Why we chose baby led weaning?
When my daughter reached weaning age, roughly at about 6 months, my plan had been to start her with some vegetable purees, fruit, baby porridges and then move on to more lumpy textured foods and onto self-feeding as she progressed. Bog standard weaning, you might say. I worked as a nanny for many years, prior to going into paediatric nursing, and have weaned many babies over the years, or helped parents with the weaning process, and I was “old school” in my approach, and had dug my old Annabel Karmel recipes out, with plans to make lots of yummy puree and freeze them. (Some of her recipes are actually yummy, I have adapted a few of them for adults, and her toddler cook book is full of good ideas)
Emily, had other plans though. She had struggled with pretty severe reflux, from about 3 weeks old. She would feed, then projectile vomit, and had to be kept upright, or held, after feeds, to try and minimise the vomiting, and breastfeeding was a tough trial for us.
When I started to wean her, we tried lots of purees, with no success. She would take one mouthful, then close her mouth, and refuse to open it again, and would often gag and spit out what she had taken in. After a month of trying, I rang the health visitor, who told me to leave it for a few weeks then try again, that she was probably “not ready” and it would be fine.
We tried again at 7 months, and the same thing happened, but she would also start to get very distressed at feeding time. I was frustrated and worried and the health visitor just said “keep trying”.
Then, one weekend lunch time, my Dad came over, and took Emily and I out for lunch at a local café, (my husband was away on a business trip) and at one point, I popped out to go to the toilet, and when I came back, to my horror, I spotted my 8 month old baby, sitting in the high chair, at the table, with a big, fat chip in her hand, and what’s more, she was putting it in her mouth and sucking it, quite happily. I totally freaked out, thinking she would choke, but my Dad said to let her be, and see how she managed as she was actually coping with it beautifully. He gave her another chip, then a piece of broccoli, and she gnawed her way through them, and was happy, no signs of distress, gagging or spitting.
So, I went home, and the next week called one of my colleagues, a Speech and Language therapist, whom I worked with (we worked in a unit for special needs children) and asked her what I should do, and was it dangerous to let her feed herself. She laughed and said “it’s the way tonnes of cultures feed their babies, it’s called Baby Led Weaning by some, let her try things, watch her closely” she also told me that because Emily had had such bad reflux, she probably felt uncomfortable being “fed” and needed to control what went in her mouth, and what she swallowed. She said it was quite a common reaction and normal.
So, with that encouragement, I went and did lots of reading and research and decided that if Emily wanted to feed herself, then feed herself she could.
We experimented with lots of foods, things she could pick up in her hands, and feed to herself, and from then on, she basically self-fed. It was messy but so much fun, and actually easier than making baby food, because she pretty much started to eat what we ate, and by one year old was eating the same foods as us, and had a much wider palate range and tolerated things other babies her age wouldn’t eat.
I know a lot of people worry about choking and gagging, but actually, babies have a pretty good gag/swallow reflex, and if they are in control of what they are putting in their mouths, usually can manage and very rarely choke. They can gag and splutter a bit, which can look a bit scary, but actually, I found if I stayed calm, and just watched her, as she managed, and then offered her a sip of water, she didn’t seem to have any issues.
With Matthew, we went straight to BLW, and he also loved it, and managed beautifully, and from the get go loved feeding himself.
I am not a purists, I believe you can mix BLW with purees if you want to or feel that works for you and your baby. This attitude gets me into trouble with die hard baby led weaning fans, but I know of families that do both, happily, and also families who only do BLW and all their babies are thriving and happy and enjoy their food. I would say it’s a good way to encourage your baby to self-feed, and to try new textures and tastes earlier, and it is easier if you are wanting to just cook one lot of meals, and not have to puree or buy baby food.
I found some excelled resources online, from blogs and websites, which were helpful, in explaining what the principals of Baby Led Weaning and how to go about it, and things that worked and didn’t and what was safe.
So, that’s our Baby Led Weaning story, it really was baby led. Thanks to my Dad, and some advice from my colleagues, I let Emily make her own choice about feeding, and I don’t regret it, and if we have a 3rd baby, I think we will go the BLW route again, quite happily. It is actually being recommended now, by health visitors as a better way to wean your baby, we just were a bit ahead of the trend when we did it!