Om Nom Nom! Birthzang’s Guide to Baby-Led Weaning
Baby Led Weaning
Babyzang1 was weaned with the “traditional” puree method, but it was stressful and messy and when it was babyzang 2’s turn we went down the baby-led weaning route. It was so wonderful!
The stress was nil, the worry was so much less and babyzang 2 could pretty much eat a full meal unaided by the age of 9 months!
What’s wrong with puree?
Puree weaning has a short history. In the 19th century infant formula was invented to help women who could not breastfeed as an alternative to a wet nurse, and to discourage the practice of “dry nursing’- basically making sloppy foods to feed the baby, often created from animals milk. The concerns over dry nursing were due to the nutritional deficiencies of the foods being created and in 1867 the first infant formula was invented, and many more swiftly followed. Unfortunately, the lack of understanding about the amazing properties of breastmilk was not fully understood until recent decades and certainly in the early part of the 20th century, diet-related disease and conditions were common in formula-fed babies, such as rickets and scurvy.
The practice then veered back towards early weaning – back to this dry nursing – but this time encouraging pureed foods to be introduced as early as 3 months in order to supplement the formula with much-needed vitamins and minerals. the thing is babies’ tummys are just not developed enough at this age to actually digest food and so bland alternatives were then introduced – foods such as baby rice.
So, in fact, the nutritional value of baby rice is also virtually nil and so we get into this way of thinking baby is “ready” for food but in fact can’t really swallow it, can’t digest it, and doesn’t get any nutritional value from it.
So when are they ready?
Weaning actually means the process of introducing adult food into a baby’s diet and slowly adjusting the proportions until the baby food is no longer required.
I have written a blog post about signs that your baby is ready for weaning but in a nutshell babies are generally ready at around 5-7 months old but will vary from baby to baby, and each will show a different combination of signs.
What’s so good about baby led weaning then?
The idea of baby led weaning (BLW – a term introduced by Gill Rapley, a midwife and health visitor) is that it is led completely by the baby. Rather than the parent making bland, mushy food that they spoon into a baby’s mouth before they are really ready to eat it, the key concept of BLW is that food is introduced when the baby is ready for it. The “pure” philosophy is that you present the baby with food – proper food , yes cooked, but not cut up or mashed in any way – and well, let them get on with it really.
What happens in the early stages of BLW is that the baby will pick up the food and with a bit of luck shove it in their mouth. They may also squish it around in their hands, on their face, in their hair onto the floor (you MUST be prepared for mess) but this is an essential sensory learning process.
At some point the food will, in fact, land in their mouth and this is where the first concerns start to come in (well, after the mess situation!).
Gagging vs Choking
Babies have very sensitive gag reflexes that are positioned very far forwards in their mouth. So something only has to be on a baby’s tongue and the gag reflex can be set off. This is why early puree weaning at 4 months is often so unsuccessful as baby’s just spit the food right back out (THEY ARE NOT READY!!!)
As babies get older and they start to learn how to eat (remember they don’t know how to eat yet, they are having to learn to use their tongues and jaws to chew and swallow food). The gagging gets less and less as the reflex moves further back down the throat as they become better at handling food in their mouth.
This natural process ensures that babies literally don’t bite off more than they can chew, and enables their learning to be at the pace that is right for them.
Many parents are rightly concerned about choking, and how to tell one from the other. The golden rule is never let your baby eat unattended! You should be sitting with them and attentive to them at all times. if they start to gag on some food don’t jump up to save them but allow them to spit out their food. 10 seconds is a good amount of time to wait before giving them a pat on the back.
If they are making a noise then it is pretty certain they are gagging as choking happens silently (as they can’t breathe – remember choking is food going down the windpipe not the oesophagus). This is why you should always be with your baby when they are eating.
If you want to know what to do if baby does choke then check out the NHS website here.
So how do I start baby-led weaning?
This is best to do from the start of weaning but you can introduce solid foods to your puree-fed baby at any time – just be aware that if all they have eaten is puree foods and they are now 7-9 months, then you may find they gag a lot more as their gag reflex has moved back in their mouth but they are not learned to deal with lumps in their mouths.
Start weaning by getting a nice high chair. Cook some food and give it to your baby! no but seriously it is really that simple. We always sat down and had a family meal and just gave babyzang 2 her own servings.
Ensure you minimise salt and its a good idea to cook all food from scratch and avoid highly processed food to start. Don’t both with a plate or bowl to start with just pop it straight on their tray. Ensure veg is quite well cooked so that if it does break off (eg carrots) then it will be mushy. It can also help to cut things into narrow sticks for the same reason.
Raw veg is also a good food to give – like carrot or celery sticks. they can’t actually bite a piece off (although it is amazing how string toothless gums can be) but they get the texture and the flavour and it also eels nice against teething gums.
Purists in baby-led weaning say you shouldn’t cut up food nor place a spoon or any item of food in the baby’s mouth – they should be able to do it all themselves, but lets face it, giving them a bit of a helping hand isn’t going to scar them for life. Just make sure it is helping them learn.
Top tips for baby led weaning
- PATIENCE – baby-led weaning can take longer for babies to actually start eating food as they are exploring it thoroughly first. Be patient. Once they get it, they will progress quickly – Babyzang 2 could eat a roast dinner by 10 months!
- VARIETY – is the spice of life and I call bullshit on the weaning advice that says only give your baby one food at a time. WHAT? Total crap. Give them 5 or 6 things for every meal. Different colours and flavours and textures, warm and cool. How would you like to be given overcooked pureed broccoli 5 days in a row? And give them a selection rather than one at a time.
- QUANTITY – don’t expect your baby to eat much. Yes give them choice but also give them tiny portions. this helps to minimise mess and waste. This is also helped by just giving them a bit of what the rest of the family is having.
- MESS – be prepared for mess. Embrace it and don’t stress about it. Get full body, long arm aprons or be prepared to give them a full change of clothes (or even a bath) after each meal.
- ENJOY – you don’t have to faff around cooking and pureeing other foods, you don’t have to make a separate meal, you don;t have to sacrifice your meal by feeding them. It really is easier and a lot more fun!
Good foods for baby led weaning
Any food is good but here are some things to help you get inspired. Remember steaming veg is better than boiling and if you choose processed food, try to get ones with the least amount of ingredients. I would also say go organic as much as you can.
It goes without saying that foods that can be easily choked upon should be avoided or cut up – grapes, baby tomatoes, etc.
- VEGETABLES – carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, tomatoes (cut into wedges), cucumber sticks, courgette, butternut squash, aubergine, sweetcorn, baby corn, peas, broad beans – squash these to avoid choking
- MEAT – high-quality sausages, steak, chicken, mince, home-made mini burgers
- CARBS – rice, couscous (very messy!), potatoes (home cooked chips are brill), pasta, barley
- FISH – all fish is great!
- LENTILS – beans, chick peas,
- DAIRY – cheese sticks or cubes, yoghurt (can puree fruit into it for flavour), fromage frais,
- FRUIT – melon, orange cut on the rind, apple – be careful with this as it can break off in pieces, grapes cut up, cherries cut up, banana in sticks
- SNACKS – breadsticks, rice cakes, baguette cut into sticks, baby biscuits, raisins, yogurt
You know you really can give them anything! Just make sure you are eating it as well and keeping an eye on them and family meals with becoming a pleasure rather than a pain!
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