The Feeding Blog.

If you are anything like me, you know that one of the most troublesome and intimidating milestones for a new parent is transitioning from breast or bottle to solid food.  I remember being terrified by the prospect of the whole ordeal.  What food do I start with?  Do I buy baby-food, or do I make my own?  What do I do if he doesn’t like it?  Allergies?  Sensitivities?  For anyone, including myself, it is a lot think about all at once.

Several weeks before we had considered introducing solid food to Ronan, while spending entirely too much time on the internet, I stumbled across a newer idea called “Baby Led Weaning.”  The more I read about it, the more I realized that solid food didn’t have to be stressful or anxiety inducing.  I researched more and more until I finally decided that we were going to transition Ronan to solids, and we were going to use Baby Led Weaning.  It just seemed to fit.

The method is specifically geared towards allowing a child to begin eating food at their own pace, while simultaneously allowing the child to “lead” their own weaning from the breast, but that doesn’t have to actually be the case!  I prefer to think of it as “Baby Led Feeding,” as any child (breast or bottle fed) can be offered food this way.  While it is radically different from the methods we are used to seeing and hearing, it actually makes a lot of sense.

Let me go back a little bit.

Way back, waaaaaaaaaaaay back (ha!) when our parents were feeding us for the very first times, things were different.  Solids were started at 4, and 3, and 2 months old… and earlier!  My mom told me she started my oldest brother on cereal at 3 weeks old.  Our parents didn’t have the benefit of the high-grade formulas that are available today, and many women didn’t breastfeed.  Cereal was started to introduce foods early enough to increase baby’s iron intake, as well as to have an alternate source of food such that malnutrition wouldn’t become a problem.

When solids were started this early, they had to be finely pureed and spooned deeply into the back of the mouth to circumvent the “tongue thrust” reflex. (That’s the one that stops our babies from choking on things they shouldn’t be putting in their mouths – if it doesn’t belong there, the tongue will thrust it right back out again!)  Foods were also very bland – rice cereal, bananas and sweet potatoes – because they needed to be easy on an infants tummy.  Don’t you remember watching as moms would spoon some cereal into an open mouth, and catch over half of it as it was pushed back out?  Then spoon it back in again?  This was done over and over as new baby foods were introduced.

Fast forward a few months.  Mommy starts making the purees chunkier and chunkier, because baby is used to solids enough now that we need to introduce some real texture.  This is what prepares early solid infants for transitioning to finger-food.  The tongue thrust reflex starts to weaken, and babies become able to bring food items from their plate to their mouths.  More and more food choices are introduced, and the “pincer grasp” is being perfected.  (That’s the one that allows baby to pick up a cheerio between two fingers and place it in his or her mouth.)  At this point, baby has been eating pureed solids for many weeks.  This may even be months and months from when mommy originally introduced her first cereal.  We are getting closer to the five and six month mark.

Now let’s take a look at today.

Things are a little different.  Okay, a LOT different.  The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that a baby be given breast or bottle for the first year of life, delaying solids until after the 6th month. (The World Health Organization says breast milk plus foods until TWO!)  Suddenly, mommas aren’t starting solids at two and three months old.  We are encouraged to wait for the cessation of the tongue thrust reflex, told that baby should be able to sit unassisted with good head control.  We are to watch for an interest in food and the development of a pincer grasp before we even being thinking about offering solids.

This makes a big difference!

Our babies aren’t starting solids young enough to need purees anymore.  They are starting when our momma’s little ones were being transitioned on to finger foods and table foods.  Doesn’t it then make sense that we can probably skip over the cereal/puree phase, and begin with finger and table foods immediately?  A six month old is a six month old, give or take a few weeks of development, right?

Enter BABY LED FEEDING!

I’m going to try lay it out for you as clearly as I can.  Baby led weaning/feeding is the process by which we allow our children to EXPLORE foods at their own pace, giving them the opportunity to figure out how to taste, chew, and swallow.  The main principles behind this method are as follows:

  • A baby will not be able to pick up an item of food if he or she is not ready to eat it.
  • A baby will not be able to put said item of food into his or her mouth if he or she is not ready to eat it.
  • A baby will not be able to move food item to the back of his or her mouth in order to chew and swallow it if he or she is not ready to eat it.

It is THAT SIMPLE.

So what does this mean, then?

