Here's my parenting brag: I've never bought any baby food. I've never had a mush of green mashed peas flung at my wall. I've never played "aeroplane" zooming a spoon toward my daughter's closed mouth. And I've never, ever begged her to eat a thing.
When my daughter was five months old and a girlfriend mentioned Baby-Led Weaning (BLW), I was confused. She explained that it's a way of introducing solid foods without me feeding them to her with a spoon. You basically place age-appropriate foods cut up into small pieces in front of infants, and let them go at it.
"It's a way of fostering independence," she explained. I was sceptical: Would she get enough to eat? What about choking risks? But the idea of avoiding all the begging and pleading and dealing with boiled smashed squash did sound like a good deal. So I started investigating.
It turns out the practice is known to have some benefits. In a study released this year, parents reported that babies who fed themselves seemed less fussy about foods, and enjoyed eating more. BLW shows the tiny eaters that they have choices.
"It allows the baby to lead the whole process, using her instincts and abilities," writes Gill Rapley and Gill Tracey Murkett in their book Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Food — and Helping Your Baby to Grow up a Happy and Confident Eater.
I started BLW when my daughter was seven months old — and almost two years later, I'm happy (mostly) with her eating habits. Want to get rid of the baby mush, too? Here are some things to consider before getting started.
When to Start BLW
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends introducing solid foods at around six months.
The trick, though, is to look for markers: Can your baby hold his head up? Can she swallow food (instead of her tongue pushing it out of her mouth as is an infant's instinct)? Is he reaching for food when it comes his way, or watching it obsessively? If the answers are yes, then it may be time to start.
What to Feed Them
"Baby-Led Weaning means offering your baby (age appropriate) foods that are soft-cooked and cut or mashed into small easily manageable pieces," explains Momtastic Wholesome Babyfood Blog. I started with avocados, bananas and omelettes, which are still my daughter's favourites to this day.
There are tons of BLW recipes around, as well. Our top breakfast choice is banana pancakes: a banana, an egg, a pinch of bicarbonate of soda, and voila! Some say it takes a baby ten tries before she starts liking a new food, so it's important to keep at it. (Though it seems like my kid will never trust cooked peppers.)
How to Feed Them
In my own experience with the process, the how you feed is more important than the what. "The foods are given to your baby to eat without being pureed and without being spoon-fed," Momtastic advises. This means you place it in front of them and they can do what they wish with it.
To paraphrase Judy Blume's Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing: "Eat it or Wear It."First offer a bit of finger food, and then later on you can bring in utensils.
"Yours to Offer, Theirs to Refuse"
Basically, this motto means you feed a child like you'd feed an adult:
"Do you want some more banana?"
It makes sense, right? You don't beg and plead with grownups: "Please? One more bite! For me?" (Unless, of course, you're like my overfeeding Jewish mama.) This requires a bit of a mental shift. You're not "getting your baby to eat," you're teaching them how to eat.
You don't have to worry about their consumption at this point because before the age of one, food isn't a primary source of nutrition. You're simply putting it out there for them to experiment with. And you're avoiding the power struggles that can come with mealtime.
Embrace the Mess
Yes, I did mention that I've never had to wipe mashed peas off the ceiling, but I didn't say the BLW experience would be mess-free. Your baby will play with the food, acquaint herself with it, and possibly rub it on her face. It's an important part of the process — they're simply getting comfortable with food. As the parent, you can decide at any point that they're done and take it away.
Some BLW advocates recommend avoiding high chairs and either sitting the child on your lap as they're eating, and then when old enough, moving them to an actual chair so they won't be trapped when they're done. We used a high chair — my daughter loved it — but also gauged when she was ready to be taken out.
What About Choking Risks?
Gonna be honest here: I was super afraid of feeding my daughter solid food because of the potential choking hazards. Which is why baby mush was probably invented. Sometimes it was tough to watch my darling cough on food — but if I waited a moment, I learned to see it was nothing.
The good news? Studies show that there is no difference in choking risks between BLW and traditional baby feeding. The older the baby, the less likely the risk. Still, no matter which method you choose, you should make sure to learn what to do if a baby is choking.
How to Maintain Healthy Eating Habits
Since the point of BLW is to teach your child healthy eating habits, it's good to cook just one meal for the whole family. "Together!" is one of my toddler's favourite thing to say at mealtime, as it's a time when we can all just stop what we're doing and join each other at the table.
BLW cookbooks all offer layered recipes where sauces and hot stuff and salt can be added in for the adults. Speaking of spices: babies don't need you to jazz up their food — it's all new to them, so don't rush to dress up vegetables for their novice taste buds. Salt and sugar of course should be limited, but new spices and flavours can pique their interest.
Some parents use this to train their child to be adventurous eaters, but you cannot force it: I know my toddler doesn't like slimy substances, like mangos, peaches, okra and green beans. I offer, she refuses.
On the other hand, she often says of our mealtime staple, "More salad, mama!" And though she'll still want ice cream later, I consider this a win.