When Bibi was about to turn 6 months, we decided to use the Baby Led Weaning method to introduce solid foods to her. Also known as BLW, it’s a feeding method that limits the use of purees and spoons and encourages baby to self-feed finger food with their hands. Here is my original post on the first foods we gave to Bibi using BLW.
As you can imagine, allowing a curious baby to handle and eat food by themselves for the first time can be quite a messy endeavor. Along with the mess are the worries of baby choking on a piece of solid food. I encountered those same issues in our BLW journey so I wrote this post to share some of the things that I learned after a month of using Baby Led Weaning to introduce solid food to Bibi.
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
Use Common Sense…. and a Spoon
When I first started BLW, it seemed to me that purees and spoons were made out to be an “enemy” of the whole feeding method. It was a paradox because I was worried to follow the BLW method due to choking hazards but also worried about those same hazards – due to baby’s inability to learn how to chew properly – if I didn’t. After this initial period of BLW, I realized the wisdom behind Dr. McCarthy’s advice on using both BLW and a spoon – and common sense. I tried to find a middle ground somewhere between the two methods.
Although I wholly agree with the idea that, like all baby animals, our babies instinctively know how to feed themselves. I also recognize that eating with a spoon is just part of our lifestyle as modern humans. And because of that, spoons do have their own purpose in our feeding plan. Besides, there are simply times when eating with a spoon is just pure common sense – how else do you eat yogurt?
In our BLW journey, we use spoons for foods that traditionally cannot be picked up by hand. The Baby Led Weaning book recommends making these types of foods thicker (i.e. sauce-like) so they can be scooped with a “dipper” like bread sticks. However, I found this to be somewhat of a challenge for a 6-month old baby. The sauces don’t usually stay on the dipper well and it almost begs the question why we didn’t just use a spoon in the first place.
When we do use spoons to feed Bibi, we try to be cognizant of the reasons why spoons are not used in the pure form of BLW – which is portion control and risk of choking. It is believed that when baby has control of their own feeding, they are less likely to overeat by being overfed. We try to keep this in mind when feeding Bibi with a spoon, she always has full control over whether or not she wants to take another bite. We put a pre-loaded spoon in front of her and she is given the opportunity to reach out and grab it and place in her mouth or lean her head in to take a bite. We never use any type of theatrics or “trickery” like airplanes or shoving the spoon in her mouth while she’s not looking. In my personal opinion, I feel that letting Bibi take the pre-loaded spoon or lean in to get her food had the dual purpose of preventing choking because she had some control over the feeding process.
“If someone approached you with a bowl and spoon and started to spoon-feed you the chances are you would reach out to stop them so that you could check what the food was and how much was on the spoon. You would want to control when and how it went into your mouth. These basic checks would let you predict how to deal with the food once it was in your mouth; planning how to deal with food helps to prevent choking.”Gill Rapley, Tracey Murkett. Baby Led Weaning
Babies Like Mushy Foods Too
Speaking of foods that need to be fed by spoon, I realized Bibi actually prefer those soft mushy foods too. This was especially so when she was teething. She refused the firmer finger foods we gave her and gave up eating solids altogether. But I found she was still happy to drink some thicker soup from a cup. Worried that she hadn’t eaten any iron-rich foods in a week, I decided to pulverize some ground beef and put it in her soup which she took down easily and happily.
BLW is Not About Lazy Parents Who Don’t Want To Prepare Purees
Some people might assume BLW is for lazy parents who feed their babies whatever they want because they couldn’t be bothered to create purees. Personally, I found it just as time-consuming to prepare finger foods that were appropriate for Bibi to hold onto and eat without it being a choking hazard. The BLW method still requires that food have none to minimal salt and sugar. This means that even when an appropriate finger food could be found on my plate, it had to be prepared without those seasonings. Just like moms feeding purees, whenever we went out, I also had to lug around containers filled with food that I prepared especially for Bibi.
Each week, I would do a meal prep for Bibi by making a large batch of a dish and then freezing smaller portions for use on a later date. After a few weeks of this, I was able to serve them to Bibi on a rotating basis which allowed for more variety as time wore on.
BLW Doesn’t Have to Be So Messy
Another reason why BLW is not just for “lazy” parents is the cleanup time afterwards. It’s just the same, if not a bit more cumbersome than with puree-fed babies. Letting babies handle their food naturally welcomes a lot of sensory exploration that includes squishing, throwing and dropping of said food.
In the beginning, I followed Baby Led Weaning’s method of keeping a tablecloth on the ground to catch all the cast off food. This helped to keep the food clean and be in a condition to be re-offered to baby. In time, I realized that cast off foods that don’t need to be re-offered to baby (e.g. soup, crumbly egg yolks) made the tablecloth too dirty. Instead, I let everything fall onto the ground, I’d use a dedicated floor cloth to wipe up everything afterwards. Conversely, a wet paper towel is a quick and convenient option to pick up loose food which can then be dumped into the organics bin afterwards.
