Bibi is now 6-months old and we celebrated by throwing her a half “birthday” party with our close family members. One of the big milestones of reaching this age for most babies is the introduction of solid foods. I think it’s such an adorable time when you get to see them with little globs of food stuck on their face and in their hair even (I don’t like cleaning it up though).
After a lot of research, we decided that we would start Bibi’s foray into solid foods using the Baby Led Weaning method which encourages the baby to self-feed instead of being fed by a caretaker. In this post, I’ll be sharing our experience using the Baby Led Weaning method a.k.a. BLW to introduce solids to our baby.
Please note that the purpose of this post isn’t about the virtues of this one particular feeding method. I’m a strong proponent for doing what works for you and your family. It is by no means a How-To Guide and I am not a child development professional. I simply want to share our personal experience and hopefully give you some insight into what worked for our family while introducing solids to Bibi using the BLW method. Please refer to the resources I included to learn more about the Baby Led Weaning method and how to implement it safely. And remember to always consult with your own doctor or pediatrician.
The resources I used for all my Baby Led Weaning posts are as follows:
– Baby Led Weaning Book
– Harvard Health Publishing: New study says that it’s safe to skip the spoon and let babies feed themselves
– Doctor-natalie: Baby-Led Weaning: Fab or Fad?
– Today’s Parent: First foods to give your baby that are better than rice cereal
– CBC News: Some baby foods sold in Canada would be ‘illegal in Europe,’ arsenic testing shows
– VIDEO: What to do if your baby is choking | Canadian Red Cross
– In-class instruction from Safe Beginnings First Aid and Injury Prevention
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning is a method of feeding that allows baby to have control over how they feed themselves solid foods. Skipping the traditional baby purees, appropriate finger-foods in their raw form are introduced gradually and are treated as complimentary to baby’s usual milk feedings. The word weaning in this context doesn’t mean the cessation of milk feedings but rather the introduction of other foods.
Baby-led weaning is definitely not a “new” concept. Just imagine before the days of blenders and food processors, how did babies manage to eat their first solid foods? In some cultures, this meant pre-chewing the food for baby but beyond that, all babies had to start eating solid foods by themselves at some point.
Baby-led weaning only seems like a new concept to parents of past generations who were taught that purees were the only way to safely introduce solid foods to baby. Personally, I don’t blame them for thinking that because even I, myself, had always thought that all babies needed to eat mushy mashed up foods to prevent choking. But new evidence actually shows us that it is safe to introduce select solid foods to baby as their first food. As a mom, I can understand that every parent tries to do the best with the information they are given at the time.
The book Baby Led Weaning – which popularized the term – describes that the practice of feeding purees came to be around the 1960s. Parents were encouraged to give finger foods at about six months so baby could practice chewing food and moving it around in their mouths. But due to the recommendations by the American Academy of Pediatrics for babies to have some other foods by the time they reached six months, it was assumed that babies needed to get used to very soft foods before they could learn to chew. This advice on when baby should be introduced to solids is only just changing, following the recommendation of the World Health Organization in 2002.
Basically younger children were given solid foods at a time when they didn’t have the motor skills to handle it by themselves leading to a general opinion that soft mushy foods fed by spoon were the only way. According to the book’s author, Rapley, “research now suggests that those babies who started solids at three or four months old (or even younger) shouldn’t have been having them at all.” The new recommendation on breastfeeding from the WHO has now been revised to the following:
“Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.“Breastfeeding.” who.int, https://www.who.int/topics/breastfeeding/en/
Rapley proposes that babies are ready for solid foods when they have reached the age of 6 months, can sit up with little or no support, reach out to grab things and take it to her mouth, gnaws on her toys making chewing movements, and the best sign – when she starts to put food into her mouth herself which she can only do if given the opportunity.
Why We Chose Baby Led Weaning
There are many advantages (and to be fair – disadvantages too) with the BLW method. The points which stood out to me are: baby learns about new foods naturally and how to eat it safely while building a positive relationship with food.
