Alfie is coming up to a year old, which means we have been weaning him for almost 6 months now!
I have exclusively breastfed Alfie since the day he was born, and have enjoyed every minute of it! I decided quite early on that when it was time to wean him, I would until the recommended 6 months, and that we would go down the route of Baby Led Weaning, rather than traditional purees.
The way in which you wean your baby is a completely personal choice. I know that in the past babies were often weaned at 4 months, and this was done by using baby rice, baby porridge and steamed and pureed fruit and veg. I’ve seen the jars and pouches in the shop that make your life a lot easier when it comes to weaning, but they just didn’t appeal to me. That’s not to say we’ve never used them – we sometimes buy the fruit pouches when Alfie’s had a bit of trouble going for a poop, as it just helps everything along! Daddy has also been known to use them in the early days when Mummy went out and he was concerned about choking.
I’m not sure where I first heard about baby-led weaning – it will have been from my trusted facebook baby group I expect! But once I started doing some research, I loved the idea of it and how easy it seemed, and decided we would give it a go.
I know a lot of people were surprised I waited until 6 months, but there has been a lot of research done to show that early weaning (before 6 months) can cause all sorts of problems in the future, such as digestive problems and intoleraces. Of course, I’m not saying that all these problems are linked to early weaning, or that everyone who is weaned early will have these problems. I know that it was only recently (in the past few years) that the advice has changed from 4 months to 6 months, but I feel there is always a reason that advice changes – because people know more, and learn more about risks etc. I have read a lot about the virgin gut and as Alfie is breastfed, it made a lot of sense to wait until 6 months to give him solid food. I don’t claim to be an expert in this subject, but I have read a lot of interesting articles that make a lot of sense, and decided that for me and my baby, this was the best decision for us.
Why Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)?
The honest answer? I’m lazy! The idea of not having to either spend hours in the kitchen steaming and pureeing fruit and veg really appealed to me! I know a lot of people recommend the pouches, such as Ella’s Kitchen, but they are quite expensive if you are using them full time. I loved the idea of just being able to give Alfie whatever it was we were eating – I wouldn’t need to do two different meals, he could eat with us, and it meant he’d learn how to chew, bite and swallow from a young age. It means Alfie can sit with us at meal times, and we can all eat our dinner together and make it a real family/social event. I don’t have to feed him while my food is getting cold and then be the last one eating when everyone else has finished! We can go out to eat and I don’t have to remember to take food with me – most of the times I do take a packed lunch, but if I forget or we go out unexpectedly I can just give him some of my food, or buy him something and know he can eat it!
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
You will have realised by now that I love a bit of research. I don’t go into anything lightly, I research most stuff for hours and hours on end, so why wouldn’t I do the same when it comes to the most important thing in my life – my child. Like all parents, I have Alfie’s best interests at heart, but if I can do stuff that also makes my life as a mum easy, then it’s win-win for everyone.
Essentially, BLW is giving your baby normal, every day food that you would eat as an adult. You give them in finger sized pieces, usually in a stick shape, so it is easy for them to hold and then to begin with they just use their gums to soften the food. The main thing to remember with BLW is that they learn how to chew before they learn how to swallow – so it might look they aren’t eating very much, but they are eating what they need to (hence, baby-led). As long as they are still having their milk (breast or formula), then it’s ok for them to throw half their dinner on the floor!
How do I know my baby is ready?
The general guideline is to wait until your baby is at least 6 months, but he should also be showing all of the following signs:
- sits up with little or no support (this is very important to avoid choking)
- reaches out and grabs things effectively
- takes objects to their mouth quickly and accurately
- makes gnawing and chewing movements.
It’s important to remember that displaying one or two of these signs doesn’t necessarily mean your baby is ready for solids – lots of babies start to chew their hands or put things in their mouths around 4 months. They also appear to be staring at you when you eat and want to share! People often mistake this as signs they are hungry – don’t worry, your milk will be enough for them for at least 6 months (and beyond!), this is just what babies do at this age as they are exploring!
