I remember the first time I heard the term “baby led weaning” (BLW). I was attending a new mom’s group with my firstborn (my son, then only a few weeks old) and the introduction of solids was still pretty far from my mind at that point. A more seasoned mom, whose son was a few months older than mine, was chatting with others about how she was planning to introduce solids using BLW. She was saying how this approach to feeding encouraged babies to be more adventurous with different foods and textures (and hopefully less picky as a result) and how it taught them to self-feed from the get-go.
Some basic tenets are: 1) no purees; give baby table food from the start, 2) never put food in the baby’s mouth/let the baby self-feed, 3) include the baby in the family meal/eat together where possible.
To my tired mom-of-a-newborn brain, it sounded a heck of a lot easier to just feed my baby what we were eating (within reason) as opposed to becoming one with my steamer and making a million purees. But, it also sounded scary with all the gagging! Though I was intrigued, my anxiety got the better of me and I ended up going the traditional route with my son, feeding him a wide range of pureed foods, thanks so the amazing culinary skills of my mom and her infinite ice cube trays. For those interested, one of the best resources for purees (and beyond) that I’ve found is BabyFoodE.
With the birth of my daughter last year, I realized I would have another opportunity to give BLW a try. As most repeat parents will agree, I’m more confident in my role as a parent the second time around, less freaked out by all the gagging and, quite frankly, much busier and at a whole new level of exhaustion with a toddler and an infant at home. Make purees? Ain’t nobody got time for that!
Interestingly enough, my daughter also wanted nothing to do with pureed food. We tried some at first, especially in her first few weeks at daycare (where they had no experience with BLW), but she often turned away from the spoon. What can I say, she knows what she wants! She was much more excited about feeding herself and so we quickly transitioned to a BLW style of eating and have not looked back.
Now 10-months old, my daughter sits with us at mealtime and feeds herself a version of what we are eating as a family. I love that I don’t have to make separate meals. It takes some of the stress out of traveling with a baby in that I can find appropriate food for her wherever we go as opposed to packing a bunch of purees, bowls, spoons, etc. I cut the food in shapes that she can grab easily, ensure no choking hazards like whole grapes or popcorn, and introduce foods appropriately to monitor for any allergies.
Otherwise, it’s simple and most importantly, she LOVES it. There’s some gagging, of course, but I’ve educated myself on the huge difference between gagging and choking, and most of the time with gagging there is very little danger of actual choking. I’m amazed at how quickly she learned how to chew – still without any teeth – and how much fun she is having exploring different textures and flavors. Here’s an example of a recent family meal (an easy sheet pan dinner!), with baby, toddler and mom/dad options:
The one thing I don’t love, however, is the mess. Oh, the mess. Self-feeding is a whole lot messier than spoon feeding and that’s something that parents who take this approach have to be ready to deal with. You haven’t lived until you’ve cleaned meat sauce out of your baby’s ear or guacamole out of their eyelashes. My daughter’s (naturally fluffy and beautiful) hair regularly looks slicked back or spiked because she loves to rub food in her hair 3x/day at mealtimes. Despite that, I’m so glad we gave this a shot as it’s been a lot of fun for our family. I’m eager to see if/how it impacts her palate as she gets older.
If you’re curious, or plan to give BLW a shot, there are a lot of resources out there to help you get started. I highly encourage you to check out the Feeding Littles blog and online courses (also on Instagram @feedinglittles). Other great resources are Babyledweaning.com and this book. There are also some really helpful Facebook groups/forums where you can ask questions and get meal ideas.