My 8 month old son has no teeth and can eat steak. Not only is he eating foods I couldn’t imagine giving him, but he also feeds himself! If you have read about Baby Led Weaning (BLW), this doesn’t sound crazy because you know this is the norm for people who follow BLW.

When my first son turned 4 months, I went to the store, bought the baby rice and baby oatmeal and all types of baby purees. I offered one new vegetable every 3 days, and then introduced fruit in the same way. Everything was mashed and pureed. I would never have dreamed of offering him a piece of whole fruit. When I was told, I started adding finger foods to the mix. He wasn’t great with the chewing process and I was always nervous he would choke. One day, when he was well over 1, we were eating with my brother and sister-in-law, and their son who was still a baby at the time (with no teeth) was eating steak and I could not believe it. They explained that he hated the purees and baby food so they started giving him real food. I remember thinking at that moment that for my next kid I wanted to try that.

Now, before I explain the basics of BLW, I need to make it clear that you need to do your own full research before you decide if you want to do it with your kids. I’m happy if you use this as one of your readings about BLW but please don’t make this the only thing you read about it.

My older son is almost 3 and mealtimes are a STRUGGLE. It’s been like this for as long as I can remember. It is really not enjoyable, and I finally came to peace with letting him be and believing that he will eat when he is hungry. I can’t say that if I did BLW with him this would be different, and I also can’t say that if I didn’t do BLW with my second child he wouldn’t still be an amazing eater, all I can say is that I am loving it. It is amazing to me how the same 30 minutes of “dinner-time” are so enjoyable with 1 child and so not enjoyable with the other.

Around the time he was 4 months I decided it was time to delve in and really learn what BLW is and how to do it. I ordered and read the book Baby – Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. After I read it, I felt that I understood the reasons behind why it made so much sense and I was convinced it was the right way {for my family} to introduce solid foods. I became slightly obsessed with BLW and I knew I wanted to do it but I felt that I needed more confidence to try it. I joined a Facebook Group called “Baby Led Weaning for Beginners” and it is because of that group that I had the confidence to try it. The group led me to Instagram accounts that I follow (@blwfun, @blwideas) and recipe ideas that I tried but most importantly there were SO MANY parents posting pictures and videos of their children actually doing BLW. The more pictures I looked at and videos I watched the more I felt like “I could do that too!” Last I checked, the Facebook group became so popular that they turned it into a secret group and you can’t search it so you have to be added by a friend. I believe they posted that until they figure out their plan they are only accepting new members at the beginning of each month. (If you are interested in joining the group, let me know and I can invite you to it.)

For 2 months I stalked researched BLW. I had recently done a CPR course, I studied the differences between gagging and chocking, I bought a steamer, I knew what sizes to prepare the foods and I went to IKEA and bought their highchair because everyone in the group recommended it because it has a large tray. With my $20 IKEA highchair replacing my expensive Boon, and my baby turning 6 months, I was finally ready to start!

So what is BLW? I strongly suggest you read the book. The book is loaded with information and explains all the nuances of BLW. This is a very short answer but it is basically when you skip pureed foods and offer table food right from the start.

The Facebook group BLW For Beginners has this as the first post you read:

Baby Led Weaning, quite simply, means letting your child feed themselves from the very start of weaning. The term was originally coined by Gill Rapley, a former health visitor and midwife.

According to the most recent research most babies reach for food at around six months, which is also the time that mothers are being encouraged to wean* by their Health Visitors, in accordance with the WHO guidelines.

You just hand them the food in a suitably-sized piece and if they like it they eat it and if they don’t they won’t.

That’s the essence of Baby Led Weaning. No purees, no ice cube trays, no food processor, no potato masher, no baby rice, no weird fruit and veg combos… just you and your child, eating food that you enjoy with you and your family.”

-Taken from babyledweaning.com

A note on the word “weaning”: In the US, “wean” is used to describe ending breast or formula feeding. Gill Rapley is from the UK, where the word “wean” means to introduce complementary foods. The “weaning” in the term “baby led weaning” relates to the UK meaning.

The theory is as follows. When the rule was to feed babies at 4 months old, they needed to be spoon-fed purees because developmentally they could not handle picking up food and bringing it to their mouths. But, now that the suggestion is back to introducing solids at 6 months of age, at that age the baby is ready for finger food. With pureed and mashed food the baby doesn’t need to chew it, rather just swallow. With BLW they need to learn to chew before they swallow.

In the introduction of Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett’s book they write, “Baby-led Weaning (BLW) will develop your baby’s chewing skills, manual dexterity, and hand-eye coordination. With your help, he’ll discover a wide range of healthy foods and learn important social skills. And he’ll eat only as much as he needs…. Most of all, he’ll enjoy it — and he’ll most certainly be happy and confident at mealtimes as a result.”