How do you start
Alfie’s first taste was chicken korma and rice! But his first proper meal was scrambled egg and smoked salmon (so posh, I know!) We started by just giving him breakfast to ease him in to it – we gave him things like toast cut into fingers, porridge fingers, Yeo Valley yoghurt and banana pancakes. We tried him with Weetabix but he wasn’t a fan! I also used to make breast milk frozen lollies for him and cucumber sticks to gnaw on to help him learn how to hold things.
We then graduated onto lunch and dinner – he’s had chicken pie, chicken and chorizo paella, steak and sweet potato fries, roast dinner, cauliflower cheese, beef stir fry, Thai prawn curry…basically if we’ve eaten it, Alfie’s eaten it! Now, he has breakfast, lunch and dinner plus snacks if we’re out and about. I also give him water in a cup with meals, but as he’s still breastfed he doesn’t particularly need water as he gets hydrated through his milk.
It’s been great for us as it has forced us to eat a little healthier too. On the whole we were pretty good anyway, but if you are eating something that you wouldn’t give your baby (for example, pizza or fish and chips), then that probably means you shouldn’t be eating it in the first place. We started using The Body Coach’s Lean in 15 book which is fab for trying out a variety of different meals.
I also bought Gill Rapley’s Baby-Led Weaning cookbook. This is a fab book as it has an explanation of the ins and outs of BLW at the start and then is packed full of great recipes – our favourite are the tuna croquettes and today we made some savoury muffins!
What are the pros and cons
These are my personal pros:-
- It’s easy – there is no extra work involved unless you choose to cook/bake separate meals. You can literally just give baby whatever you’re having (this really appeals to me because I’m lazy).
- It allows your baby to explore all their senses themselves, and touch, taste, see and smell the food they are eating, rather than it just being fed to them without a choice. Your baby will learn new textures and tastes and decide what they like and dislike!
- It encourages good fine motor skills – Alfie’s pincer grip is amazing and I believe this is mostly down to being able to feed himself (his throwing arm is also awesome, unfortunately also down to being able to feed himself haha)
My personal cons would be:-
- The choking/gagging element – I think this is what puts off a lot of new parents. It can be scary watching your child gagging on their food because you think they are choking, although really they are just realising that the food has gone in too far and they will push it out with their tongue. It is important to remember that a baby’s gagging reflex is further forward than ours, so they will gag quicker than we do – this is a good thing, as it stops them from getting the food in far enough to choke. BLW is a great way for babies to learn how to swallow which is why at the beginning they will gag a fair bit – but it’s nothing to worry about! I found a great infogram floating around facebook that really helps to explain the difference between choking and gagging
- The mess!!! This has to be the number one con – they make so much mess. We live in a rented flat with carpets, and I’m pretty sure we’re not getting our deposit back between the spaghetti bolognaise sauce stain on the walls and the cheesy mash rubbed into the carpet!! I also have to hose Alfie down after every meal – he isn’t a huge fan of bibs and they usually come off half way through the meal. Even if they do stay on, his hair has an assortment of food rubbed into it every day (maybe that is why he is so blonde?! Perhaps I should try washing mine with cheese sauce)
But for us, the pros far outweigh the cons. I can see Alfie’s development has come on leaps and bounds in the last few months and I genuinely think that is to do with letting him feed himself. Many of my friends and family are amazed at how co-ordinated he is and how well he eats. I really do love baby led weaning, and would recommend it to anyone.
I’ll admit some days I miss the ease of just having to put Alfie on the boob to feed him. Now our day revolves around when Alfie needs to eat – the food needs to be cooked, then cooled before he can eat it, he obviously takes a bit longer to eat because he is feeding himself, then we have Operation Clean Up. Each meal can take between 30 minutes to an hour depending what we’re eating, so it can be more time consuming than feeding purees where you can control the mess a bit more. However, eventually they will have to learn to feed themselves, so you are just starting a bit earlier than usual!
Now Alfie is a bit older, I love watching him feed himself – even the mess he makes never fails to make me laugh! It’s amazing where he can get crumbs sometimes. Some of my favourite photos of Alfie are from his weaning times. This one where he was eating a frozen yoghurt is the funniest one yet – he experienced a bit of brain freeze, but kept going back for more!
But however you decide to wean, enjoy it, cherish the new things your baby is learning and try not to cry about your little squish growing up!!