Benefits, challenges, and eight pointers to help you if you are looking on how to start solids for your child using baby-led weaning.
Disclaimer: Before reading on, please make sure to speak with your pediatrician as you start solids or go for baby-led weaning. This article is based on our experience while practicing baby-led weaning for our child. However, it is not the only approach to start solids for a child. Please decide per your and your pediatrician’s judgement.
What is Baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning, or BLW, is a philosophy, which started in the UK [Baby Led Weaning, Rapley et al.], but now many around the world follow it. In a nutshell, to start solid foods for a baby, the food is offered to the child and not spoon-fed!
It sounds unbelievable for a child that young to feed himself, but when one sees it in action, it feels rewarding.
In BLW, the baby “leads” the weaning process, and we are merely there as a support. “How much” food and “how to eat” is on the baby, “when and what to eat” is on us.
How to start Baby-led weaning?
It makes sense to go for BLW if the child is meeting his developmental milestones. Although the recommended age to start solids is six-months, please speak with your pediatrician to ensure that the child is ready.
A child’s interest in food, neck control, being able to hold and control objects, are a few things that determine the child’s readiness.
What are the benefits of Baby-led weaning?
(a) Mealtimes are more relaxed as the baby feeds herself. It is easier for us parents when we don’t have to run around the child.
(b) The baby’s fine motor skills improve by the day; I could see my son’s grip grow tremendously in holding those little peas.
(c) You will see the child owning up and gaining confidence in other activities as well.
(d) Food can become the highlight and activity of the day real soon! I remember giving my child berries while I cooked, and his rendezvous with them would last for more than half an hour.
(e) The relationship with food can be great for months to come. I have witnessed this with my son and niece. If we don’t pressurize them for something, the charm stays.
(f) Eating out is so much easier – We would put our son on high chair and serve food and eat at peace (most of the times!)
What are the challenges with Baby-led weaning
(a) Time: One needs to spend time reading about it, especially identifying the difference between gagging and choking (Gagging is a normal response, and choking is not! Gagging is a little cough and hiccup where the child is learning, but choking doesn’t come with any sound and should be responded to ASAP.
(b) Consensus: Please try to make sure that the family is aligned. If someone in the house has a different opinion, the child can get a different message, and the attempt at BLW might not work smoothly.
(c) Fear: Overcoming the fear of whether the child has eaten enough. If the child is developing well and meeting milestones, quantity might be less of a concern (please speak with your pediatrician if you have concerns).
(d) Messy: Initial mess can be a deterrent for many. The child isn’t meticulous in starting with, and we should keep our expectations low and be ready to clean up!
Our Experience with Baby-led weaning
As I had discussed in another article on “our slips in the first two years of parenting,” BLW was great for until our son turned one. However, we had a bumpy ride with food for a few months until coming back on track.
The reason being that we traveled to India, and it could be a mix of jet lag and teething that our son wasn’t to keep on eating, and we gave up on BLW for a while, fearing that he might not be getting enough food. However, we got back and glad to do that.
There are four things I remember from the time when we were transitioning our son to solids :
(a) The anxiety when our son would gag.
(b) The urge to feed him and worry if he has had enough.
(c) Discussions with our parents if it is too soon to let him self feed.
(d) Traveling with booster chair for vacation.
My sister, on the other hand, stuck to BLW for my niece, and we are all so pleased that it turned out like that! This article has a lot of inputs from her as I wanted to combine and chronicle our learnings.
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Pointers to start Baby-led weaning
Following are the eight things you might want to keep in mind as you start the process of weaning your child and starting solids.
1. Educate yourself
Do your research. A few things that helped us get started:
- Knowing what is gagging and then be prepared for it. Here’s a good video explaining the difference.
- Reading up which foods are okay to offer, like not super-mushy or pureed food, but soft finger foods for the child to hold them and take them to his mouth.
- If possible, please do the CPR training. Both my husband and I did a class for CPR for infants. CPR means Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation, and here is a link providing an overview. It is not just for BLW, but also because babies that young want to put everything in their mouth!
2. Align/Build Consensus
- Make sure that your spouse is in alignment with you. My husband and I were on the same page throughout. That helped avoid any disappointments or arguments in our approach.
- Also, please speak with your pediatrician and family. If consensus is there, BLW can be way more comfortable.
- Lastly, if you have a nanny or daycare, communicating with them is also essential. For us, our son was getting mixed signals because he was getting spoon-fed at the daycare, and we were encouraging self-feeding. In retrospect, we should have been clear about it with the daycare.
Join BLW Facebook groups: Many Facebook support groups have discussions on BLW. They were a big source of information and motivation for us. Please let me know if you’d like to know the specific groups, and I can point you to them.
4. Be prepared
- As I had mentioned above, doing CPR training is highly recommended. Again, knowing the difference between gagging and choking is a must. Both these measures will help avoid any worry as the child learns to master eating herself and faces hiccups.
- Moreover, three things that helped us during BLW were getting a bib, a floor mat, and a high chair. Once the child is tethered to the chair, the focus stays on the food. Floor mat and bib guard a bit against the mess that will come initially.
- At no time can we leave the child alone!
5. Introduce new food in the morning
Its recommended to offer new food in the morning, because allergic reactions can be severe in the night. Also, to ensure that we can reach out to our doctor if any unfortunate reaction happened.
6. Plan the food
- Try giving finger foods that are not mushy. The most comfortable way to plan the child’s food is to offer family food itself, with a little tweak! As an example, I would make soft pancakes for all with less chili for our son. As for my sister, edamame snack works for her and her daughter!
- Making a full meal plan where I knew each meal has something for the child worked great for us.
7. Be consistent
- We faltered after six months of doing BLW due to the explanation above. Being consistent is the key to it. When our son spilled food, or he wouldn’t eat much, both of us had a strong temptation to distract and feed him. That is where one needs to be calm and not give in (as long as the child is growing well).
- If you are traveling, take things with you. If daily feeding rhythm goes away, things can fall apart. For example, on vacation, our son’s booster chair traveled with us. It is one of those things which look hard in the beginning but can ease life a lot.
- All care providers should follow suit because the long term benefits are enormous.
8. Stay calm
Know that it is not a sprint but a marathon! If a few misses happen with feeding the child, setting our expectations low can go a long way. In any case, Breastmilk or formula is the primary source of nutrition until age one, so worrying about the quantity can be misplaced.
A Parting Note
Good luck with your child’s starting solids. Staying consistent, informed, calm can help make this transition very comfortable. Take care!