Food is one of my favorite things in the world. I love trying new recipes. I find an earthy satisfaction in the task of growing and crafting and creating a meal that will nourish and satisfy people I care about – in short,food is my love language.
So when my daughter scooted closer and closer to the six month mark, representing the “official” age of solids introduction, I anticipated that new season with excitement and dread.
Because, let’s be honest, the boob is so easy. Breastfeeding makes for very simple meal times. No prepping ingredients. No scouring recipes. No last minute trips to the grocery store. And clean up’s a breeze (most of the time).
Breastfeeding spoiled me – I didn’t have to spend any extra energy scrutinizing the foods entering my daughter’s body – was she getting enough of healthy fats? Protein? Iron? Was that pear organic? Is that bacon preservative free? Please tell me that beef is grassfed? None of those worries – perfect, glorious, beautiful milk – on demand.
So, with the introduction of solids, I knew I needed a solution that would:
· Not require mass amounts of extra prep (i.e. steaming then pureeing for days on end)
· Nourish my baby girl with real, whole food ingredients.
· Enable us to continue our love of trying new restaurants without packing a mini-fridge of jars and pouches and food ninjas.
Enter: Baby Led Weaning (or, BLW, if you’re into acronym dropping).
Or, as I lovingly call it – the lazy parent’s guide to solids.
Baby Led Weaning: An Intro
Like most “natural” parenting practices that are making a comeback (e.g. breastfeeding, baby-wearing, cloth diapering, etc.), the basics of Baby Led Weaning is by no means a “new” invention. Crunchy moms think they’re being trendy – nope – really, we’re being old school.
For thousands of years, there weren’t Vitamix’s or Peppy Purees or Baby Breeza’s to blend foods into baby-friendly mashes. Nope. Just mom and dad omnivore hunting beasts, gathering plants/berries, and enjoying the fruit of their labor. Who knew our ancestors were oh-so-trendy?
BLW, in its simplest form, is allowing a baby to feed themselves from the beginning of the weaning process. Baby is in control of what goes in their mouth, when, and how much is consumed. BLW is based on a concept of progressively adding foods to a baby’s diet of milk (or formula – for simplicity, we’ll use “milk” throughout this article, but the concepts apply to both milk and formula). Though parents begin offering solids to babies around 6 months, milk provides the foundation of health and nutrition, maintaining the majority of a baby’s diet until around 12 months (“food before one is just for fun”).
Baby eats whatever mom and dad are eating. In the form they are eating it. No need to mash or cut into tiny pieces. Actually, the bigger the better – and if there’s a natural handle (e.g. steamed broccoli), even better!
Basic Tenants of BLW:
1. Baby self-feeds – they’re in the driver’s seat. No more having to hover over little Jimmy, airplaning the spoon of pureed peas into his mouth.
2. Baby eats what mom and dad are eating.
3. Food is about exploration from 6-12 months (and beyond), not necessarily about nutrition as milk still provides the majority of nourishment.
4. Meal time is fun for both parent and baby.
Benefits of to the Baby from Baby Led Weaning:
- Lower risk of obesity: A recent study published in 2012 suggests that children who are allowed to self-regulate what goes into their bodies and how much may have a reduced risk of developing obesity later in life.[i]
- Higher likelihood of healthy food preferences: The same study also suggested a correlation between BLW practices and healthy food preferences later in life.[ii]
- Sensory exposure: Baby gets to explore new tastes, textures, colors and smells.
- Motor development: Baby gets to use their hands to maneuver that chicken drumstick or roasted sweet potato fry to their mouth.
- Oral motor skill development: Unlike the reflexive “suck-swallow-breathe” technique babies will have used to date to drink milk from breast or bottle, the manipulation of chewing and maneuvering foods of different textures, sizes, hardness, etc. in their mouth is learned to reflexive. Spoons of puree allow baby to utilize the same suck-swallow-breathe pattern, not challenging them to develop mandibular skills required to bite, chew and swallow solid food.
- Fewer food aversions: Though the research is sparse, proponents of this methodology suggest that exposure to a greater range of tastes and textures may result in less “picky” eaters down the road.
- Less choking: Though this seems counter intuitive initially (hello, you’re handing your 8 month old a huge chunk of food), but because babies who explore solids via BLW master the necessary reflexes and muscular development it takes to maneuver food around the mouth and down the throat, they have a reduced risk of choking.
Benefits of to the Parent from Baby Led Weaning:
- Meal time is an extension of play time: no/low stress, and both mom and baby get to explore the same food together.
- It takes the pressure off: No more feeling pressured to stuff as much pureed pees/prune mixtures down baby as possible.
There are, clearly many benefits to BLW. However, the biggest detractor I have found to date is the mess. Holy moly, is it messy. Because baby is feeding herself, and we view food as an education/explorative experience, meal time gets EVERYWHERE. After adjusting my expectations and learning that it was ok that more food got on her face/floor than in her mouth/stomach, I felt liberated to let her direct her own experience of food.
We'll continue this two part series on Baby Led Weaning next week with specific Tips, Tricks and Tools to make your BLW journey a breeze! Tried Baby Led Weaning? Love it? Hate it? Have a tip or tool you want us to know about?? Leave a comment below or send me an email atKelsey@cordmama.com. I can’t wait to hear from you!