I am 2 months into the process and I feel that all of that is very true. The funny thing is that when I was ready to start BLW, I actually planned to blog about my journey. Life got in the way and I didn’t do it, but I really do feel that it has been a journey.

When we began, I knew what to expect from my handy-dandy Facebook group. The beginning is very MESSY (it actually is still pretty messy) and it is a lot of just playing with the food. He would touch and explore the food. He barely swallowed anything. He would take the food, put it in his mouth and usually spit it out. There was a lot of GAGGING. Now that I mentioned that, let me quickly mention what many of you are probably thinking, “Isn’t he going to choke??!?!”

Before I touch upon that, I need to give a shout-out to my mother in law. While she could not be in the room in the early days of him eating for fear of choking and not liking the gagging, she still went out and got a steamer and highchair and even cut him strips of carrot and sweet potatoes with a crinkle knife. (I know, she is awesome!) But yes, most people were very wary and could not understand why I would even attempt this.

The book has a section dedicated to “Won’t he choke?” so again, I suggest you read it. A very stripped – down answer (from the book) is an adult’s gag reflex is near the back of the tongue while a 6 month old baby is triggered much farther forward on the tongue. When a 6 month old baby is gagging on food, it doesn’t mean the food was close to the airway and it rarely means they were in danger of choking. In fact, this forward reflex helps the baby learn how be in control and manage food safely. When they put in too much food or push pieces further back that are not chewed enough and the gag reflex is triggered a few times, they learn not to do it.

As babies get older, the gag reflex moves toward the adult position (regardless if they experimented with self-feeding) and therefore gagging becomes less effective as an early-warning sign. “So babies who haven’t been allowed to explore food from the beginning may miss the opportunity to help them learn how to keep food away from their airway. Anecdotal evidence suggests that babies who have been spoon-fed have more problems with gagging and “choking” when they start to handle food (often at around eight months) than those who have been allowed to experiment earlier.” (pg. 47)

Just like 12 by 12 has guidelines for when training can be started, BLW has guidelines as well. Babies need to be at least 6 months old, sitting with little or no support, reaching to grab and putting things in their mouth and more. You need to do your research to know the appropriate SIZE of food. Round circular foods are always a No-No. Personally, I still cut grapes for my (almost) 3 year old.

People often assume that you are supposed to cut up the food in really tiny pieces so that the baby won’t choke. But it is the opposite — you offer LARGE pieces – a steamed floret of broccoli and roasted or steamed strips of vegetables. They need to be large enough for the baby to be able to pick up and bring to their mouth, but also not too big. I offer some fruits and vegetables with their skin on particularly for foods that when you take the skin off it is too slippery to hold. You also need to be aware of salt because their kidneys are not mature enough to deal with it. Again, read the book or other research 🙂

Here is an infographic from @BLWIDEAS that helps for size of food. She also has a very helpful blog: http://www.blwideas.com/

@blwideas source

  @blwideas source

@blwideas source

@blwideas source

IMG_7504

Back to what I was saying that the beginning was a lot of playing and not a lot of eating, one morning I noticed that he was chewing. I texted all my friends, “HE IS CHEWING!!” I can’t tell you how excited I was.

I went from offering one fruit or vegetable a day, to at 8 months he is eating 3 meals a day and eats everything from grilled chicken to mango to corn-on-the-cob. He no longer just plays with food, he really chews and swallows – all with ZERO teeth! He will hold a whole strawberry and take bites. He will take a piece of chinese mango with the peel on it, eat the mango and leave the peel on his tray. I love watching him eat because he enjoys it and there really is nothing cuter. I have albums full of pictures of him eating. So darn cute. I never have to worry to have food packed for him because wherever we go I know I will find him something to eat.

I had planned to put in this post all the necessary gear and more gritty details of what it took to make BLW a success and how to actually do it but I didn’t realize I wouldn’t have the space here. More posts to follow, I promise! The Baby Concierge’s BLW guide to success will come one day soon 🙂

Before I sign off for the night, I want to reiterate that BLW isn’t something anyone should do without informing themselves of the readiness signs, the proper way to eat (always sitting up, never lying down) the size of the food, the types of food that are best to start with, and to be confident with what to do in the case of a baby choking. (Everyone should take infant CPR regardless of doing BLW or not).

BLW is not for everyone. There is nothing wrong with purees and mashed food.The main source of nutrition for a baby under 1 is still breast milk or formula. The way I felt about it was I knew that eventually a baby switches to table food and I needed a different experience for myself. BLW has been fun, messy and exciting and I am so glad I tried it.

Over the holiday at a meal with family, a cousin picked up my baby and brought him to his seat. He didn’t know that you can’t put a BLW baby near a plate of food and expect them not to go for it. Before he knew it, my baby picked up a piece of steak from his plate, put in his mouth and ate it. He had the whole table laughing.

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