A Natural Way to Learn About Food
It’s natural for babies to want to explore the world around them and one of the ways they do this once they have learnt how to grasp, at around 6 months of age, is to bring objects into their mouths. Allowing baby to explore and experiment with foods in their natural form helps them learn about real foods naturally.
“With BLW a baby can explore food at her own pace and follow her instincts to eat when she’s ready – just like any other baby animal”Gill Rapley, Tracey Murkett. Baby Led Weaning
Won’t She Choke? – Learning How to Eat Safely
Since babies don’t have teeth, it is natural to assume that they can’t safely chew their food. Rapley explains that babies don’t need teeth to chew, they can use their gums to bite or gnaw foods but they’ll probably have to wait until they have more teeth to be able to bite into hard foods such as raw carrots. Furthermore, one biological factor helping babies learn to eat safely is the position of their gag reflex being further towards the front of their mouths than in adults. For babies, gagging (not to be confused with choking) is normal as they use their tongue to push the food forward. Whatever they’re eating starts to fall out of the mouth and they might start to cough it out.
“…as the gag reflex moves back toward its adult position it becomes less and less effective as an early-warning sign. So babies who haven’t been allowed to explore food from the beginning may miss the opportunity to use it to help them learn how to keep food away from their airway.”Gill Rapley, Tracey Murkett. Baby Led Weaning
For further reading, here is an article written by, Dr. Claire McCarthy, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. New study says that it’s safe to skip the spoon and let babies feed themselves:
“What the researchers found was that 35% of the babies choked at least once between 6 and 8 months — but there was no difference between the groups. Babies feeding themselves didn’t choke any more than babies in the control group.”“New study says that it’s safe to skip the spoon and let babies feed themselves.” Harvard Health Publishing, https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/new-study-says-safe-skip-spoon-let-babies-feed-2016092010375
And for a more balanced view of baby-led weaning – its pros and cons – is this article by Dr. Natalie: Baby-Led Weaning: Fab or Fad?
Don’t be too much of a purist! The idea that spoons and forks shouldn’t be used at all is rather silly. By all means load some food onto your child’s spoon or fork to introduce new foods that couldn’t otherwise be introduced in a “true” baby-led regime. (I dare you to finger feed yoghurt!)Baby-Led Weaning: Fab or Fad? doctor-natalie.com, https://www.doctor-natalie.com/baby-led-weaning-fab-fad/
A Nervous Mom Starts Baby Led Weaning
Even after reading the Baby Led Weaning book and other supporting articles, like most new moms, I am still a bit nervous about starting baby led weaning – especially after hearing the worries from family members and other parents of older children. However, I do accept it’s core values and believe it to be an instinctual and natural way for baby to learn how to eat solid foods; I take Dr. McCarthy’s advice:
“…You can also do a combination of baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding. Either way, it’s safe — as long as you are careful about choking. Be thoughtful and use common sense. Which is actually good advice for parenting in general.”Choking Prevention. Healthychildren, “https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/injuries-emergencies/Pages/Choking-Prevention.aspx”
Like she says, it’s important to use common sense. Besides foods that are known to be obvious choking hazards, the child’s caretaker should be aware of what their own child is able to handle. I found taking a proactive step in learning the difference between gagging and choking, and how to respond greatly helped to relieve my concerns. I watched this video and also attended a First Aid Course for infants.
Here’s the beginning of our Baby Led Weaning journey:
5 months – Setting the Stage
We decided to help Bibi set the foundations of eating solid foods early at 5 1/2 months because she was able to sit up in her high chair and was eager to grasp things and bring them to her mouth. We didn’t have any big expectations from her to eat everything we gave her and our plan has always been for her to get her nutrients mainly from breast milk.
At 5 1/2 months Bibi mainly played with her food and licked it. For the two items (cooked carrots and avocados) that we did introduced to her, she would put them into her mouth and they would just fall out. Nevertheless, I felt it was a success that she was able to start sitting with us at the dinner table and had the opportunity to explore food with her hands and mouth.
6-Months – First Soft Solids
The Baby Led Weaning book encourages the introduction of foods that is easy and safe for baby to pick up and take to her mouth. After hearing concerns (some unfounded) about the BLW method from others, I backtracked a little and started giving Bibi a softer food that needed to be eaten from a spoon.
