Baby-Led Weaning

My baby girl recently turned six months, and this is the stage where babies start diving into everything. This is when rolling, crawling, teething, and interest in food all sort of collide. There's so much learning going on you can practically see their brains getting bigger.

And they want to do everything that you do. Especially when it comes to food.

I'm a researcher at heart, so it didn't take me long to put together a mental roadmap on how I wanted to follow baby-led weaning. I am so excited to share why this approach seemed best for me and my little family unit. However, I am not an expert. These are my tips; take them with a grain of salt. And as always, feel free to contact me if you have any questions.

The basic concept of Baby-Led Weaning (or BLW) is to allow your baby to figure out food on their own, at their own pace, with minimal involvement on your part. Skip the purees and/or baby food altogether, and go straight for "real" food.

You get to watch your child explore food and get messy without the frustration of trying to shove it down their throats. Does this appeal to anyone else? I love that I can just plunk Roxy down in her high chair and offer her a few items from my own plate. She grimaces every time food touches her mouth, but within seconds she's going at it for more, so I think it's safe to say she's a fan of this method.
1. Get a Little Info. 
Do a bit of your own research. Make sure you're starting with foods in the right forms; for example, steamed veggies that are soft and big enough to fit in their fist. There are a few foods, such as honey, that you need to stay away from until baby is one year old. Also, watch out for anything with preservatives, sugar, etc.  Introduce new foods one at a time, generally at least three days in between each one (so you can pick out a food allergy immediately). Be prepared for your baby to make some coughing/gagging sounds - this is normal. They are figuring out where their gag reflex is and how much food they can fit into their mouths. But it wouldn't be a horrible idea to brush up on your infant CPR, just in case.
Here are a few resources for you: Overview and Food Ideas.

2. Transition.
BLW is not meant to be a fast-track method to weaning baby from milk. It still involves a transitory period during which the baby is getting all of their nutrients from breastmilk or formula. In the beginning, do not try to cut out any of their normal feedings and replace them with solid food! Solids should be added slowly - on top of their normal milk intake. Think of mealtimes as an added bonus. Most of the time, baby is only licking, sucking on, and spitting out the food you give them anyway. It takes awhile before they realize that they can eat it.
3. Monitor.
The BLW method is incredibly easy to put into practice. However, always make sure you're paying attention. Give your baby food when they are sitting upright, and ideally when they're in an environment you can easily clean. (In other words, not the living room couch, which of course I say from experience.) Observe them. Encourage them. Make sure they're not choking. Keep an eye out for allergic reactions. The more you are involved, the more they will enjoy the experience. The easiest way to do this is to feed them at mealtimes when you're already eating. It's a win-win for the whole family.

4. Messiness. 
I must warn you that BLW is going to be full of silly faces and messy fun. Because baby is given the chance to explore food in his/her own way, he/she is going to be unpredictable. Dropping food on the floor, rubbing it in the hair, squishing it in the high's going to end up a lot of places. To avoid the biggest messes, give them only one or two pieces of food at a time, and take it away when you notice them becoming bored and throwing things. And be prepared by making sure you have...
5. The Right Tools. 
Please, please, please pick a high chair with a simple design. Any chair with a lot of removable parts and/or padding is going to be a pain to clean. No one wants rotting food hiding in crevices. The high chair brands I heard people raving about were Bloom and Stokke - both of which go for about $500 on Amazon! The only other one that was as highly praised was IKEA's $20 Antilop chair. That's what I opted for and I'm already in love. It's the easiest thing to clean, it's light, and doesn't draw too much attention to itself. Plus the tray goes all the way around to baby's elbows.

I also heard some people suggesting getting large bibs with sleeves, so I purchased this one. I will say that it does work well and cleans easy. Baby Roxy's on the small side, though, and the crinkling of the waterproof material distracts her, so I use regular bibs more often than not. When in doubt, don't fork over the cash till you've seen a need.

6. Relax and Have Fun. 
Every parent's approach to this is going to be different, and the great thing is, it doesn't have to be all-or-nothing. You can do a little purees and a little food in chunks. It's your job to discover what is working and what isn't. Let baby go as his/her own pace (thus the term "baby-led") and choose the way that causes the least amount of stress to you. You're the parent! Make decisions that you can live with.

Have fun with this, too! Baby's food can be just as exciting as yours. You can use a variety of seasonings if you wish - just try to stay away from a lot of salt. The goal is for this to be easier on you and to interest the baby in mealtimes with the rest of the family.
We love everything about it so far, besides the random bits of banana I keep finding in baby girl's hair - and mine. Dinnertime is the best. AdventureDad likes sharing everything with her, which obviously I have to monitor closely, because he'd give her jalapenos, cake, soda, and cow's milk if I let him (our lives are interesting).

It's also helped me to eat healthier. I put a little less salt on everything, and I try to fill my meals with the fruits and veggies that I want her to try. She's always teaching me how to be a better mum.

So far we have tried chicken breast, lean turkey breast lunchmeat, steamed veggies (broccoli, carrots, green beans, cauliflower), fresh fruits (apples, pears, bananas, strawberries), homemade teething biscuits (more for teething than for food), yogurt, and applesauce. From what I've heard it's okay to give them small portions of high allergenic foods, such as eggs and peanut butter, but I haven't tried that yet.

Have you tried baby-led weaning? Do you do purees? What foods has your baby been most interested in so far?

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