How We're Doing Baby Led Weaning: 7 Things I've Learned

I learned about baby-led weaning when Jona, now almost 4, was a baby. It sounded appealing at the time, but I didn't know enough about it to merit changing what I was already doing, which was feeding him traditional baby-food purees.

I think feeding went okay with Jona, but there were two issues that I hoped would go better the second time around. One was the transition from smooth to textured food; that was a challenge for Jona, and he gagged every time we gave him anything with a chunky texture there for a while. He still has issues with food texture (which is likely due to his highly sensitive nature, not our feeding choices). Also, he is SO picky. So, so picky. I know that is normal for a lot of kids his age, but if there were something I could try to make a kid less picky, sign me up.

After seeing this article on Still Being Molly, I decided that with Violet, I would give baby-led weaning a try. Before she turned 6 months old, I read the book Baby Led Weaning, Pinned a few articles, and prepared to get started in this non-traditional feeding method.

Violet is now 9 months old and we've been doing baby-led weaning for the past 3 months, and it has gone extremely well. I wanted to share a few things I've learned along the way to encourage others who are interested in trying it as well.

{trust your baby} The thing I was most nervous about when starting baby-led weaning was choking. However, I learned that there's a difference between gagging, which is normal and even helpful, and choking. While there were several times that Violet gagged on a piece of food and pushed it out of her mouth, she hasn't ever choked. With baby-led weaning, it's important to let the baby be in charge of what goes in her mouth--do NOT try to force her to eat anything. Also, if she does start to gag, resist the temptation to try to get the food out with your finger, it may push it in even further. It's really hard to watch your baby gag on something, but every time it happened, Violet always got it out herself. Now, at 9 months old, it is very rare to see her gag on anything. While of course I'm there while she's eating, I don't have to hover over her, worried that she's going to choke.

{talk to your care provider} I knew that Violet's daycare provider may not want to do baby-led weaning with her, and I was fine with that. I still thought it was important to tell her that's what I planned to do, that way she was prepared for some mealtime differences. After I talked about it with her, she agreed to give it a try as well, but she asked me to bring over her food in the beginning to get an idea of what was working at home. Also, because my daycare provider is part of a state-licensed food program, she was able to give me some good ideas for making sure I'm giving Violet a good balance of foods.

{prep in batches} Now, at 9 months, Violet pretty much eats what we eat. In the beginning, however, I started with stick-sized pieces of cooked vegetables, soft fruits, and other foods that were long enough that she could hold on to and gnaw on. I cooked in batches so I wouldn't have to make her food every day. I'd roast a sheet pan of broccoli and sweet potato sticks, or cut up a mango into long finger-shaped slices, and put them in the fridge to use for a few days.

{experiment with different foods} While I was still getting the hang of it, I fed Violet a lot of the same things: sweet potato, broccoli, banana, avocado, toasted bread--basically anything I could make into a stick she could hold on to. Now that she's figured out how to chew, I can pretty much give her anything (I stay away from honey, nuts, and anything too crunchy, too salty, or too sweet at this age though). We had pad thai the other night, and I gave her some of the noodles, chicken, and egg. She loves rice and beans, and although it was a mess, I gave her some tzatziki sauce and hummus when we were eating Greek food. She still loves fruit more than anything else though.

{watch for signs of readiness for the next stage} To start, I mentioned that we gave Violet finger-sized sticks of food. However, eventually she just started biting off hunks of those sticks, and I wondered if she would be ready for more bite-sized pieces. At first, babies use their whole hands to pick up food, but eventually they can pick-up food with their thumb and finger, and when they can do that, they're ready for smaller pieces. Now Violet goes to town on Cheerios, blueberries, peas, and anything else that's small and bite-sized.

{be flexible} I am firmly on team Feed Your Baby, so I don't think that baby-led weaning is the be-all end-all. It is something that I wanted to try, and I was happy to learn that it has worked really well for us. But I didn't want to be so married to the idea that I was unwilling to try anything else, or looked at any other method as less-than. So when Violet's daycare provider wanted to feed her baby oatmeal with a spoon, I was totally on board. Likewise, when we went on our vacation, I brought along some pureed food so that I could spoon feed her if there wasn't anything baby-friendly to give her. (Which I did, and she ate it right up.) Additionally, at first Violet's stomach had a hard time adjusting to solids, so I gave her some pureed prunes to help, um, move things along. Just do what works, and don't worry about sticking to just one method.

{make it easy on yourself} Another thing that appealed to me about baby-led weaning was how easy it sounded. In the beginning though, I kind of felt overwhelmed by all the things I "should" be trying with Violet. (Pinterest, I blame you.) As we got into a good routine, I found a few things that did help make things easy. I bought a few silicone bibs with pockets that I could wipe down after each use and then throw them in the dishwasher overnight. When I didn't have anything prepared and I was in a rush, I gave her blueberries and cheerios again, even though she just had that. (Why did I think at first that she would get tired of something if she had it, gasp! twice in a row?!) I bought some of those steam-in-microwave veggie bags when I didn't feel like chopping and roasting. I didn't wait three days before introducing a new food. (Now, your doctor may tell you to do that--no judging here. Team Feed Your Baby, remember?)

Would you try (or have you tried) baby-led weaning? Are your kids good eaters? Any tips for helping them get that way? 

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