When we began the journey of starting solids with our baby, I had ideas in my mind of what it would look like. We’d received a baby blender as a shower gift, and I knew I wanted to make my own food as much as possible, blitzing up all kinds of crazy concoctions of colourful pureed veggies and fruits, protein-rich pureed meats, hearty oatmeal and cereals. I knew a bit about baby led weaning (BLW) and was intrigued, but not really sure what it was all about. I also had read that Health Canada was recommending a texture-varied diet for infants, so I knew I wanted to incorporate some finger foods into my baby’s life from the get go.
Baby V led me the rest of the way.
This blog post is simply a reflection of my own experiences with BLW with my daughter. Obviously I am an advocate of this method, however I do recognize that it isn’t right for all families and all babies. I will write a separate post regarding BLW itself and who can benefit. Briefly, baby led weaning is a method of introducing solids to babies by allowing them to self-feed. Caregivers provide the meal, ideally the same as the family’s meal, in the form of finger foods and allow baby to do the rest (with some exceptions, ie avoiding honey before age 1, and avoiding round choking hazard foods). Milk feeds, ideally breast milk, continue on demand as complementary foods are offered starting at 6 months of age. Babies learn to regulate their eating – there is research underway to determine the effects of this self-regulation in later years with some thought that BLW may help prevent obesity, though the evidence is currently limited (including here and here). Health Canada recently updated their infant feeding guidelines to include many of the guidelines of BLW, including offering a variety of textures including finger foods from 6 months and providing foods from the family meal.
Baby V’s first food was a steamed carrot stick at just over 6 months old. She picked it up, investigated and squished it a little in her hands with an intrigued look, brought it to her mouth and took a few tentative munches. Her diaper the next morning showed evidence that – yes! She actually ate some of it! The next day I tried some purees – I had pureed the rest of the carrot sticks and some green beans for good measure. I loaded up a little spoon and started going for her face, only to have my spoon stolen by a chubby baby fist which she promptly brought into her own mouth. Ok then… Tried again, and she again grabbed the spoon and fed herself. I wasn’t about to force her to do things my way, especially since she was actually doing a pretty great job of it herself… I started loading spoons and leaving them on her tray or handing them to her, and most of it actually made its way into her mouth (the rest became fingerpaint).
Over the next few weeks baby V tried a variety of finger foods including chicken breast strips, fish, avocado, banana, strawberries, cucumbers, sweet potato, green beans, broccoli, apple slices, oatmeal (baby cereal kind and regular rolled oats kind), toast, and omelettes. I gave some things that were difficult for her to pick up, like peas and beans, as purees on loaded spoons which she either fed herself or I mixed into shredded meats like a sauce to make drier foods easier to eat, which she could then grab by hand. No question, this kid was ready for solid foods, and she was thriving on them.
I chose to stick with BLW, because that’s what Baby V was showing me that she wanted to do.
BLW for us meant that she could join me in eating the same nutritious foods that I was eating. She was touching and feeling, grasping and squishing, crunching and munching on pieces of real, recognizeable foods. She was ready and interested in eating, and it was just instinctual and natural for her to bring the foods I presented to her mouth. We had occasional challenges – gagging, taking too-large bites, pocketing food in her cheeks or roof of her mouth, shovelling food in too fast… but all of these were part of the learning process. Over time I saw tremendous learning as she figured out how to take more appropriate bites, go at her own pace to eat, maneuver and manipulate food in her mouth to chew/gum it to a more manageable size, and get food unstuck from her cheeks.
The biggest challenge, and greatest learning of BLW for me though was learning to trust her. There were many times, especially in those first few weeks, where I wanted SO BADLY to just take a food out of her mouth because I was sure she was going to gag on it, or to push her to eat more when she wasn’t interested anymore (“eat your veggies!”). As I’ve watched her learn to eat, I’ve also learned to trust that she knows what she wants and needs. I allow her to make mistakes, to go too far, to barely pick at a meal she’s not into, and simply trust that she knows what she’s doing and it will all be ok.
Today (at almost 1 year) she eats more or less the same food that I do or a baby-friendlier version of it (like a different shape or lower salt/sugar version of the family meal). She shows me what her favourite foods are and what she could do without, and she calls the shots as to what she will eat of the meal I make for us. Some days she eats a few bites of each item, some days she eats more than I do! My role is simply to provide a balanced and healthy meal, to supervise that she is safe when she eats, and to have an enjoyable mealtime experience with my girl.
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