Baby Led Weaning
The time was fast approaching. The weeks were flying by. Suddenly I wasn’t using weeks as the measure of how old the twins were…we had moved onto months. Which could only mean one thing. It was almost time to start weaning.
Isn’t motherhood a funny thing? As soon as you are moderately close to feeling like you have some idea about what you’re doing with your new babies, a new stage of development appears out of nowhere ready to knock you off your slightly smug pedestal. Thanks milestones.
However I do view these new stages of development as quite exciting challenges. It’s like being on The Crystal Maze and everyone’s calling you to go one way or another to get through to the next round. Yet, with parenting there isn’t one correct way to do anything is there? So essentially, we are all just stabbing in the dark, winging it and hoping we do the best we can.
Being a stickler for organisation, I began researching into what was involved with weaning quite early on (when I say early…I mean when the babies were like, only 6 weeks old. You know me, I like to be prepared) and I was astonished by the range of information that was out there. How am I ever going to get my head around all of this advice?
Having worked in Education for over 10 years now, as well as having a specialism in Early Years, I had some opinions on how I wanted this stage to unfold. Being a huge advocate for independent learning, I viewed this stage as an opportunity to support a huge range of my twins’ development. I didn’t want weaning to become a stressful and laborious chore because the babies will only take one and a half teaspoons of puree mush, before the rest of it gets splattered around the flat as if we were in a game of paintballing.
The term ‘baby led weaning’ is quite self explanatory, in the sense that your baby is leading the way. Rather than being passive in this new adventure, waiting for you to put another spoonful into their mouth and really not learning much other than ‘I open my mouth, you put food in’, they are an active participant, learning how to handle food, how to get the food to their own mouth, as well as how to chew and swallow.
Now, I’m no nutritionist and am only commenting on what I have researched, but one quote that really has stuck with me is:
‘Food before one is just for fun’
What an interesting way to look at it. Just thinking about it from that angle automatically changes your perception of weaning. When you use the word ‘fun’ it completely takes the stress away from meal times and instead suggests an activity or learning experience. The great thing with BLW is that you still give all of the milk feeds, so you know that your baby is still getting the calories they need and if they eat any solid food when weaning, then that’s great! This sounded perfect for me and my babies.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby led weaning essentially means letting your baby learn how to feed themselves from the start. At first you’ll find they won’t actually eat anything, but instead will be independently learning how to handle food, develop hand-eye coordination to get food to their mouths, develop chewing skills and work out how to swallow. They will continue to have their milk feeds and these will gradually reduce over time.
Is my baby ready for Baby Led Weaning?
Signs to look out for around six months of age include:
– Sitting up with little or no support
– Reaching out for items and putting them to their mouth
– Watching you eat and wanting to join in
– Making chewing movements
I’m nervous about gagging
One aspect of BLW that makes a lot of people nervous is gagging. What is important to remember is that a lot of babies will gag when they first start weaning on solids as they are just learning how much food they can put into their mouths. Babies gag because the food isn’t ready to be swallowed. The reflex pushes it back up into the mouth so that chewing can continue. This is why it is extremely important that your baby is sitting upright so that this action can happen. If your baby does gag, the best thing to do is just sit back and let your baby work it out. Patting them on the back does not help (and could actually push it back further). Smile, talk or sing to them and once they’re done, just reassure them they are ok and carry on. You’ll find it actually doesn’t really bother them, but more so us parents!
Choking on the other hand is where the airway is blocked by something (past where the gagging reflex is). If you are nervous about choking it could be a good idea to attend a paediatric first aid course so that you know what procedures to follow if a choking incident did take place.
Where to start
Like learning any new skill, babies need lots of time and practise to understand how to pick up food, put it to their mouths accurately, chew effectively and swallow. Think of every meal time as an opportunity for your little one to discover new textures and tastes in a fun and exciting way. I like to think of these times as a ‘short and sweet’ activity. Leaving a baby in their highchair until they eat all of the food you have given them is not realistic. They will end up getting bored and frustrated and as a result, will learn to not enjoy meal times. Remember, the idea is that they are given opportunities to learn all of the eating skills listed above and if they actually swallow any of the food – bonus!
As the idea with BLW is that your baby learns how to feed themselves, it’s best to give them foods that will support their coordination abilities. Cutting roasted sweet potato into wedges, vegetable sticks or small finger slices of toast gives your babies something to grasp easily. As they become more confident you could try runnier items such as houmous, yogurt or pasta with sauce.
The Baby Led Weaning Cookbook by Gill Rapley and Tracy Murkett has explained how babies’ skills can be broken down into these stages:
– Reach and grasp, with palmer grip (from 6-8 months). Babies can reach and grab foods, but can’t get the food once it’s in their fist so the food needs to be long enough to poke out of the top.
– Fist opening and closing (from 7-9 months). In this stage, your baby can open their fist to get the food into their mouth. They may be happy at trying to use a piece of food or a spoon as a dipper to get runnier foods into their mouths.
– Using fingers (from 8-10 months). Babies can hold pieces of food with their fingers without having to use their palm. They may make selections of what to eat first from their plate. Babies might even be adventurous at this stage to try and use a spoon or fork!
– Refined pincer grip (from 9-12 months). Babies can pick up small pieces of food with the tips of their thumbs and forefinger. They can even manage grains of rice! They could be starting to stab accurately with a fork and scoop with a spoon.
– Using cutlery (from 11-14 months). Cutlery may be a preference now, although fingers will still be used.
Please remember that all babies are different and will develop these skills in their own time. This is just a guide.
Can I give them anything to eat?
The great thing with BLW is that your baby can eat what you eat! So there’s no need to prepare extra purees or special foods for them. Just remember that the foods you need to be weary of are:
– Salt (do not add salt to your baby’s food. You can offer salty foods such as canned tuna or hard cheeses, but only a small portion in one day. If you do cook with salt, just use a separate pot a cook your baby’s food in and then you can still add seasoning to your own food)
– Shellfish or undercooked eggs (as they carry a risk of food poisoning)
– Sugar (occasionally having sugar is fine, such as fruit cake, but not every day)
– Honey (babies shouldn’t have honey until they are over 1 year old because they can get an infection).
– Whole nuts (choking hazard)
I hope this post has been useful in explaining the principles behind BLW and given you an insight into why I love it. Although purees and spoon feeding is not mentioned, I will still occasionally use them too to help our babies feed. I think you have to take ideas and suggestions and come up with what is right for you and your babies.
Look out for my other post where I explain how we weaned our twins.
Love, The Foxfairies x