Baby-Led Weaning: Self-Feeding

Picture it with me…baby girl (or boy) sits down to a meal, feeds herself a bowl of scrumptious salmon chowder (you lovingly prepared) with a spoon, enjoys every bit of it, then asks for more, all the while none of it ends up on the floor. You think you’re dreaming, right? Then you open you your eyes to realize this is your reality, all day every day for EVERY meal. Think what I’m talking about is nuts? Guess again.

Does this sound more like it: you pop open a delicious jar of some puréed meat and veggie/oat/fruit/bean blend, dip the spoon into said jar, aero plane the food towards baby’s smiling mouth, only to have it brutally rebuffed and spat on you in disgust. Sound familiar? I thought so.

What if the first scenario really existed and you didn’t have to fight to get your little one to eat? What if you didn’t have steam, steam, steam those veggies only to puree them and store them in those cute little freezer trays? Or, what if you didn’t have to peruse the baby food aisle thinking ‘peas, broccoli, turkey, bananas, and lima beans’ sound yummy right? Cuz you would totally eat that…NOT!

Okay, so you think I’m kidding, but the first scenario does exist and it can happen in your home or at a restaurant! Want to know what in the world I’m talking about? Let me tell you about a little thing called Baby-Led Weaning (BLW).

Baby-Led Weaning was coined by Gill Rapley from England and it’s a means of “adding complementary foods, not giving up breastfeeding.” It’s not necessarily about weaning baby from mama’s milk, so much as getting them to feed themselves. She states that if it were up to her, “it would be called Baby Self-Feeding, but that ship has sailed, my friends, and Baby-Led Weaning it is.”

I have to say this was one of the funnest experiences we had with Emma when it was time to start ‘solids.’ I had first heard about BLW from my crunchy/celiac friend while I was pregnant with baby girl. She only knew of the website but I happen to stumble upon the actual book while perusing Amazon. I needed to get a better handle on this concept, and when I started doing BLW the website wasn’t user-friendly, so I got the book. If you are like me and you need more ‘proof’ or encouragement get the book pronto! I don’t care if you’ve already been doing the jarred mush with your little one, GET THIS BOOK!

Maybe you were like me in thinking, “hmph I don’t need those jarred foods-I’ll make my own and they’ll be 10x healthier.”  Right?  Yeah, I had the same mindset until I discovered this little gem.  Instead of making additional food, in those cute little baby bullets, you could just feed baby boy or girl the same thing you were eating.  There’s that crazy talk again!  Let me explain…

We decided to start Emma on solids right around 6 months since she seemed to be showing interest in what we were doing.  I did do a bit of the rice cereal, which seems to be all the rage, but after trying it myself and finding it disgusting, I tossed that in the trash.  My mom said the same thing when we were little…apparently I should still be listening to my mom after 30 years.  Ha!

Some of the first foods we started her on were avocados, bananas, sweet potato ‘fries’, and steamed veggies.  And when I say steamed veggies, I mean a boatload of steamed veggies.  I was fortunate to have my mom get me one of those double decker steamers by Hamilton Beach, and little did I know how handy that contraption would be with feeding Miss Emma.  Since going Paleo though, I would probably be sautéing veggies a lot more in some good ole grass-fed butter or bacon fat.

I kinda sorta cleared it with our Pediatrician when the 6 month check-up rolled around.  I think.  They told me what I could start doing with her and I smiled and nodded, like a good mama, and may or may not have mentioned that I was doing BLW.  One thing you’ll learn about me, if I put my mind to it, I’m doing it come hell-o or high water.  And when we went back for other check-ups and they asked if she was eating this or this and staying away from that, I said yes.

This isn’t to say you should go against your doc.  This is to show you you don’t have to do the norm when it comes to eating.  My friend, Amy from Simply Sugar and Gluten Free, finally called me up and got on board after her son refused to have a spoon come at his face and was determined to do it himself.  It’s hard at first to TRUST your child and let them do it, but YOU MUST!  There were several times when Josh and I put the food in her mouth to get her to try it-but that’s a NO NO.  It takes all your will power not to stare at them, like the book says, but it’s so darn cute and fun to see them explore this eating thing like mama and daddy do.