I chose oatmeal because I thought it was a good compromise with the BLW method. Unlike pureed fruit and vegetables, it’s a food that needs to be eaten with a spoon – irregardless of who is eating it.
Nutrition-wise, it contains iron (non-heme) that breast-fed babies need since their iron reserves begins to deplete by six-months of age. It is a better alternative to rice cereal – a previously recommended first food for babies – which contains trace levels of arsenic, a chemical that rice grains naturally soak up from soil and ground water.
“Baby cereal made from oats, barley or quinoa contains 4 to 5 mg iron per ¼ cup. Alternate brown rice cereal with these nutritious options. All of these cereals are low in arsenic, iron-fortified and easy to prepare.”7 first foods to give your baby that are better than rice cereal. TodaysParent.com, https://www.todaysparent.com/baby/baby-food/first-foods-to-give-your-baby-that-are-better-than-rice-cereal/
Adhering to one of the core values of BLW, which is to let baby control their own feeding, I let Bibi grab hold of the spoon that is already pre-loaded with oatmeal. The first time she saw the spoon, she grabbed it instinctually and placed it in her mouth. Because she didn’t have much practice, she wasn’t using the optimal amount of pressure when shoving the spoon in her mouth. Even so, I was comfortable letting her self-feed that way since we were using a soft silicone brush from OleBaby. It’s one of the most highly rated spoons for babies and kids to use to feed themeselves.
As you can see, Bibi made a huge mess. There was oatmeal everywhere! Somehow Bibi was able to flick the spoon in a way that caused oatmeal to find its way into the nooks and crannies of our home. The next time we had oatmeal again, we mixed it with less milk so it was thicker and easier for Bibi to eat without making a mess.
She didn’t like the taste of oatmeal all too much but in time, we learned that she really like peanut butter so we mixed in a teaspoon of it with oatmeal and breastmilk for her. The peanut butter flavor really comes through and masks the oatmeal so well that she happily ate a lot of more it. Of course, make sure to mix oatmeal and peanut butter with enough milk that it doesn’t become a choking hazard for your little one. (Peanut butter is especially dangerous if fed as a glob because it is sticky and blocks the airway.)
The next time we fed Bibi, I got more organized and prepared these items in advance:
– a clean tablecloth to catch dry foods which can be picked up and re-offered to baby
– 1 square of damp paper towel to wipe up small food bits on ground – will be composted with the food
– Baby Bjorn bib with spill pocket
– OleBaby silicone spoon
– CaliBowl that suctions onto the table
– a clean tray for holding all items
– a clean cloth for wiping and a bucket of clean water
Once we are done using the items, I carry them back to the kitchen using the bucket and the tray. If I don’t have time to clean up everything right away, I know I can safely soak all her utensils in her own dedicated bucket until I’m ready to deal with it. The bucket also comes in handy when I need a place to keep the excess food items I’ve brushed off from her high chair.
Pictured on the tray is a pink and purple contraption from Kidsme Food Feeder. It’s a feeding tool that lets baby feed herself. You put soft foods like bananas inside the small pouch and when baby bites down on it, the little openings allow the food to come out. We purchased one thinking that we would use it if she had any difficulty eating solids per BLW but we never had to use it.
After a few days of eating with just the Baby Bjorn bib with spill pocket, we realized that we were spending too much time laundering the clothes she wore while eating. We bought her this highly rated sleeved bib from Bumpkins which has become my most beloved product during this BLW journey. She wears it over the outfit she is wearing during mealtime. It has saved so many outfits from being dirtied and removes the need for changing her in and out of “eating” clothes.
Over time, I learned a trick to using this bib perfectly for eating and catching the food that invariably falls onto her lap. Once we have dressed and placed Bibi inside the seat, I use clips to secure the bottom edge of the bib to the edge of the high chair (the signature ANTILOP from IKEA). Securing the bib this way helped catch all the food and water that would have fallen onto her lap. It helped reduce wastage because we could pick those pieces back up and offer it to her again.
