Beau's Baby-Led Weaning Journey
To say starting solids was overwhelming to me is a massive understatement. As a breastfeeding momma the idea of introducing solids (and taking six-ish months to slowly weaning Beau off breastfeeding while also ensuring he was getting adequate calories from breastmilk and solids) felt scary and chaotic. I started reading into all the basic starting solids 101's when Beau was around four months old. Gathering information before the timeframe of solids made me feel more prepared when the time came. Beau was showing plenty of signs before six months that he was ready for solids. Around four months he was super interested in what we were eating and drinking, reaching out to grab or touch our food. By five months he was sitting up without support... practically jumping at our food. My doctor recommended to start solids around six months and reassured me that there was plenty of time before having to actively start weaning breastfeeding.
I had known about baby-led weaning (BLW) prior to becoming pregnant and knew it was an approach I would likely take when introducing solids to my children. I know to some, this approach goes against all they've been taught and was certainly a bit of a perspective shift for some of my family members. I had questions around why I wanted to do it this way instead of using the common practice of baby purees and store bought prepared "baby" food, and if I was scared of choking. I had a strong sense of my why, which I'm sure aided in my confidence that this was the way I wanted to introduce food to Beau. BLW in a nutshell is, skipping traditional spoon-fed puree feeding and providing the opportunity for the child to feed themselves finger foods right from the start. Of course with this approach there are a few guidelines to ensure the child is eating in a safe way; apart from the child being developmentally ready to start solids, the top three are: 1) Age-Appropriate texture, 2) Age-Appropriate portion, and 3) A safe and supportive highchair.
What I love about (and why I chose) BLW is it encourages and provides opportunities to practice autonomy, independence, self-regulation, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills. It is a great way to bring our family together as we eat the same meal (with slight adjustments if needed). Beau watches and learns as we eat together, practices to move food around in his mouth and to clear anything stuck, and is eager to try new foods with new flavours and textures. It's affordable and (believe it or not) convenient to not have to store/buy baby-specific food items. It's a great way to incorporate and introduce clean, whole foods and healthy eating habits. Playing with the colours and textures of food in it's original state has been really fun for us both. I can understand having a few "baby" snack items for on the go, but in the world of COVID, BLW has been a great approach for our family (...we are going nowhhheerrreee HA!). Now, I will say, much to Brandons dismay... BLW is messy. Really messy. But that is part of the fun! I will say my kitchen floors have never been so clean and then so very dirty the next minute. Just like any other skill our little ones learn, eating (and eating with precision) takes time and practice. I really have loved BLW and with each day I feel more and more comfortable with Beau and myself.
Leading up to Beau's six month mark I was feeling pretty good and well read in the baby food department. I started following some BLW instagram accounts, listened to some podcasts, and signed up for a introductory (FREE) BLW webinar. I purchased a BLW book and for Christmas my mom gifted me with a BLW cookbook (great for FTM or those new to BLW). With all these great resources I felt comfortable with age appropriate textures and portions and the difference between gagging and chocking (though as a PSW I felt confident with this and CPR already.. but a refresher is always a great idea). I got myself a list of 100 First Foods from Katie Ferraro (FREE) as a fun way to keep things interesting in the kitchen. Along with these resources there were a few other products I had to make this experience as enjoyable as possible. We invested in a great quality highchair (a quick review on this blog), one that supports and adjusts in all the right places, and a few pieces of dinnerware.
When we started solids, we also decided to introduce an open cup, and a few weeks later introduced a straw cup. Beau (now 8 1/2 months) doesn't use bottles and instead will independently drink water/smoothies/breastmilk from a straw cup and drink from an open cup with little sips and some spills here and there. It does take some time but providing the opportunities to practice new skills never hurts. My "ideal" plan was to offer breastmilk for Beau's entire first year. Once I cut out his night feed I began pumping once in the morning (5-6am ish) to continue building my freezer supply. Then, when the time came to slowly wean breastfeeding and switch to bottle/sippy cup feeding I wouldn't need to supplement with formula because I had a stash readily available. Because I exclusively breastfed Beau (using a bottle only a few times a month for the first six months), my doctor had recommended skipping bottles all together and putting breastmilk right into a straw cup (in the coming months when) since bottles tend to be difficult to wean. It was a strange concept for me to wrap my mind around at first for sure... sippy cups felt so toddler-like.. but I'm grateful we decided to do that.
I knew I wanted to use sign language while Beau was young. Babies understand much more than we give them credit for!! We use really basic baby sign language (taken/adapted from ASL) in our house. The most common ones we use and Beau understands is "milk", "more", "all done", "up"... and newly starting to practice "please", "thank you", "eat/drink". Beau has recently started to sign back "all done", "milk" and "more". I really just wanted to provide Beau and myself with some tools to help communicate while he was still learning to verbalize/speak his needs and wants - especially around eating. But, whether or not your family chooses to utilize sign language, you're little one with certainly tell you if they are all finished eating or are looking for more food!
SOOOO. Momma. I know this next step feels overwhelming, bittersweet and intimidating. Even creating a thumbnail for this blog, and finding a picture of Beau back when we started solids, made my heart squeeze a little. Momma go ahead and take a minute and freak out. You're little baby is starting solid foods and it feels like just yesterday you found out you were expecting this bundle of joy. Address your fears... choking is scary AND most definitely life-threatening... do your research, brush up on your CPR knowledge, and take things slow. But don' t forget to embrace this super fun, messy and explorative time! It may feel challenging, but you can do hard things.
And remember... it's your job to decided what and when to offer food, and it's your baby's job to decide if and how much they eat. Once you release the stress around food you will be more open to experience the fun!! I encourage you to trust your little one to self-regulate and practice listening to the needs of their body. I've left some resources I found along the way that helped me gain confidence in this chapter of Beau's life, I hope you find them just as helpful!
All my love,
BabyLedWeanTeam - Katie Ferraro Account (Check Out her Podcast and Webinar)
Elleanor_faith - My Personal Account (Beau's BLW Highlight Reel)
Dinnerware (Reward Program Codes):