I will add for those who are worried about choking-don’t be.  Or rather, try not to be and TRUST your child.  Their gag reflex is so far forward that they will spit the food out themselves if it travels too far back.  Should they choke (I don’t recall it with Emma), ‘ just smack them on the back and move along,’ as the book states.  It’s tough, especially being a control freak, to trust your baby and let them handle it themselves, but I think it’s a good lesson early on for parents and kids alike.

To give you an idea of how to feed them: cut foods into French fry-like sizes for just about everything.  Broccoli and cauliflower can be left as is, that way it gives them a handle and is easier to keep an eye on.

If you need ideas:

  • steamed, sautéed, or raw veggies cut into 2-inch sticks
  • all fruits (I didn’t wait on any of them)
  • pasta/spaghetti squash with homemade sauce
  • mashed cauliflower/potatoes/parsnips/turnips/etc.
  • grass-fed ground meats
  • shredded pork, chicken, or turkey
  • wild-caught steamed or canned fish
  • toasted bread cut into ‘sticks’ with hummus or smashed avocado
  • soups

I personally didn’t do any sugars, juices, or cow’s milk, but that’s up to you.  I wanted to give Emma the best foods I could, especially since she was so little and it was a very formidable time for her.

Hopefully that gets you started.  Don’t be afraid of good fats like butter and seasonings-they are used to flavors from the womb and in your milk if you are nursing.  I will suggest that you should offer utensils from the get-go, too.  They like to mimic mama and daddy, so if you get them started early, they will be pros in no time.  Try not to stress about it and have fun exploring the world of eating with your baby, you won’t regret it!

I’m pretty sure I could go on forever talking about this subject, but I’ll just let you explore it for yourself.  Don’t get hung up on the choking or not trusting your child to do for themselves, just give it a shot.

Like I said, it was truly the most enjoyable time with Emma (though not always the cleanest), plus being Italian and cooking 3 squares a day, I feel like my world revolves around food.  And for those that missed it in the beginning-Emma has NEVER HAD A SINGLE PUREE since she started eating at 6 months old.  Okay, I may have made her some homemade applesauce in the Vitamix and added some cinnamon, chia, and flax seeds, but I swear that was it.

I will leave you with this…offer everything under the sun to your child, they are literally blank slates just waiting to try new things.  Even now Emma loves sardines, marrow bones, capers, lemons, olives, etc.  She doesn’t know those are supposed to be ‘nasty’ just because a lot of people don’t like them.  Who knows, maybe it will get you to try new things for the first time since kids like ‘to monkey see, monkey do.’

Give me your feedback.  Did you do BLW or are you doing so now?  Is this a beyond crazy concept or have I grabbed your attention?

UPDATE: I learned from my holistic group that ‘food before one, is just for fun,’ so don’t stress too much about it, especially if nursing–they are getting tons of nutrients from the milk.

Note: I wasn’t paid or perked for this.

6 thoughts on “Baby-Led Weaning: Self-Feeding

    • Pretty much whatever I was fixing for that meal. I tried all kinds of veggies-steamed/roasted (sweet potatoes, broccoli, cauliflower) and raw (bell peppers, cucumbers). I did avocados, bananas, mashed parsnips, etc. This time around, I will offer bone broths and more healthy fats, and stay away from grains.

      Hope that helps!

  1. I have a few questions. First, is have you ever had someone do BLW with their child in daycare/montesorri? How many meals did you start with, I’ve seen some start with only one at a time? Finally, did you ever let your pediatrician know you were doing the BLW method? I often tell my Dr. and pediatrician things they don’t want to hear and get a little blowback from it, but they realize that I’m not such a big push-over and usually do some digging before I just throw something out there.

    • Hi Stacy! Since I stay home with both girls I have not seen it done in daycare. That being said, my sister who does work, would do BLW at home and either send purees or focus on breastmilk (food before 1 is just for fun).

      As for Pedis…mine is very holistic so she went with whatever we decided–though she is big into no grains early on (no rice formula here). I will say that when the nurses asked if I was feeding a certain thing to them, I would smile and say ‘yes.’ I didn’t want to totally lie, but since I was feeding my kids the way I thought best, they didn’t need to know it ALL.

      Hope that helps!

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