It means that if you are ready to start your baby on solid foods, instead of cereal or a puree, you begin with big, soft chunks of food that are easily held, easily chewed and easily swallowed (like avocado, bananas, softened apples or carrots, fingers of toast, and cheerios!)  Also, there is no reason to delay introducing meats with baby led weaning/feeding, as they typically can’t be chewed until there are teeth.  If you give a big enough hunk of chicken or beef, baby can gum and suck and get all the taste and texture of meat without having to worry about chewing or choking.  This leads to much less food refusal in the future.

However… here is the catch!  You CANNOT help your baby eat the food! Why not?  Check out the principles outlined above.  If you are helping your baby eat, you are skipping essential learning phases, and potentially assisting your child to eat food that he or she may not be ready to eat.  This means that food is put on a highchair tray, and baby is closely monitored, and that’s it.  There will be a lot of grabbing, a lot of food dropping, tons of smooshy stuff all over faces, and very little food that actually makes it into the mouth.

This is Ronan’s VERY first experience with solid food:  Avocado.

Notice how he didn’t even ATTEMPT to get it to his mouth.

Learning!  Exploring!

But what about choking?

I know, I know.  It seems like you might as well be offering your kid a marble or some quarters.  But here’s the thing… if they’re not ready for it, it WONT make it to their mouth!  Food has to make it all the way to the back of the throat to be aspirated, and that takes a lot of skill!  If you aren’t forcing it there with a spoon, it probably wont get there until the child has learned really good and well how to move it there.  Also?  Gums are meant for chewing.  I know it seems counter-intuitive to give your child something to ‘chew’ when they have little to no teeth, but have you ever had your finger ‘bitten’ by those gums?  They HURT!  And they can mash food nearly as well as molars.

We’re going to look at one more thing here.  Gagging.

If you give your baby a piece of avocado, and that avocado manages to make it into the mouth, and baby isn’t ready for it yet?  Cue gagging.  Gagging is scary.  It looks a lot like choking – but it’s NOT choking.  Baby will gag that piece of food right back up to the front of the mouth, and continue chewing/sucking on it until he or she IS ready to try swallowing it.  It can be hard to watch, and hard to trust your baby that gagging is okay.  But it really is okay.  If the piece of food is too large, you can help out by pulling it out, but most of the time baby will fix things without any assistance.  Being aware that gagging will occur actually makes it easier to handle when it happens.

Here is Ronan’s first experience with gagging.  Also with Avocado.

(Same sitting, different slice of avocado.)

.

He gagged a little.  And then a little more. I removed the chunk that was too big, and everything was fine!

Here are a couple of my favorite baby led feeding bonuses:

– Babies that are introduced to food through baby led weaning/feeding almost never have taste or texture issues with food.  They are some of the best eaters out there.

– When feeding with this method, you can feed your child entirely (or nearly entirely) with table food that the rest of your family is already eating.  No need for expensive or time consuming purees, store bought or home made!

– Baby led weaning/feeding is MESSY, but it’s a whole lot of fun.  Babies enjoy it, and most moms and dads love watching their little ones explore food.

– You may not be sure how much food your baby is swallowing, if ANY at all, until you start seeing changes in poops.  It can actually make a poopy diaper exciting!

Now, here is my BIG DISCLAIMER:

A CHILD BEING INTRODUCED TO FOOD IN THIS MANNER MUST BE MONITORED AT ALL TIMES WHILE EATING. This is not a method that allows you to plop your child down in a highchair, throw some food on the tray, and walk away to do the dishes.  Think about the time you would spend spooning food from a bowl to mouth – the same ATTENTION level is required here.  As a matter of fact, this method allows the child to be at the table with the rest of the family during meals, thereby allowing both parents to enjoy their food with their children.

Some questions I have been asked in the past:

“If you allow your child to pick what they want to eat, wont they only choose the sweeter, better foods that they like?”

You aren’t actually allowing your child to pick what they want… you are giving them very specific foods to eat.  You may start with banana, and then offer toast, then move on to avocado, and then chicken.  As baby gets older, you can start offering more than one food item per meal, and baby will usually pick them up and try them all indiscriminately.  They aren’t choosing what they like, they are learning what they are eating.  You probably also shouldn’t offer ice-cream or candy as a first food.  Just saying.

“What about spoons?  How do you feed foods that require a spoon?”

