Baby led weaning (and how we started)

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The first time I heard about baby led weaning was when I was a manager at a natural parenting store in New Orleans. Out of our baby food gear offerings were two popular items: the Beaba puree 4-in-1 contraption costing around $150, and this little crank food processing machine that was $10 from little sprouts. I was then fascinated to learn more about this whole feed your baby what you eat thing.

We love to cook in our kitchen and from the beginning have let Evelyn safely interact with us. We got a boon highchair just so we could swivel her up to see how we cut up vegetables and seasoned meat and cooked over stove - while also keeping her a safe distance away in chair. When I rinse off fruit I like to wear her in the forward facing Lillebaby carrier and let her pick up fruit and play with it in her hands to learn textures and strengthen her pincer grasp (forefinger+thumb).

Baby led weaning was still emerging as a philosophy at this time - even though it’s been around long before Gerber was founded. I decided to experiment with baby led weaning from my Baby+Co Mommy & Me group. Mommas were talking about slicing long pieces of avocado and describing how there little one held it and learned texture and how to feed themselves. I was amazed at how much more confident they were. Even when they mentioned giving baby a chicken leg to gnaw on to acquire the taste - it didn’t sound as crazy as I thought it would. To be honest, it sounded less intimidating then steaming, purée-ing and freezing mounds of baby food. I also discovered that baby led weaning is not a new concept, and many mothers have been introducing solids in finger food form instinctively.

Do we have to have purées?

Don’t worry, I’m not poo-pooing purées. If you think about it- babies learn to drink milk first right? When a baby is drinking milk their tongue thrusts forward to direct the milk into their mouth and down their throat. So, when a baby is learning to eat the first time - naturally a baby will end up with most of the purée out rather than in. In fact, purées only became the norm at a time when doctors were advocating introducing solids at 4 months (which we now know is too early for proper digestion and can lead to allergies). My pediatrician advocates waiting until baby could sit up on there own to allow for proper swallowing. Evelyn started sitting up right after hitting the 5 month mark, and for 3 weeks before that mark she wasn't just eyeing food but also often swiping it out of our hands to bring to her mouth. Generally, if there is interest and baby can sit up, you can begin baby led weaning.

Why I entertained the thought of baby led weaning:

  1. I loved the idea of encouraging baby to feel part of mealtime with us, setting at highchair close to table (that is why I chose the adjustable and rolling Boon highchair)

  2. While we eat dinner baby can pick up soft finger foods - often exclusive vegetable variations of what we are already eating (black beans, steamed carrot, avocado) while being supervised.

  3. Not having to make purees every day.

  4. Baby is in charge: choose what, how much, and how quickly to eat.

  5. More apt to explore new tastes and textures without the pressure to eat a set amount or a specific food.

  6. Nutrition is still provided through nursing. I like this because so much important sustenance and immunity comes from breastmilk. Solids are to compliment milk, and baby is trusted to know when to increase solid feedings and decrease milk (usually later in the first year).

  7. Babies learn to safely handle food (they learn to chew THEN swallow)

  8. Babies get lots of hand eye and fine motor practice by learning to grasp food and move it to their mouth.

  9. Babies learn best by observing and copying. Eating meals together (and eating similar foods) gives her many opportunities to learn about food.

2 Benefits of Breastfeeding & Baby Led Weaning

  1. Palate

Baby’s are introduced to so many flavors through breastmilk. This helps adapt their palate from the beginning. Spicy tikka masala? Early introduction to spices and  baby’s acceptance of those foods later on.

       2. Self Regulation

I laugh thinking about it now, but Evelyn gained weight so quickly in her first 3 months. She was a champ at growing - and momma’s milk was the reason. I had a friend ask me, “Does your baby know when they are full, or does she eat whenever offered?” Breastfeeding is also baby’s first lesson in self regulation. Baby knows when they are full and when they are hungry. Formula fed baby WILL BENEFIT from a BLW approach to introducing solids as well.

When was Evelyn ready?

There was a few green lights that indicated Evelyn was ready to start baby led weaning. Take into account a lot of the first month was her strengthening her pincer grasp and bringing food to mouth and playing with textures. A lot of it did end up on tray, clothes, and in dogs bellies - HA!

  • Evelyn could sit up well without support

  • Baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (automatically pushing solids out of mouth with tongue).

  • Evelyn had developed the fine motor skills to self feed. Development of a pincer grasp (baby picks up food between thumb and forefinger, not palm and fingers) typically happens at around 6 months, but sometimes as late at 1 year.

  • Evelyn is willing to chew, even if just gumbing

  • Evelyn showed interest in participating at mealtime, and may try to grab food from your plate and put it in his mouth.

Baby develops good eating habits - 

  • Baby (continues to) learn self regulation, which may set the child up for a healthier BMI

  • Since BLW babies experience a wide range of healthy foods early on, they may be more likely to continue to enjoy those foods later in life.

Things you need to start baby led weaning:

  1. Safe place for baby to sit. A highchair is a great choice, but a parents lap is just as good (remember, baby should be able to sit up unassisted at this point).

  2. Healthy, appropriate finger foods (avocado, sweet potato, green beans, carrots) . A BLW baby is offered a variety of healthy whole finger foods (as well as a small amount of water) to choose from and explore. Follow your baby’s cues. Begin offering solids once a day(we started with exclusive veggies) and gradually increase as the child shows he wants or needs more.We encourage making family mealtime a habit. Baby learns best by observation and imitation. When everyone eats together and eats the same food, baby feels included, and mealtime is a fun experience rather than a battle.

Evelyn's First Foods:

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We have decided to stick with vegetables to start with so far. As the pediatrician said taste buds are still forming and after all fruits should be a no brainer with the nice sweet taste!

This is what we’ve started with so far:

  • Avocados

  • Black beans mashed between fingers

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Her favorite toy is a spoon- practicing that with her probiotic usually gives us about 30 minutes of solid entertainment and helps develop motor skills

  • Bringing water up to mouth in sippy cup, and some cold pressed carrot or kale juices supervised

Baby Led Weaning foods to avoid:

Some of these are common sense (popcorn for baby?!) but some good reminders when practicing baby led weaning.

  • High choking risk foods like: nuts, whole hot dogs, chocolate, candy (obviously), processed foods, tea, coffee, sugar

  • Allergic foods like: gluten, egg whites, nuts (peanuts), seafood, and citrus, especially if you have family history of sensitivity

  • Added table salt* or sugar

  • Unhealthy and processed foods like: chips, popcorn, sugar-containing foods, gum, and hard candy.

  • Honey

  • Stimulants: like chocolate or sugar

Worried about choking?

Close supervision is necessary. That being said, there needs to be a distinction between gagging – which is a safety mechanism that safeguards against choking by bringing large pieces of food forward to be chewed – and real choking. Remember babies can store food in cheeks for long periods of time.

 

- Essentially Bee