As the time for weaning neared I began to think, ‘I’ve got two babies at once, it would be really useful if they could learn to feed themselves as quickly as possible’.
I was then thrilled to discover the idea of baby-led weaning, which is basically missing out purees and starting with finger foods from 6 months.
I admit, I was nervous. It is difficult to do BLW at first without someone (daddy, grandma, aunty, friend) with you to reassure you that (a) no-one is choking, and (b) if two babies started choking at once, there would be two adults to do first aid. And it is important that the accompanying adult is on board with the idea, a nervous companion will not help you (it was with nervous adults that I came up with the mantra ‘If baby is coughing or making sounds, then they’re not choking’).
BabyBoy and BabyGirl love BLW. There have never ever choked – they just spit out things they can’t swallow. It might not work for all families (everything depends on you and your baby), but for these two it was (and is) fantastic. So here are my tips for anyone thinking of doing BLW:
1. Buy good highchairs. Ideally they need to come right up to the table so baby can ‘sit’ at the table – the Stokke Tripp Trapp* seems to be a popular choice, but there are other similar ones by other makers. Another important point is to make sure the highchair is easy to clean – no cushions, materials or crevices need apply. BLW is messy.
2. Be prepared for mess. Your floor will need cleaning after every meal. We have wood flooring so just sweep everything up with a dustpan and brush. If you have carpet – cover it, but try to avoid putting the highchair/table on top of the cover, otherwise either you have move the furniture to shake out the cover, or get down on your hands and knees and clean it. Either way, it’s tiring, as we experienced at grandma’s house.
3. Put the food on a tray with a lip. Baby will chase food around until the pincer grasp is developed, and may have a tendency to make sweeping motions with her arms that knocks everything onto the floor. A tray with a lip (this can range from one attached to the highchair that sits on the table, to cheap Ikea ones blu-tacked to your table, to something like the Stokke Table Top which has four huge suction pads) will prevent this. We’ve used all three iterations at various times / places.
4. Only offer a few pieces of food at a time. BabyGirl was overwhelmed if we put more than three pieces down (one cause of the sweeping motions referred to above). Offering a selection of foods, but only one piece per food type, is less overwhelming and avoids waste.
5. Be prepared to be an object of wonder. If you take a BLW baby out for meals (and I do recommend it) you will be the target of amazement, and sometimes horror, at the hands of strangers. We took BabyBoy and BabyGirl out to a restaurant a few weeks into it and gave them a few things from our plates (mostly vegetables, fruits and bread at that point). Cue lots of oohs and aahs, and then much exclamation when people realised they were not quite 7 months but capable of eating ‘adult’ food and feeding themselves.
6. Invest in plastic scoops bibs – the ones with a pouch to catch dropped food. We found the more rigid ones (such as those made by Tommee Tippee or Baby Bjorn) more adept at catching food then ones which were more like aprons with a pocket. This made cleaning up easier (and baby will eventually discover the pouch and look for dropped food there himself).
7. Eat with baby. BabyBoy and BabyGirl eat so much more when they see the adults eating the same thing at the same time. They like to copy. It’s amazing what a difference it makes.
8. Decide how to deal with the salt issue. Babies under 1 year need very very little salt – less than 1g per day (0.4g sodium).** Many many foods have salt in them (e.g. bread), so we never add additional salt to baby meals. However, for adults who are used to salt (I did add it while cooking) this can cause foods to be pretty tasteless, and I swear I was getting cramp from not eating enough. So what to do if you want to eat with baby? Adding lots of herbs and spices might counter the taste issue. You could split portions when batch cooking e.g. make half with salt (for the adults) and half without (for baby). Or you could eat salty food separately from baby (perhaps once baby has gone to bed). There are many options, but I found that I just needed more salt than ‘baby food’ could provide.
9. Use your judgement. Some BLW advocates say that you can give things like raw apples to young babies and they’ll be fine. Possibly true for some babies, but BabyBoy and BabyGirl just got hugely frustrated when presented with hard foods that nothing came out of; as opposed to things like steak which they could gnaw juices out of even before they were strong enough to bite bits off. So look at how your baby reacts and see what works. BabyGirl and BabyBoy have happily been eating meats, fish, breads etc cooked in the ‘adult’ way for months; but still have apples / pears / carrots etc lightly stewed / steamed / roasted at 10 months.
10. Don’t force baby to eat. Try looking at baby’s food intake over a week rather than a day. BabyBoy has had days when all he’s wanted to eat were fruits and vegetables. BabyGirl is currently on a carb fix. It might not look very balanced, but compare what they eat over a course of a week and a much more balanced picture emerges. So don’t force food on your baby if he rejects it – chances are he’ll take something from that ‘missing’ food group at the next meal.
And lastly….if you do BLW, enjoy it! Mealtimes in our household are not attended by noises of trains or screams of protests as spoons are waved towards baby’s mouth. There is no chasing of children or use of the iPad as a distraction. There might be some throwing of food on the floor as an indication that they’ve had enough (we’re working on teaching them that pushing food away is enough of a message) but the vast majority of mealtimes are fun, sociable activities. We love it!
*Note: I have no affiliation to any of the companies mentioned in this post.
**Note 2: A rule of thumb is foods with 0.6g or more of sodium in a 100g are high-salt foods, and those with 0.1g or less sodium in a 100g are low-salt foods.