Independent eating with Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)

Who here is with me when I say that 50% of a mother’s happiness and sanity every day is directly linked to whether their child(ren) ate “properly” that day? And if they ate on their own, without distractions and drama, then we have had a very good day! And now especially with the holidays coming and too many relatives and distractions around, how does one expect these little kids to sit down and eat?

When I became a new mom, there were many things I struggled with. Sleep was a big one for us. I researched, took advice, and tried many things. It took a lot for me to get a handle on the sleep situation for her and for myself. So when it came time for her next big milestone – introducing solids, I was determined, to prepare better and find a way to not struggle and run after my daughter to put one piece of food in her mouth. I “researched” again (if you haven’t figured it out already, that’s what I do for everything related to my daughter, maybe I should be doing that for a living too). I spoke to my mom, my elder sisters with kids, and pediatrician, of course along with searching the internet about the when, what and how of introducing solids to my little one.

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Savoring her favorite rice cakes (or idli)

And that was when I stumbled upon the concept of Baby-Led Weaning (BLW). BLW quite simply, means letting your child feed themselves from the very start of introducing solids. The term weaning does not imply giving up formula or breastmilk, but simply the introduction of foods other than formula or breastmilk. Just like with most things, there were some rules about starting BLW that I had to keep in mind (as should you, if this is a route you are considering) – baby should be atleast 6 months old, be able to sit on their own without support (i.e., not get into the sitting position, but once put in sitting position, be able to sit), and has overcome tongue thrust reflex. These are the same rules that apply to introducing solids so it didn’t feel like a very big shift from the traditional method from that perspective. BLW also suggests giving bite sized soft foods to babies and encourage them to pick and put the food in their mouth independently. This basically means no purees and no spoon feeding, just regular soft foods without salt, spices and sugar. The focus is not on quantity, but on introducing the texture of different foods to the baby, since BLW believes that breastmilk or formula is the primary source of nutrition for the child for first year of their life. BLW also encourages self-feeding and no use of any distractions during meals. Because, meals need to be enjoyed for the food and family time, not with any distractions or rewards at the end of meal completion. And lastly, letting the child be in control of what and how much they put in their mouth. As you can imagine, when I first floated this idea within my family – my mom, my husband, and even my nanny – all thought I was going to let my daughter starve or choke, because of course as a first-time mom, what did I know! And what will a baby of 6 months know what to do with what is in front of her. It seemed like losing control was more worrisome for the adults of the house (lol!).

So, when my daughter turned 6 months and 1 week, we prepared for her first meal. I bought these full body smocks to protect her clothing. We bought a slightly older version of this high chair, which could be put on any table or chair so that it could be easily portable for travel. This new one has a 360 degree rotation which I really like. Here it was, the day of her first solid meal! We decided the first meal will be avocado (nom,nom). We cut finger sized slices and placed them in front of her. We placed her in her high-chair, put on the smock and waited for her to reach for the avocado. And she did!! And then it slipped from her hand. She tried again and once again, it slipped out of her grasp. She used both her hands this time and caught it and smushed and pureed it her hands and then threw it on the floor.

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Broccoli is still her favorite!

That was my first day of BLW. Obviously everyone in the house was like, “we told you so.” This continued for a week with various kinds of food. And I was feeling less and less confident. And then I read another good practice about BLW – have a family meal time and offer what you eat minus the salt/spices/sugar. It was an “aha” moment and I realized that my daughter did not associate sitting on high chair with putting food in her mouth. To her, the things in front of her were another set of toys. Next time, I sat down with her and placed the avocado slices in my plate. She lunged towards my plate, which was a good sign and showed to me that she was interested in food. I then placed a slice in front of her and showed her what to do with it i.e., put it in my mouth. Voila! She picked up the slice and this time, put it in her mouth and tasted it for the first time. The look on her face after tasting something other than milk was just amazing! And thus began our BLW journey!

Since then, we have come a long way and I am so grateful to have found BLW. We travel a lot with my daughter, and she eats what we eat. It is liberating!! She experiments with the textures of various kinds of foods. When she was too young to speak, she would feel various foods with her hands and tell me if she wanted more or less of something.

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At a lunch buffet!

This also helped develop her pincer grip quickly which is now proving very useful as she is learning to hold a crayon to color and pencil to write. She is completely in control and can let me know how much and when she is hungry. It took us a while to get into a steady routine, but now, we have set lunch and dinner time and if she is hungry, she asks for a snack. And did I mention, she ate independently (for the most part) since she was less than a year old and always resulted in raised eyebrows in astonishment among friends and family. I have also made sure to offer her a wide variety of foods, which she is happy to experiment with. She has even tried bitter gourd which most adults wouldn’t try! Some products that have been very useful in our journey are these placemats and these bowls for the times when I was tired of cleaning up messes from tipped over bowls and plates. She started using these forks and cups early on and these worked well for us.

Of course, like everything with parenthood, not everything is a bed of roses. We have had phases where she completely rejected food, would stop eating her favorite foods, would want me to feed because she has watched someone else do it or the worst, the food went flying in a well-directed projectile for the walls or the chairs. Those times are tough, but I generally kept encouraging her and offering new foods to her. I was often tempted to feed her too (and I have given in to the temptation a few times) but then she would say, “no mommy, I can eat all by myself.” And I would hug her for correcting me.

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Yummy in the tummy mango 🙂

Currently, as we are transitioning out of her high-chair to “big girl chair”, it is a challenge to keep her in one place because she is constantly distracted with things around her and cannot sit still. And with turning three, she also has learnt to negotiate for her favorite treats at the end of a meal. So the challenge is on-going, but I know because we instilled in her the ability to understand her hunger and do portion control, she is able to communicate when she is hungry and eat.

The biggest lesson for me in this journey is to trust my child with her hunger and allow her to have control. It did not come easy, but has helped empower her not only about her food habits but also in her ability to trust her decisions and her judgement. As a mother of a young girl, this is the most important aspect of BLW that I cherish.

Tell us about your food journey! What have been some of your experiences or lessons learned? I feel like as moms we are always learning as the kids to continue to throw us one curve ball after another!

Disclaimer: Please consult your doctor regarding the nutritional needs of your child before starting baby-led weaning. Also, please educate yourself on the differences between gagging and choking. Lastly, learn what to do if and when your child chokes and learn to perform CPR, if you ever need to use it. 

-Charu

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