthy little eater.  My mom and husband were very skeptical at first, but now they are believers in the process too! Here are the benefits I have seen so far:

  • Family Meals: Sharing food together as a family and in community are important to me.  Developing this habit early was a big goal for me.  The biggest benefit practically is that baby sees you eating and mimics you- both being willing to eat what you eat and copying the way you eat (chewing, bite sizes, using utensils).  This also begins to teach a baby how to behave at a dinner table -I think has already had a positive effect on our ability to eat in public without causing a scene and actually getting to eat our own meals.
  • Confidence & Independence: Giving my daughter the ability to learn how to eat has given her confidence in trying new foods and starting to be self-sufficient.  It also gives me a much-needed break as I don’t always have to sit there spoon feeding her.
  • Safety- Chewing Before Swallowing: When babies start with purees, they are used to getting a large amount of food in their mouth and swallowing.  When they start solids from there, food often must be cut very tiny so they do not choke.  BLW teaches babies how to chew before swallowing. It also teaches how much is appropriate to bite off of an item and how much will fit in their mouth. Since babies have a stronger gag reflex when they are younger, it is the perfect time to teach this skill- I have seen my daughter fill her mouth and start to gag, learning to spit it out and try again rather than forcing it down and choking.
  • Developing Tastes: Have you tasted baby food? It’s bland and disgusting. It doesn’t taste good to us, so why would a baby want to eat it? Babies are born with a full set of 10,000+ taste buds and are just as eager to enjoy their meals as we are.  There is no reason to stay away from various flavors or spices.  My daughter can eat food just as spicy as I like it and she prefers her food to be well-seasoned.  She loves chili, Tex-Mex and BBQ!
  • Learning by Touch/Senses: We all know that babies learn by putting things in their mouth.  They explore the whole world this way.  As I put various items from our meals on her tray, she gets the chance to touch everything- the different textures and sizes- and develop her grasp. She also gets to experience the smells and colors of her food much better than she would through a puree.  Babies are drawn to color (as we see in their toys) and this translates to the food they eat as well- often, my daughter will choose the orange sweet potato or green bean or red beet over white bread.
  • Convenience: I don’t have time to make homemade purees.  When we go out, she just eats whatever I order. And at home, she eats whatever I cook.  I’m not making special meals for her or accommodations. It’s simply easier on me.

Does this sound like something you would be interested in trying with your baby?  I know that getting started with something so different to the norm can be overwhelming, but here’s a little intro on what helped me the most:

Resources: I recommend reading either of the following BLW books:

I also joined the Baby Led Weaning for Beginners Facebook group to see helpful pictures and videos, answers to questions and tons of tips.  I started following it about 2 months before we started and it was more helpful than anything!

When to Start: No sooner than when baby is 6 months of age, can sit unassisted, has lost the tongue-thrust reflex, and has an interest in food.

Safety: Choking risk is the number one reason I hear that people are afraid to try BLW.  As I mentioned above, BLW does not increase choking risk. The key thing is to learn the difference between gagging and choking.  Gagging is a reaction that helps prevent choking and teaching them how not to choke- letting them work it out and learn.  Watching videos on the Facebook group and knowing the signs for gagging vs. choking are important.  As always, it is important to know child CPR as a parent, and that knowledge should help you be more confident when your baby eats.  An easy way to distinguish: If they are loud & red, let them go ahead. If they are silent & blue, they need help from you.

In general, baby should be eating what you are eating, with a few health/safety exceptions…

  • Don’t offer whole nuts or popcorn or peanut butter on a spoon- items that can easily stick to/in their throat.
  • Quarter (lengthwise) round foods to avoid lodging in the windpipe: blueberries, grapes, cherry tomatoes, sausage, string cheese, carrots.
  • Season generously but limit the salt/sodium. Since your babies kidneys aren’t fully developed, too much sodium can cause them harm.  This is another good reason to avoid processed food.

No teeth? No problem.  My daughter did not have teeth when we started.  She still would mimic my chewing and those jaws + saliva are powerful at breaking down foods to swallow. You would be amazed at how she learned to pull at a strip of meat with her gums and chomp on it a few minutes before swallowing. This girl loved steak even before she had teeth.

Food Before One Is Just For Fun: For the first couple of months, my daughter really did not eat a lot.  She would taste and chew and explore, but would swallow very little. And that is perfectly normal and okay.  Breast milk or formula is still a baby’s main source of nutrition before the age of one.

BLW How to CutCutting to Size: There is no need to cut foods into tiny pieces.  In fact, you want foods to be more finger-sized so they are easier for young babies to pick up and hold.  Having large pieces also helps them learn to bite off an appropriate amount. Cutting little grooves in slippery items like banana and avocado is also helpful to keep their grip. Here is a great picture to use as an example when you are preparing food for your little:

What do you think? Is this something you would try with your baby?  Have you tried it and loved it (or hated it)?  I would love to hear from you!

