I'm definitely not a weaning expert but have now gone through weaning with two children and both were weaned the Baby Led Weaning way. I'll tell you a bit about Baby Led Weaning and the things I have learnt over the last two years of weaning babies.
Baby Led Weaning is where you give your baby the same food that you eat and don’t mash or puree it first. The baby will spend time playing with the food, touching it and getting a general feel for it. They’ll even chew it, suck it and lick it and most babies won’t actually eat very much of it at all when they start weaning – the whole process is about the baby learning about food, how to handle it and how to eat by themselves.
If you're wondering when to start weaning a baby needs to be able to sit with little or no support to do Baby Led Weaning – this is for safety more than anything – as a baby that isn’t sitting upright can have a greater risk of choking and the baby may not be ready to start weaning just yet. BLW also shouldn’t really be started before 6 months – before this time a baby’s digestive system is still maturing and just having milk is enough for it to cope with.
From 6 months a baby can have literally everything that you or I would eat apart from a couple of exceptions – It’s advised that honey, shellfish and undercooked eggs aren’t given before a year. Salt should be minimal if at all and it’s best to read packets of things you buy to make sure it doesn’t have a lot of salt or sugar in it – I was amazed at the level of salt in everyday things like bread and cheese when we started weaning – it’s best to limit food items that have added salt in them – we only gave bread once a day as an example. Also, never give whole nuts (as they’re a choking hazard) but nuts in general – peanut butter or things with nuts in them are said to be fine as long as you don’t have nut allergies in your family. Anything small and round should be cut in half to reduce choking risk – grapes, cherry tomatoes and even blueberries although we found these easier to squish slightly! Small things like raisins are fine to give once your baby’s pincer grip has developed and they can pick them up for themselves.
It’s really important that when doing BLW you don’t put anything in the baby’s mouth – the baby needs to feed themselves. This is because, to reduce choking risks, the baby needs to be in control of the food at all times. You may find that at first your baby gags a lot on the food and may make the food come back out of their mouth. This is because their gag reflex is very far forward on their tongue. As they get used to dealing with food this gag reflex subsides and they gag less. Most of the time if a baby gags and is left to deal with the food by themselves they will work the food to the front of their mouth and it won’t be an issue. Most of the time choking occurs because the child has had food put in it’s mouth that it hasn’t been in control of or the baby has started to gag and someone has tried to ‘help’ them and inadvertently moved the food so the baby can no longer deal with it. I was told when we started weaning to sit on my hands whilst LP was eating and if she started to gag to count to ten and resist helping until I’d reached ten. This was the best advice I received. We had two moments where LP gagged until I reached number 7, at this point she was sick and the food came up. She then carried on eating as if nothing had happened. Gagging is horrible to watch. It isn’t nice at all, but it isn’t the same as choking and it’s something that the baby has to deal with and get past in order to handle food and eat by themselves.
The best advice I can give to anyone interested in Baby Led Weaning is to read the book, talk to other people that have done BLW and embrace the mess! The main thing to remember when starting BLW is that food is fun until they’re one. Your baby gets everything they need from the milk they are consuming and they don’t actually need any extra nutrients until they are a year old. The first 6 months of weaning should mainly be about the child learning to eat – a lot of the time, the first month or so especially, the baby won’t eat very much at all and remember, all babies are different!
Baby Led Weaning has definitely been the best choice for us and I cannot imagine weaning any other way but I know that Baby Led Weaning isn't for everyone and as long as your baby learns to eat it really doesn't matter how they get to that point. Enjoy weaning, they'll soon be using cutlery and eating like the rest of us!
We'd love to know your experiences of weaning your little ones. What techniques did you use?