“Wow, your kids eat so well!”
“Gosh, I can’t believe your daughter ate ____, my kid would never eat that.”
“Both of them actually sat through the whole meal, I’m impressed.”
These are comments coming from relatives and friends who have observed both my daughters during meal times. My girls have gone through phases of being fussy just like other kids, but I believe my kids genuinely love food and eating, thanks to Baby-Led Weaning.
How to introduce Baby-Led Weaning
I first heard about baby-led weaning from a good friend, Daksha. She gushed about her nephews, who went through BLW and were good eaters. Like most mums I know, I had read books by Annabelle Karmel.
Karmel, an expert in baby food and nutrition, champions the traditional way of introducing solids. Intrigued by BLW, I picked up a copy of another book, Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley. After doing research and speaking to other experienced mums, I chose BLW because:
- BLW food is essentially the same food adults eat (with no added sugar or salt), which is more appetising than pureed food.
- BLW means including the baby during meal times as she eats the same meal at the same time as the rest of the family.
- Through BLW, baby will learn to feed herself (bonus!) and self-regulate her appetite, which means eating will hopefully be less stressful and a fun discovery process.
The first two months of weaning were tough as both my girls did not eat much because:
- They were still figuring out how to pick up food and get it into their mouths. BLW helps babies develop the ‘pincer grasp’, that is, the picking up of small objects between the thumb and forefinger. At first, Little Cake’s aim was hilariously inaccurate, with a lot of food hitting her forehead rather than her mouth.
- They were still figuring out how to use their tongues to move the food around in their mouths, then there’s also the chewing and swallowing.
I reminded myself that my babies were getting most of their nutrition through breast milk, and aimed to ensure that mealtimes were nutritionally balanced and stress free. The amount they ate was barely quantifiable. I would prepare and serve food usually an hour after their last breastfeed. That way, they wouldn’t be too hungry or too full. If they lost interest- instead of trying to get the food into their mouths, they would throw food on the floor or turn away from the food- or if they showed signs of extreme frustration, I would remove them immediately from their highchair and the meal would be officially over.
Tips on Baby-Led Weaning
The hardest bit about baby-led weaning was the Mess. Mess with a capital M. There was food everywhere – on their faces, in their hair, on the highchair, on the floor, on myself…the cleaning up was rather phenomenal. You can mitigate this by having an easy-to-clean highchair, a proper full-armour apron, with a food catcher for the baby and a big enough anti-slip, splash mat to line the floor beneath the highchair. There were times I had to give the girls a shower after their meals, but this improved as they got older.
I often get asked about choking hazards. Here are the rules I go by:
- Never put food in your baby’s mouth. Your baby needs to be able to control what goes in and goes backwards into her throat.
- Steam harder finger foods when your baby is between 6-10 months old. This is dependent on when your babies get their teeth. I steamed apple and carrots, which Little Cake enjoyed picking up and gumming.
- After 10 months old, give harder foods, larger than what can fit into your baby’s mouth i.e. He would have to gnaw and chew to break the food into smaller pieces before it can be swallowed. I would give a whole apple so Little Puff could she gnaw on it.
- Have a healthy dose of common sense! Avoid nuts. Fruits with seeds should be deseeded. Sometimes I removed skin off fruits to make them easier to eat.
It is also important to understand that gagging is not the same as choking. Babies learn to regulate how much food to swallow by gagging. As long as I followed the guidelines above, I didn’t panic when they gagged. Of course, this is easier said than done. I would give my girls a sip of water after a gagging episode. Both Little Cake and Little Puff have gagged less than five times in total during their respective BLW journeys. They learnt quickly to gauge how much food they could handle.
Incorporating weaning into our lifestyle was not as difficult as I envisioned. I didn’t need to prepare two separate menus. Instead I prepared one meal that had no salt (too much sodium is bad for babies’ little kidneys), and my husband and I would add salt if need be. BLW has encouraged us to eat more healthily, focusing on a variety of vegetables and healthy proteins, whether we were at home or when we were out and about. Most restaurants we frequented were happy to prepare the same meal but with less dressing and salt for the babies. We usually had all our meals together as a family as much as possible, which meant my husband and I ate an earlier dinner.
We had a lot of fun as a family throughout the first six months of BLW, and we are still reaping the benefits from it four years on! If you are about to introduce solids to your baby, here are some simple ideas that worked for my girls to help you get started:
- Vegetables – steamed or raw carrots, broccoli, peppers cut into sticks, steamed sweet potatoes, cucumber sticks, corn on the cob, green leafy vegetables (introduced after 10 months as they are quite difficult to swallow).
- Fruits – avocadoes, bananas, tomatoes, all types of berries, steamed apple, oranges, pears, peaches, melons.
- Protein –fish, fish fingers, chicken (avoid bones until a year old), chicken goujons, beef steak, homemade meatballs, tofu, kidney beans, chickpeas (make sure they’re soft enough), lentils.
- Carbs – cooked oats, various types of cooked pasta, rice, rice noodles, croutons, breadsticks.
Most importantly, see each meal as a fun learning experience for your baby. Do not impose your own likes or dislikes, but instead sit back and get your camera ready!
By Jessica Cheng
Jessica Cheng hails from Subang Jaya but is currently a full-time working mum manoeuvring the corporate world in London. She is a bubble tea addict who loves experiencing food and travel with the three Vs in her life: her husband and two little girls.