You can handle this one any way you like.  Go ahead and feed applesauce and yogurt!  Babies love them, and they make a nice treat.  We actually delayed the introduction of spoon-required foods until Ronan was old enough to hold a spoon, and let him feed himself.  SERIOUSLY MESSY, but he was entirely self-fed by 13 months old.  It’s a bit of give and take with what you want to achieve… if you don’t want a mess, go ahead and feed your baby.  If you don’t mind cleaning up the mess, let them enjoy it a little.

“Seems like you waste a lot of food that way.”

Yeah.  You probably do waste some food this way.  But in the long run?  A hunk of avocado, a quarter of a banana, a few cheerios?  It’s not significant food waste, and it’s lost in the name of teaching your child to learn to love food, and to enjoy eating.  We’ve had very little problem with ‘table tantrums’ and food being thrown off of the high chair at later ages, so it probably balances out!

“Isn’t it messy?”

In a word?  YES.

If you have any questions, please feel free to leave them in comments!  I will address them as best I can.

Facebook Comments
  • Alena

    Did you have any problems with constipation from going from liquids to solids?

    • Sorry for the slow reply! I worked all weekend. :/

      Ronan went from no solids to eating very, very little to eating a little more so slowly that we hardly noticed a change in his poops at all. It worked out very well!

  • Ronan with the avacado: “Hey, this stuff is kind of fun.”

  • I’ve been waiting to comment on this all day, but we’ve been out and about nonstop!

    Sometimes I refer to Simone as a “picky eater,” but thanks to Baby Led Weaning (and I love calling it Baby Led Feeding instead…she certainly still nurses!), she’s generally open to trying new foods. A few days ago I gave her some frozen peas for the first time. Initially she just played with them. Smushed them on her tray, gave them to the dog, put them in her yogurt, rattled them around in her bowl. But I just gave her some more, and now she’s eating them! When she was younger we started out trying to give her baby foods, and she hated them. I think it’s comforting for her to know that we aren’t going to MAKE her eat anything.

    I’ve found BLW to be much easier than giving baby food. I worry about Simone choking less, and she enjoys eating more. Mealtimes are less of a battle. I’m still so grateful that you introduced me to the concept!

    • I adore you. 🙂

  • BloomyMommy

    Before DS was born, I thought I would make his baby food. It sounded like a nice idea and better than the processed jar food. When he was a few months old, I found out about BLW, and I knew I wanted to do it. It sounded so much easier than fighting with a spoon and sticking it all the way back in his mouth increasing his chances of aspiration. So we tried it. There was no fussing when it came to making his foods, I just fed him what he ate (that he could with his allergies). We had some gagging too, which freaked me out at first, but then I felt fine with it because he would cough and take care of it himself. It was freeing to know he would only take into his mouth what he wanted and could cough it out if he didn’t want it. I was always there just in case, but he was always fine. I did have to tell other family members though, “We don’t feed the baby, he feeds himself.” I was happy with what we were doing, but then I did start to worry he wasn’t eating enough. He slowly picked up eating, and really didn’t kick it into high gear until 14 months. Now, he eats a ton and a variety of foods. It was fine he took his time in the amount he ate because he was still nursing, and I don’t mind calling it Baby Lead Weaning. Weaning doesn’t mean were stopping breastfeeding just that he needed it less. We are only nursing a few times a day now that he eats so much. It’s bittersweet sure, but he is growing up.

    • I’m glad it worked out so well for you! Our friends and family thought (and still probably do think) that we were insane.

      The only reason I shy away from calling it baby led weaning is because I don’t want it to scare away formula feeders! Introducing food didn’t cause Ronan to wean either… I just don’t want to exclude anyone. 😀

  • I want to do this with Carsyn. Dustyn was feed cereal at 4 months and baby food at 6 months. He is the pickiest eater ever. So I have been just giving Carsyn table food, but he can’t really feed himself yet. I think I will try it this way. At almost 3 Dustyn still can’t use utensils without making a mess. If you have any suggestions I would love to hear them. Great informative post.

    • Thanks Sarah!

      Good luck with Carsyn… I’m sure you’ll find it’s easy and quite natural. If you have any questions or want suggestions for foods/snacks, feel free to ask or email.

      I think my best advice is just to have a little trust, because the gagging can be so freaky – but don’t let it scare you away. Ronan only gagged TOTAL maybe 3 times? And it was so worth it.

