Through my blog posts and regular conversation, every time I bring up the words "Baby Led Weaning" I always seem to get looks of confusion or questions. In general, most people aren't familiar with what exactly this means and take the words literally..thinking I am letting my child decide when she wants to wean off the breast. This is not the case and I will try my best to explain what exactly I mean when I say "we are doing Baby Led Weaning."
First, a little history...
There are journals on top of journals with information on baby formulas and their developments over the years. Throughout history, the concoctions people have called "baby formula" have been very lacking at some points. At one point Dr's were recommending evaporated milk for preemies as a formula and people ran with this..it was easy! One little can that wouldn't spoil until opened, the baby liked because it was sweet, and the baby gained weight while drinking it? Perfect, right? Not so much. Babies were still deficient in basic vitamins and minerals they needed, because evaporated milk ISN'T all a baby needs.
This is where food came in. Some Dr's came along and realized babies needed more than what these random concoctions could offer and were lacking vitamins crucial to development. The easiest way to get babies what they needed (since formula wasn't what it is today) seemed to be by feeding real food. But how would a 2 month old eat a green bean or a carrot? Simple, the same way they do now. Puréed and watered down, fed with a spoon..the only way a baby really could eat it. This ensured the baby was getting the necessary nutrients needed to thrive that "formula" couldn't offer, and thus babies were fed pureed foods on top of "formula" at a very early age.
With improved research, FDA guidelines on formula, and more information on babies development and digestive tract, new recommendations now state that babies shouldn't be fed ANY solids until 6 months, and should remain strictly formula or breastfed until then.
If you wait the recommended time to start solids, your baby is much further developed and able to eat real foods as opposed to needing purees.
So this is where Baby Led Weaning comes into play.
I tend to get the same questions asked repeatedly, so I'll try to answer the more common ones.
So what is it?
Basically instead of offering your baby pureed food, teaching them to swallow before they learn to chew, you do the opposite--you teach your baby to chew real food, before swallowing. In doing this, you never have to "retrain" them when you move on to actual solids in a few months, and most importantly, you know exactly what your baby is eating and how much.
How do you go about it?
Basically, the BLW experts say to give long, finger sized pieces of just about anything and allow the baby to bite off chunks at their own desire. For Milania, we did this at first but she was constantly getting too carried away and shoving her mouth full before biting it off. We ended up fitting it to our needs a little bit more by giving her more manageable pieces but still allowing her to feed herself.
What can they or can't they eat?
Milania eats just about everything! We started her off with vegetables, then introduced fruits, and from there we just went with it. She literally eats anything we are eating for supper now...pasta, pizza, chicken, potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, cucumbers, waffles, toast, eggs, you name it. The only thing we stay away from is honey anything (can't have until a year because of bacteria) and we also try to stay away from dairy/cheese products. She does get cottage cheese on occasion, and Greek yogurt for breakfast a lot (and has had a few bites of hard cheese) but we are waiting until she's a year to really introduce all dairy.
When did you start it?
We started with Milania right at 6 months. The first thing we decided to try was avocado. She didn't do very well at all. She knew to put it in her mouth (she puts anything in her mouth anyway) but once in there, she wasn't chewing much and didn't seem fond of it. I wasn't sure if it was just because she wasn't ready for food or because she didn't like avocado, so we kept trying. Over and over she did the same thing for a few days with the avocado and I finally decided to give it a week or two and then try again. The lesson? She didn't like avocado and still doesn't.
Do you spoon feed her anything?
We do. BLW advocates say to load a spoon and let them self feed but the OCD in me doesn't like that. I do spoon feed her oatmeal or Greek yogurt for breakfast. As far as jarred baby food, she has probably eaten less than 5 containers her entire life. We do have some on hand and will pack them if we are going somewhere and are afraid there wont' be a highchair or table for her to eat at, and sometimes I will give her some just to change it up or add it to her oatmeal. Lately, she hasn't been digging them at all though.
Doesn't she choke?
This is usually the first question after I explain what BLW is. At first when we introduced food, she did gag sometimes. I know the pieces weren't overly big but she definitely wasn't chewing them like she should be. She has never ever choked though! There IS a difference between choking and gagging! Babies gag reflex are VERY strong starting out and mature as they age. They are strong for a reason--to prevent actual choking. The first few weeks when she would gag, I would sort of mash up things a little bit but still leave them chunky for her. I gave her reflex a little bit of time to mature and tried again in a couple weeks. I would introduce a few chunky foods I knew she could handle but would also help her out when need be. Finally we got to the point where she rarely ever gagged and was 100% eating chunks, not mashed. So, my best advice is just to watch your baby and read their signs...every baby is different! Also, watching videos on YouTube and learning the difference between choking and gagging and what to do if your baby really IS choking would be beneficial!
Is it better than regular jarred food feeding?
That is really a matter of opinion. In my opinion, yes. I love knowing exactly what she is eating and exactly how much. I love that we don't have to pack any food for her when we go out to dinner or go to someone's house. I love that she is getting familiar with food we eat at an early age and already has a preference to seasonings--she would NOT eat peas until I peppered them for her a couple weeks ago! Also, I love that she can practice her fine motor skills at the same time..she seriously is REALLY good at grabbing things with her pincer grasp and getting them in her mouth. I'm not sure how a baby at this age would practice that other than self feeding. And this I don't know for sure or not, but supposedly it makes less picky eaters down the road..so I look forward to seeing if that holds true also.
Lastly, I love that she is in control of how much or how little she eats. With jarred food babies are often over fed bc parents aren't sure what exactly is going in..how much of a banana is in a spoonful of a purée? With this, I can see exactly how much she is eating and she also doesn't get forced to eat anything she doesn't want to. We never have to "convince" her to open her mouth to shovel one more spoonful in.
With that being said, I don't see anything wrong with jarred foods either! I know for a lot of people they are easy and less messy and familiar, and that works too!
Here are some foods Milania eats. At the top of the list are her favorites and our go-to's:
Waffles--her absolute favorite! She eats about 3/4 of one in the morning!
Toast with apple butter
Pasta with red sauce
Sweet potato chunks
Apple slices (I microwave and cinnamon these)
The list goes on and on..
I hope that answers some questions about Baby Led Weaning. Have you tried Baby Led Weaning or do you plan to? I would LOVE to hear your story on starting solids and what you did or didn't do.