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10 Things I Didn’t Expect About Being a Mom to a Newborn

Now that my daughter is almost a year old, I’ve been reflecting back a lot.  I’m thankful to have a super content, happy baby these days, but the beginning months were really difficult for me. I knew that being a mom would be hard.  Rewarding, but exhausting.  We were the last of most of our friends to have a kid and our friends are pretty open & honest, so I thought my expectations were well-set. But, there were a few things I did not anticipate about those first few months having a newborn…

  1. My baby’s birth day was not the best day of my life. I knew childbirth would be really hard, especially because my plan was to do it without medication.  It is called labor after all. But, I thought millions of women have done this throughout history, I can do it too.  I did it, but the pain of back labor left me kind of traumatized.  (Read my birth story here.)  I’ve had hundreds of better days than being in excruciating pain trying to push a baby out. It was absolutely incredible (and a relief) to finally meet my daughter, so that moment was the best. But, the day itself was terrible.
  2. Breastfeeding may be natural, but it can feel impossible. Breastfeeding is another thing that I had heard plenty of stories about.  I knew it could be painful and take lots of practice through the pain.  But, I thought that getting help from a lactation consultant could fix all those things.  Or that maybe people just gave up too quickly. I am so glad it is an easy, beautiful thing for some people, but, for some of us, there can be so many obstacles to overcome.  I’ve made it almost 11 months and it still isn’t easy.  I’m shocked and so grateful we haven’t had to supplement with formula, but I will never think less of anyone who has to for their sanity or to ensure baby is fed. Read our breastfeeding journey here.
  3. You may dread car rides.  I thought that putting baby in a car seat and driving around was supposed to be this magical, instantly calming thing to make them stop crying and fall asleep.  Or your baby is like mine and instantly loses it as soon as you put them in the car seat and proceeds to scream the entire drive where ever you are going.  Maybe they will quiet down a bit once you get going on the highway, but the second you hit traffic or a red light, the screaming resumes. I’ve never hated yellow lights so much.
  4. Pacifiers will ruin nothing.  Nor will they solve everything. I heard & read that you should never give a baby a pacifier before 2 weeks old or you could ruin breastfeeding, so I was going to try my best to follow that.  Maybe it’s just my baby, but she wasn’t dumb- she knew the difference between something milk is coming out of and something it’s not. We made it a few days before getting desperate enough to try it; of course, she wouldn’t even take it, so it wasn’t very helpful.
  5. How it was possible to get so little sleep and still function. Maybe your baby slept through the night at 4 weeks old. Awesome. Mine didn’t until 9 months and I know some would even be thankful for that. To nap those first three months, she had to be held. Thank the Lord for my mom who would come over to hold her while I napped and for the solly wrap that allowed me to wear her and be hands-free to get things done. I still can’t even fathom how I worked full time and took care of a 3-month old fussy baby getting only a couple hours of sleep each night, but I did it. Somehow, you survive. P.S. If you aren’t a parent yet or pregnant, I recommend not saying you’re “exhausted” to anyone with a baby.
  6. Some babies are hot-natured.  I’ve always seen newborns bundled in so many clothes and blankets babies sleeping in footed fleece onesies and thought that’s what you were supposed to do.  My daughter has only worn socks like 4 times in her life.  I’ve gotten plenty of judgmental looks from strangers, but I realized very early on that she was getting extremely hot in “typical” newborn attire, so I stopped.  She wears long sleeve onesies and a muslin sleep sack to sleep every night and she’s just fine.  And it’s got to be cooler than 70 degrees out to even consider pants. Every baby is different.
  7. Bottles can take practice.  Babies love milk. But, even when a bottle is filled with that magical goodness, they still may reject it as if it is poison. We tried 5 types of bottles with the milk at different temperatures and several individuals trying in various positions over the course of two weeks.  Nothing was working. Then, finally, the week before I went back to work, my friend (thanks, Emily!) held her while standing, bouncing and facing the tv and she finally drank it. From then on, she took it no problem. Why did that have to be so hard!?
  8. Schedule? What is a schedule? If parenthood has taught me anything, it is to be flexible. If I followed the eat every 3-4 hours advice, my daughter, who struggled to get enough milk or gain weight, would have been a failure to thrive.  I nursed on demand and I’m thankful I did. But, it kept us home most of the time in those early months. I am still amazed when I see people out and about with their newborns because our fussy baby who needed to eat constantly wouldn’t really allow that. Eat, Play, Sleep?  No way. Not for us.  She nursed to sleep for months because it was the only way she would sleep.  She’s always napped when she’s tired and I watch for cues instead of watching the clock.  It’s what is best for her.
  9. The diaper part isn’t so bad, except for the blowouts. I thought I would find it far more annoying to change diapers all day than I did. Exclusively breastfed newborn baby diapers are not bad… Even my husband was surprised at how not terrible it was pre-solids. But, there is just something about that poo that no matter the brand/size/fit of a diaper, you are bound to have a blowout every once in awhile. And it will always happen when you’ve just put them in a cute outfit or are about to walk out the door.
  10. It can strengthen your marriage. I heard so many warnings about how having a kid is really hard on your marriage… yes, there is certainly less downtime and date nights are fewer and far between, but you still end up with many quiet evenings at home together.  Of course, it takes work, but I’ve found that us both being in the “we have absolutely no idea what we are doing” stage together, especially when we were both beyond exhausted, bonded us immensely.  I’ve realized more than ever how well we complement each other and what a great team we can be.  I’m also thankful for the 5 years pre-kid we had to travel and learn how to communicate.

We could have never gotten through this trying time without our friends bringing us meals, supportive texts and prayers, and help from my parents, especially my mama who would come over to pray over me, hold the baby while I slept, encourage me through nursing struggles, bring me lunch, make me tea and even clean my house. If you’re in the thick of it, I pray you have a community to support you too.

Parents- is there anything missing from this list you would add?  Were those first few months rough for anyone else?