      I’d love to hear how it goes when you get started! It makes GREAT camera fodder, and it’s fun to blog about 🙂

  • Mandy…you are going to die laughing over the story I have to share with you.

    So yesterday, my husband tells me that he read something about baby led weaning and he wondered what my thoughts were on it. I said I was interested in knowing more. So, he grabbed his iPad and began reading an article to me. I liked what I heard and planned to begin trying it.

    So, this afternoon, I’m sitting here, working through my reader and I made my way over here to see this post, which is the EXACT thing he read to me yesterday…word for word.

    How cute is it that he was reading to me from your blog!?

    • Haha!! Nichole, that just made my WHOLE day! I really, honestly laughed out loud. I LOVE it!! You and your husband are both such awesome people. <3

  • Courtney

    Mandy, I am learning so much from you! This is great and I love the idea that things happen naturally, as they are supposed to…in so many areas of life! Seems like if we just step back a bit, things really do work themselves out. Can’t wait to try this many months from now!

  • Awesome post, mama! You really covered every aspect of BLW. I’m so glad you told me you wrote a post about this before I wrote mine! I’m totally sending readers your way in my post!

    • Thanks Mama! Love!!!

  • otmomma

    I am an Occupational Therapist currently on maternity leave with my 8 month old daughter. I know a little about development and fine motor skills. I like the idea of my child at 6 months starting and trying new foods on their own but it is not realistic. And to say that if they don’t have the skills to get the food from their highchair tray to their mouth then they are not ready to eat that food??? That makes no sense to me. When she was born I had to guide her onto the breast repeatedly before she learned to latch on her own. Now one with this approach would say that she is ready for breast feeding at birth so she should know how to find and latch on instinctively but with many of our babies that is not the case. We certainly would not let them go without breastmilk or feeding at that time so why would we deny them the nutrition of food when thier bodies are ready to start solids just because their fine motor skills have not developed enough for that activity?

    When we sit down for a meal we give her plenty of opportunity to practice picking up her cherios and avocado chunks and she makes a good attempt to pick them up and get them to her mouth but she drops most of them or mashes it up before she can get it into her mouth. After a while she gets frustrated because she is hungry and wants to eat them. She leans forward when I pick one up with her mouth wide open. Now are you suggesting that I say “nope sorry, if you can’t get it into your mouth on your own than you don’t get any”. I disagree. Also I might mention that at our 6 month check up my Dr. was very interested in what first foods she was eating when I told her avocado, sweet potatoe and bananas she mentioned that she also needs an iron fortified cereal because at 6 mo a babies stores of iron are depleting. So if I don’t feed her with a spoon these cereals she could become deficient.

  • Rosie

    Thanks for writing this a year and a half ago, Mandy! Lucy is a week away from the 6 month mark and we are going to try BLW. I’m getting excited already! I read the BLW book and feel ready to go, but am glad I have this post to look back at for a more realistic perspective on it, too. Which is funny, because I think it is absolutely a realistic option, otmomma, because real people have been successfully feeding their babies this way for a long time. A big part of BLW is that they gradually increase their intake of food as well as have frequent milk feeds, as they want it. Your baby should not be frustrated and hungry because one of the ideas behind it is that you feed them breast milk or formula before they explore, play, and learn with solids. You shouldn’t be putting the food in front of them when they are hungry. They still need to be getting most of their nutrition from breast milk or formula, anyhow. As they become better at eating solid foods, the less they will need milk feeds, gradually over time…a very long time for some babies. As for the iron fortified rice cereal, I’m sure that’s not the only way one can get iron. The stores of iron in a baby’s bodies wouldn’t suddenly turn off like a tap. It also decreases gradually. In this method of feeding, babies are also offered iron rich foods like meats. Before they might even swallow a chunk of meat, they will be able suck out the juices, which are full of the iron that is needed. Not to mention, I have heard (and I’ll admit that I heard this from a friend who I trust to be well informed and researched, but did not do the actual research myself) that iron fortified cereals don’t have any real nutritional value besides the added in iron, which isn’t even in a form that is easily absorbed by the body, anyway.

    • Oh Rosie – have I mentioned lately how much I adore you? Thank you so much. I’m excited to see how your BLW adventure goes. I hope it’s as amazing for you guys as it has been for us twice over. <3