Using this hack, I was able to eliminate the use of the Baby Bjorn bib with spill pocket. Bibi never liked how rigid it was and it seemed to get in the way when she was trying to self-feed.
Once she was done eating, we clean her hands and face with a cloth, undo the tie around her neck and gently pull her out, she (and her clothes) was completely clean and ready to play again.
Here is Bibi eating potato sticks and hard boiled eggs. Potato fries are such a great finger food. The outside is firm enough for her to hold onto while the inside is soft and chewable. To make them, I cut a cleaned and skinned potato into sticks that are about 1 cm wide and at least 3 inches long. Since Bibi is still using her whole hand to hold things, this length allows the potato stick to reach beyond her fist so she can bite it. I bake the sticks for about 15 – 20 min. on 350F in a small counter oven until a fork can be inserted inside the flesh easily. I let it cool a bit before serving.
I found that it was important to make extra sticks as some would drop onto the ground or they would get mushy after Bibi held onto them for too long. Another reason why I made extras was because Bibi enjoyed eating a lot more and was more focused on her food when she was mirroring me eating the same foods.
Bibi also tried eating carrots but she didn’t like them much. I read that it’s important to introduce the same food to baby several times. They might not like it the first or second time but may eventually learn that they do like it after a few attempts. We plan on introducing it again at a later date.
One thing that surprised me about about cooking carrots is that boiling them actually makes them more nutritious. If the carrots are thin, I keep them whole and cut them down to about 3 inches long, peel and boil for about 10 minutes until a fork can be easily inserted. I’ll let it cool down before serving since the flesh inside can become very hot.
Another study showed both boiling and steaming increased levels of beta carotene. But try to cook carrots whole, as cutting can reduce nutrients by 25%.The healthiest ways to cook veggies and boost nutrition. CNN.com, https://www.cnn.com/2016/05/05/health/healthy-vegetable-cooking/index.html
Instead of hard boiled eggs, I tried making scrambled eggs for Bibi since it is much easier to hold onto than if it was hard boiled. I use non-stick ceramic pan from Green Pan so I don’t need to use any oil to fry this up.
For fruit, we introduced ripe bananas with the peel cut off the top portion. As you know, bananas can be slippery so a piece of banana with the peel makes it much easier for Bibi to hold onto.
Although scrambled eggs are easier for Bibi to grasp, she prefers them hard boiled because she enjoys eating the yolk by itself. She likes them so much that she eats one everyday. By nature, yolks are too crumbly for self- feeding so we tried separating the egg in half with egg whites intact to make it easier for her to hold. But in the end, it just got too hard for her to extract her preferred portion (the yolk) so we hold onto just the yolk for her to bite from. We separate the egg whites into long strips which she can grab and feed herself.
Lastly, we sometimes offer her a packaged cereal snack called Puffs by Gerber. We chose this particular one because it had one of the lowest amount of in organic arsenic found in baby rice cereals in an investigation by CBC MarketPlace.
“Organically grown rice absorbs arsenic the same way conventional rice does, so choosing that option will likely have little bearing on arsenic levels.”Some baby foods sold in Canada would be ‘illegal in Europe,’ arsenic testing shows. cbc.ca, https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/arsenic-rice-baby-food-cereal-marketplace-1.5037665
These puffs are treated as a treat so she doesn’t get to have them all the time. We offer it when we’re outside for the day or at dinner time when we are eating but she has finished all her meals for the day. It gives her an opportunity to be social and sit and eat with us at the dinner table. She loves them so much that she happily chomps down on them even after her milk and meals. I think it has to do with the crispy texture and perhaps the specially blended flavor.
The rice puffs start off firm but as they come into contact with saliva, it starts to dissolve. I was a little bit nervous feeding something so firm to Bibi and it wasn’t helped by the fact that the packaging said “for babies 8 months and over”. I ended up breaking the stars in half and feeding it to her since she had not developed her pincer grasp yet and was unable to pick up small object with just thumb and index finger.
These are some of the foods we tried in the beginning of our BLW journey. I hope it was insightful to see how we implemented this feeding method in our family. In my next post, I share what I learned after using the BLW method to feed my baby.
Thanks for reading. Until next time.