Please note now that I am very Anti-Mommy Wars. I strive very hard to not be critical when it comes to another mother’s parenting decisions. If I cannot help but be critical then I strive to keep my opinion to myself. Ultimately, I am the parent of my child and her mental and physical health are my primary goals. I do like the mindset of “it takes a village” but I try to reserve that only for family and close friends. Any posts regarding parenting are NOT in any way/shape/form pronouncing that my techniques or choices are what’s best for every child. Nor am I claiming to be an expert in any way. Any posts are my opinions on what methods worked for my child and our family.
After Squeak was born, my main goal was to parent her in a way that felt natural to me. There was no intention of doing anything just because it was the current en vogue parenting trend. So we co-slept, I practiced baby-wearing, she wasn’t allowed to cry (within reason – with newborns sometimes there isn’t any stopping them). I wanted to fall into a happy rhythm that we both were at peace with. She ate when she was hungry and slept when she was tired. When she was new we struggled to get her to keep down food and keep up her weight.
At the time, I had no foresight as to what I would do when it came time where foods could be introduced. Honestly, I didn’t know what baby led weaning was. Squeak made that choice for us. And around 4.5 months old she started showing a strong interest in any foods that were being eaten around her.
A Word of Caution
Do not, I repeat, do not, leave a baby unattended while eating. It only takes a moment for a baby to choke. This goes for older babies too. Just do not risk it. There is a difference between choking and gagging. Squeak went months without gagging before she came across a texture she did not like. Then she demonstrated her displeasure with the texture by gagging. The gag reflex is meant to prevent choking and sends the food forward towards the mouth so it can be chewed or spit out. For more information on baby gagging, click here.
Choking is a partial or complete blockage of the airway. If your baby is able to cough or gag then the airway is likely only partially blocked. Coughing is one of the most efficient ways to clear the blockage, but if baby is unable to clear it on their own then you need to intervene. Find infant CPR for choking here. Thankfully, I have only had one instance where Squeak started to choke and her gag and one back blow quickly cleared the offending potato.
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What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby led weaning (commonly abbreviated BLW) is a method of introducing babies to solid foods where baby is encouraged to self feed as opposed to being fed strictly purees by a spoon. It was more common in generations before the advent of baby food where babies were eating what their families were eating. Within reason, of course. Babies with teeth don’t need a T-Bone, although Squeak would try. I remember being so grossed out when my mother told me that people would chew the food and give it to the baby. Borderline gagged about it, but now, it is nothing for me to feed my child from my mouth. I know it may gross other people out and I apologize to anyone who witnessed any food sharing.
The babies are allowed to sample new tastes and textures as well as they decide how much to eat and how fast. Squeak would shovel it in as fast as she could, but more on that in just a moment. Babies also learn their own internal cues meaning they begin to recognize when they are sated after eating. It encourages proper eating as in baby has to chew then swallow versus purees that can go directly down. Physically, it is an excellent exercise for hand/eye coordination. Best perk of it all for me, is I can eat at the same time instead giving her a bite and taking a bite myself.
When can baby start?
Before we get too much further into this post, I would like to strongly suggest that you speak with your pediatrician before making any changes to your baby’s diet. Even if your Ped isn’t pro-BLW they can explain what the signs of readiness are in more detail in person.
Experts agree (as well as our pediatrician and her nurse practitioners) that solids should not be introduced until around 6 months. There are variances between children where some (like mine) show readiness around 4.5-5 months and others can be closer to a year. It is important to recognize that every child is different and these following signs (plus those from your Ped) need to be considered.
- Baby can sit well without support or in a chair.
- The tongue-thrust reflex has diminished.
- Even if baby doesn’t have teeth, they try to chew
- Baby can pinch between the thumb and forefinger (vital for picking up food)
- Baby is interested in eating or meal time.
What are first foods are BLW?
Soft fruits and vegetables are good starting points. Any foods need to be soft enough where they can be smashed between your fingers with ease. Even if baby has their front teeth they still tend to gum their food where their molars would be. Aim for fruits, vegetables, some meat (I pre-chewed her meat until it was almost a mash). Again, I apologize, but she is now and was then a protein fan. Squeak loved sweet potatoes, carrots, apples and pears. Peaches are approved BLW foods as long as they are ripe, but they always made her sick so we skipped those for the most part. Avocados are a common first food, but there was an issue with taste or texture and she was not a fan.
Foods to Avoid!
There is a general consensus of foods to avoid in the first 12 months of life. Most importantly avoid the most common food allergens especially if you have family history of allergies. This includes: egg whites, nuts, citrus, and peanuts. Also avoid high choking risk foods like grapes or hard skinned fruits/vegetables. Honey is also a huge no-no because of the risk for botulism. Don’t give your baby botulism. Babies do not need added sugars or salt or caffeine. Please note that chocolate has caffeine and sodas contain all three. For a more in depth list check here.
As Squeak got older, we were given the okay to start branching into some more foods. She was cleared to start with cheese (or foods with cheese on/in it) as well as foods that had eggs baked in. I was encouraged to wait longer before letting her try eggs alone. Now that she is past 12 months she can have whole milk and honey. Her Ped suggested to hold off longer on shellfish. That doesn’t hurt my feelings any as I don’t eat them myself.
As I mentioned previously, my Itty-Bitty started showing a strong interest in food just before 5 months of age. After speaking with her pediatrician, she said that her stomach was likely still a little too immature to go ahead and start on solids. Instead she suggested we try spoon feeding formula and rice cereal to test her readiness for more solid foods and gauge her tongue-thrust reflex. Personally, it made me want to vomit, but Squeak loved it.
By 5.5 months old I had already started introducing her to some of the purees. Now note that some of the BLW purists advise against giving any type of puree as the babies do not chew it and usually swallow it straight down. The point of BLW is to encourage chewing (or gumming) and you do not want to confuse the baby between types of foods. Squeak never had an issue swapping between the two. If we have another baby I’ll probably omit purees altogether, but we were given so much food that I didn’t want to be wasteful.
There is a caveat there, some BLW moms say that purees are okay IF you pre-load (put the food on) the spoon and give it to baby. Squeak excelled at this and thoroughly enjoyed feeding herself and painting her face with it. About 10 months, she became more proficient with a spoon. Now, she can self feed with either her hands or a spoon depending on what is being served for dinner.
Unfortunately for her, she didn’t end up cutting any teeth until she was almost one. So there was a lot that she couldn’t partake in because I was paranoid about choking so she was relegated to mostly soft foods. Meat has always been a favorite of hers so I would have to get very tender cuts or chew it up. Again, I know that it is gross. But she enjoyed it and protein is good for growing babies, so you know.
Now that she has gotten the hang of biting with her front teeth she’s enjoying even more food. Overall, I have been very pleased with this entire experience. Squeak excelled my opinion overall, but then again, I am very biased when it comes to her. Any other BLW moms, how was your experience? After BLW your baby, what would you change in the future? I’d love any additional pointers.