Some parents found that letting a baby eat naked worked well for cleanup afterwards but I didn’t want Bibi to be cold so I bought a new sleeved bib which worked wonders for keeping her dry and keeping the fallen food out of her lap. After eating, I just wipe down her face and hands, pull her out of the chair and bib and she is ready to play again. I highly recommend it. There’s a special way I secure it to the table. Take a look a this post and see how I use each of these items to keep the BLW process as clean and tidy as possible.
Not All Meals Have to Be BLW
Aside from the cleanup, another way we kept the BLW process more manageable for us was to offer a mix of meals throughout the day, some were baby-led and some weren’t. Foods that Bibi could eat on her own included finger foods such as yam fries, scrambled eggs, cooked carrots, broccoli etc. The meals that needed our assistance were food that were harder to handle like soups and minced meat with grains.
When we ate out, we usually fed her bits of her food with our hands because it is just good manners not to leave the restaurant with a big mess to clean up. I also feed her breakfast if we need to get out of the house in time for her morning classes. I felt a bit guilty doing that at first, knowing that I was helping her do something she could have done on her own if given the time to do it. But the practicalities of life pushed me to realize that it was okay, sometimes the needs of the whole family also have to be considered. It’s like helping your kid tie his shoes laces when you’re in a hurry to get him and his siblings packed up for school on time. There will be plenty more opportunities for him to practice his new skills.
Offering a mixed variety of self-feed and BLW meals allowed Bibi to eat nutritiously while also getting experience in feeding herself. I was concerned about the amount of time Bibi spent playing with her food instead of eating it so this arrangement gave me a piece of mind that she was eating enough iron-rich foods. After she’s had her meat dish for the day, I was much more relaxed with letting her feed herself.
The Effects of Mirroring
I found that mirroring had a powerful effect on teaching Bibi how to eat and appreciate food. When Bibi saw me eating she would want to eat the exact item I was holding onto and would lean in to take a bite out of my food instead of hers. This is why Baby Led Weaning recommends that you let baby sit at the table with you during meal times or for you to eat a snack during the other times when you feed her.
Some of the best bonding moments I had with Bibi was during meal times when I would partake in some of her food. We’d sit there silently just enjoying the food together. Sometimes she needed help, at other times she wanted me to feed it to her because she got a bit lazy. It’s all really cute and part of the process towards completely self-feeding.
You May Be Judged
Ask any parent the best way to raise a child and you will get a million different answers. This is one area of life that everyone and anyone views themselves as an expert and rightly so. Every parent is perhaps the best expert on raising their own child. But sometimes parents, especially older ones, seem to overstep and cross boundaries when they forcefully impart their own judgement and fears onto new parents.
Baby Led Weaning may seem like one of the more “controversial” methods within child rearing, attracting a lot more judgement, but I realized with anything you do in life, you will always be “judged”. Most of the time, other people’s concerns about the way we do things come from a good place. Their opinions, affected by their own past experiences, should not be discounted but we should remember that we now live in an age where we can easily access reliable sources of information based on science and research. From these sources, we can learn to make more educated decisions for ourselves. Even more importantly, we need to rely on our own instincts and our relationship with our own child to guide the decisions we make on their behalf. If BLW feels right to you, then by all means, use it and vice versa.
I was given one of the best pieces of wisdom about parenthood in prenatal class. Our instructor taught us how to handle other people’s judgement of our parenting methods with diplomacy. It goes something like this, “I understand you have concerns but this is what is being taught now. I appreciate that we all make the best decisions for our children based on the information we have available to us at the time.”
Yes, Baby Will Gag
Lastly, I learned that baby will gag on solid food at first and I needed to stay calm. There is a distinct difference between gagging (mostly harmless) and choking (which needs immediate attention). It’s important to know the difference between the two so you don’t overreact when baby is only gagging, causing them even further harm with unnecessary intervention.
Like most other moms, of course, I worried about Bibi choking. Instead of delaying the feeding of solids – which only delays Bibi’s learning – I took some proactive steps to learn about how to deal with choking and other hazards with this video and by attending a First Aid course for infants.
Bibi had a few episodes of gagging in the first month of eating solids and I was naturally terrified. From the safety training, I learned to discern the difference between gagging and choking. If she was only gagging, I sat back and watched her work through pushing the foods that she couldn’t handle back out of her mouth. I highly recommend any parent to attend a First Aid course where you can get some experience doing CPR on a dummy with help from a trained professional.
After one month, Bibi finally learned to bite off an appropriate amount of food and chomp on it with her gums before maneuvering the food to the back of her throat and swallowing. I now feel confident giving her a variety of foods in different shapes and with different textures.
This concludes what I learned after a month of using BLW. I’ll give you an update next month on the other new foods we introduced to Bibi at 7-months.
With much love.