Soon after I became pregnant, I came across a few blog posts on a method of introducing solid foods to a baby called Baby Lead Weaning (BLW). At the time, I was still overwhelmed with all there is to learn about actually carrying and having a baby, that I couldn't handle any more information beyond those two topics, but it looked like an interesting method to me, so I marked them to come back and read later. A few months went by, and I found out a close friend of mine had followed this method for her daughter and was planning on doing it with her second who was due just a few days before Eli. After talking through some of the nitty gritty with her, I was sold.
Baby Led Weaning is essentially giving your baby whole foods from the beginning and allowing them to feed themselves. There's lots of science behind it besides what I'll give you here, but really the idea is that babies discover food at their own pace and are introduced to a variety of textures and flavors early on, turning out less picky eaters. It also helps babies with early development of their chewing and swallowing skills, as well as their hand-eye coordination.
All of the above appealed to me, as well as the fact that there's no purees, ice cube trays or store bought baby food. It sounded easy, healthy and laid back, so I thought I'd give it a shot. Really, I'll just sum up my food methods like this: "Eli eats what we eat," and "Food before one, just for fun." Those were my two mantras as we started this BLW-thing and it's really what has guided everything I do with Eli.
At Eli's four month appointment, my pediatrician and I began discussing introducing solids to Eli. She told me that cereal is really meant for babies that need to gain weight, so she recommended we skip that all together since Eli was in the 75th percentile at the time. When I asked her about BLW, she told me she had heard about it, but really she had no true opinion on solids vs. purees, but she fully supported my decision and the science behind the method.
We started loosely introducing solids around five months. Eli was showing some of the signs of being ready: watching us eat our foods, smacking his lips and drooling when we began to eat, and even trying to swipe food off my plate. I first gave him an apple slice to suck on and he went to town. From there he tried an ear of corn on the cob and a chicken bone with a few bits of meat on it. He loved it all, and I think it felt good on his gums. At the time, I would have to help him hold the food or it would slip away from him, but I was surprised at how quickly he learned to hold something on his own while he sucked the juices out.
At six months Eli was sitting up by himself, which is a key sign of readiness, and supposedly babies tummies are more ready to handle solid foods around that age as well. So we dove in by giving him solids about once a day, around dinner-time so Mike could be there. From about six months to nine months, he ate with us once, maybe twice a day, but I wasn't super concerned about making sure we hit any sort of quota. Eli was exclusively breastfed until seven months old, and supplemented until eight months, so I was happy to take it slow, knowing he was getting all the nutrition he really needed through milk.
When he went fully on formula at nine months, I knew I wanted to "wean" him off it by his first birthday, so I started ramping up his solids intake at 10 months to two times a day, and now at 11 months, he eats with us at each meal of the day. If he was still on breastmilk, I probably still wouldn't be as concerned, but I'd like to start saving on our formula bill asap.
If you're thinking about BLW, the key thing is that your family eats a mostly whole-foods diet. If you're eating mac and cheese, frozen pizza and take-out most nights, BLW probably isn't the right method for your family. Mike and I already have a fairly healthy diet so for us, it has been very easy to incorporate Eli's foods into what we're already eating. At first, I stuck with just the basic foods, such as:
- Roasted Chicken
- Grilled Lamb
- Grilled Steak
- Broiled Salmon
- Roasted Vegetables - broccoli was and still is his favorite!
- Black beans
- Scrambled eggs
But very quickly we started expanding the offerings to introduce more flavor:
- Spicy Moroccan chicken with lentils
- Butternut squash lasagna
- Toast, cut into sticks served with peanut butter, hummus or homemade pesto
- Sundried tomato steak pasta salad with feta and Kalamata olives
- Steel cut oatmeal with peanut butter and raisins
- Homemade pizza with brie, caramelized onions and mushrooms
- Berry spinach smoothies
Really, if we've eaten it, Eli's eaten it. A lot of people have asked me what I do when I'm serving a salad or soup, or something that's more difficult for Eli to feed himself with. For soups, I just drain out the broth and set the solids down on Eli's tray. I make soup once a week because it's actually one of the easiest meals to serve him - the veggies get soft and are full of flavor. For salad, I just take out the parts that are easy to pick up and put them on his tray, so say we're having a sweet potato and chicken salad, Eli will have sweet potatoes and chicken for dinner. I make homemade salad dressings, so sometimes I'll dip his food in the dressing to give it more flavor.
There are dozens of websites out there with recipes and tips on how to turn your meal into something easy for baby, but once you get the hang of giving it a little thought, it's second nature to set aside something for baby. I also printed out a list of simple things I can give Eli so I can reference it when I'm in a pinch. A lot of times I don't eat well for lunch, but I still want to feed Eli something wholesome, so I'll peek at the list to give me a few ideas.
The only things I've really limited Eli on are honey, sodium, processed foods, sweets (i.e. desserts) and some carbs because they're more difficult for babies to digest, but we've ramped up the carbs in recent weeks as I think he's ready for them. Thus far, BLW is everything they say it is, Eli loves everything I put in front of him, the only thing I've noticed is he doesn't like plain foods - like unsalted scrambled eggs or just a plain roasted butternut squash - which is understandable - I don't like it either! He loves full-flavored foods, especially spicy foods (His spice tolerance is higher than mine!) and I've already noticed he seems to be a meat and veggies guy - he always goes for them first over fruit. I've been absolutely amazed at seeing everything he eats - and other people have been too.
A big question I get asked about is choking and trust me, I definitely had questions about that as well. Choking concerns are minimized by waiting until baby can sit on their own and giving soft foods in large pieces until they're older. Babies have a super strong gag reflex, like SUPER STRONG, so while Eli did gag a bit when we first gave him food, we've never had a choking issue. I think it's important to know that gagging is totally different from choking - gagging is a safety response to food going too far back in the mouth, and it's a natural, built-in defense against choking. Although I will admit, I did look up how to perform an infant Heimlich maneuver just to be safe.
Another question I get asked about a lot is the mess - and YES - it is messy. We have the Ikea Antilop high chair and it's completely wipeable which is great. We also often use the Ikea full-coverage bibs, which have saved many clothing items. I've also started to just throw a dishtowel over Eli's legs, for extra protection and easier clean up. Finally, I usually use a splat mat with our wood floors, but sometimes I'm lazy and skip it.
In addition, I'm not crazy-nuts about always having Eli feed himself. To save my sanity, I will sometimes feed Eli with a spoon because there are days I just can't handle the mess - and I think that's okay! Or if we're a guest at someone's house, we always use a spoon. I think it's just plain good manners to not have your kid throwing food all over someone else's furniture.
I totally understand if people can't handle the mess - I'll be honest, I get really sick of mopping our floors! But my thought is, even when I spoon feed him, I still often have to wipe the floor, so what's the difference if I'm cleaning up one piece of food vs. 10? Also, he's gotten remarkably better over the past month or two where he hardly misses, so the mess has gotten much smaller.
For me, the mess is the only drawback and it's honestly worth it. I don't have to feed Eli every bite, but can instead enjoy my meal (mostly!), we've saved a ton of money by not needing to purchase or even make special food for him, and he's a great eater! All wins in my book.
Here are a couple online sources that were helpful to me:
Also, I did purchase the book, but I would say skip it and save your money. There's nothing in there that you can't find online and it gets a bit repetitive.
Okay, that should cover the main things - there's more I could say, but I won't reinvent the wheel. Please let me know if you have questions in the comments below and I'll try to answer!
p.s. I'm sorry my photos are terrible for this post, I wasn't planing on writing it, so I had to dig up the few I had of him eating off my cell phone!