or perhaps it should be called Hailey’s adventure into real foods, because it certainly has been a fun journey to watch her taste and explore foods for the first time, but let’s start with the basics.
I first heard about baby led weaning (or baby led solids) when I was pregnant. BLW is a method of introducing solids that is based on the idea that babies should explore food. Texture, smell, taste and color intrigue the baby and the baby is free to play with their food and taste and eat it at their own pace, as opposed to the traditional spoon-fed method.
It’s recommended to wait until 6 months to try solids in this fashion because by then the baby’s digestive system is mature enough to handle food and the baby is able to sit up properly. So, I waited until Hailey was 6 months old and showed clear signs of being ready (obvious grabbing for our food and imitating our biting and chewing), then I asked the pediatrician. She wasn’t familiar with the method, but after I explained it, she gave me the go-ahead and assured me there was no medical reason that we needed to use rice cereal or oatmeal, so with her blessing, I skipped those in favor of unprocessed whole foods. I was mostly concerned about iron, but was assured that the baby’s iron stores and the iron in breast milk is more than sufficient until we get into iron rich foods (note, if your baby was premature or low birth weight, make sure to consult with your pediatrician about what would be best for your baby because they might require more iron)
I did read the Baby Led Weaning book (mostly) and found it just OK. I felt like it was more so selling me on the idea than informing me on how to do it. I’ve heard the Baby Led Weaning cookbook is better and plan to check it out. Finally, I decided I’d read enough and it was just time to eat food already!
Do what? Eat it? Well, OK…
I decided sweet potato would be Hailey’s first food, so I washed, peeled and roasted long sticks of sweet potato. The pieces you give the baby are supposed to be at least 2 inches long because at this age they grab food with their whole hand, and the piece needs to be long enough to have part of it sticking out for them to taste.
I let the pieces cool completely while I brushed up on my first aid skills (I was a bit scared about choking) and David and I got her set up in the highchair. Then it was game time. I set 3 sweet potato pieces in front of her and gave one to David.
I wanted to make sure we demonstrated what to do (which I’ve found is very effective!). She examined the pieces and it didn’t take long until they made their way to her mouth.
She gummed it a little and then pulled it out, as if to say WhAAAt is this?
But then the pieces kept going back in.
I was so nervous about choking, but she was really careful and for the most part, couldn’t bite pieces off. She just sucked the soft inside out. It was so much fun to watch her explore that we decided to give her avocado, too.
Though it was a bit tougher to hold (I’ve heard you can coat it in crushed cheerios to make it easier to hold, but I wasn’t up for that), she liked it! However, she did bite one big chunk off. I looked at David panicked and ready to swoop in and flip her upside down, but he told me to wait. We watched as Hailey made some funny faces, gagged (NOT choked) and spit the piece out. She then reached out for more.
One important thing I learned is that at 6 months, the baby’s gag reflex is located much further forward on the tongue, where as in an adult mouth, it’s in the back of the throat. This is nature’s way of protecting from choking, and because of that, the baby will gag sometimes as he/she learns to maneuver the correctly sized bites around in his/her mouth. BLW claims this is another plus to this method of introducing solids because the baby learns how to chew food from the get-go, rather than sucking down purees and having to learn how to chew later on when the gag reflex has moved further back in the mouth
Hailey only gagged once or twice before she seemed to understand how to spit out bites that were too big, and since then, she’s loved learning about food! She’s eaten sweet potatoes, avocado, carrots, a green bean and bananas, but her favorite so far? Broccoli!
I steam it until tender, let it cool and she loves it!
One factor that I can’t deny about BLW, though, is that is is messy! I’m talking broccoli in the hair, smushed avocado in the seat, needs a full wipe down after kind of messy.
It helps if you have a willing participant to help clean up. Luckily, we do.
Another benefit I really liked about baby led weaning is that it helps develop baby’s hand eye coordination. I thought it may be a stretch, but I’ve found it fascinating to watch Hailey scoot a piece of food around until she’s able to grasp it and bring it to her mouth.
Another benefit? She eats what we eat! I make sure it’s modified to fit her needs (soft, long pieces with no spices), and we can all eat together. And if we’re out? She can eat off our plate- no spooning her food! (I’d be lying if I said pure laziness wasn’t a motivation of mine to try BLW).
She now eats food 2 times a day. I make sure she sits down when she isn’t hungry, usually about 1 hour after nursing. It may sound counter-intuitive, but at this stage, babies don’t understand that food will fill them up, and if they are hungry or tired, they will be frustrated and not enjoy the experience.
But is she actually eating anything? At first I would have told you I’m not sure, but now I am 100% positive that she’s eating. The proof is in the diaper. I’ll spare you that picture
So far, I love baby led solids. I swore that if it didn’t work for us, I’d be the first one to grab the spoon and puree, but so far, it’s working out really well. As with everything, every baby is different and it’s important you consult with your pediatrician and find what works best for your baby.