I have been obsessing over Emme’s eating since before she was even born. The only parenting book I read from cover to cover was French Kids Eat Everything. I devoured every word (no pun intended) and set my mind that I was going to do everything I could to make her my little foodie. One of my biggest fears is that she’ll turn into a chicken nuggets and mac-n-cheese only kind of kid. I want her to love food the way I do and to be an adventurous eater. My dad always brags that I was eating sushi in a high chair and the only food I can ever remember blatantly turning away was chicken pot pie, which has turned into a family joke because I still won’t eat it to this day.
I decided the first step in making Emme a good eater was to make her baby food. I added items to my registry like the Baby Bullet, tiny food storage containers, and baby food cookbooks, which I poured over during the last few weeks of my pregnancy in awe that babies would eat such fancy meals. (Bebe Gourmet is my favorite baby food cook book.) I was mesmerized by the variety in these purees and began counting down the days until I could introduce Emme to the world of food.
I continued to research baby feeding throughout the first six months of Emme’s life and that’s when I learned about baby led weaning (BLW). The theory behind BLW is that if given the chance, babies will learn to eat solids on their own without the need of purees and ultimately self-wean. BLW encourages babies to explore the various tastes and textures of food while teaching them the physical process of eating – bite, chew, swallow. Their gums and jaws are surprisingly strong and capable of mashing food into easily swallowed pieces. Baby will eat what you eat and by watching you, will learn how to feed themselves.
There are also many benefits to BLW other than learning how to eat. BLW babies stop eating when they’re satiated which creates healthy eating habits. This is especially true for breastfed babies who are already used to controlling how much they eat. Less time is spent preparing meals for baby because they eat what you’re eating with minor modifications. You can eat while baby eats – no more cold meals! BLW helps babies develop hand eye coordination and fine motor skills by learning to grasp food and move it to their mouths. And since BLW babies experience a wide variety of foods, they tend to continue to enjoy a variety of foods later in life. Plus, it’s fun! (And messy but mostly fun! Clearly Emme is thrilled about having her first taco, as pictured above.)
Baby led weaning is not a newfound way of feeding a child. The theory has been around for ages but was coined by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett in the book Baby Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and crunchy moms like myself ate it up. (I promise I’m not making eating puns on purpose!) But somewhere down the line, doctors told moms they needed to start with boring nutritionally void baby cereal followed by mushy baby food and that’s just been the norm since.
There’s also a lot of debate on what age children should start solids. Some doctors recommend beginning baby cereal as early as three months old but research shows that baby’s stomach is not ready for solid foods until at least six months old. BLW should not be started until baby is at least six months old, showing an interest in food, sitting unassisted, developing the pincer grasp, and lost the tongue thrust reflex. Emme has shown an interest in food for months but she was almost seven months old before she met the other requirements for BLW.
I was nervous to begin BLW and started slowly. We have been trying BLW for a couple of weeks now and it is going well. My biggest hurdle is overcoming my own fear of gagging, which is inevitable and expected with BLW. Babies have a very sensitive gag reflex that helps to keep them safe from choking but also needs to be trained to the proper sensitivity for eating. I struggle with remaining calm while Emme sort out gagging on her own. But gagging has not deterred her; she coughs up the food and continues eating. She had one episode where she began to choke but she worked the food out herself… and I made a mental note to take a CPR class.
So, what do BLW babies eat? Anything and everything! Sodium should be avoided as much as possible as salt is dangerous for babies and babies under one should never eat honey even if it is cooked as it can contain botulism spores. But other than that, the sky’s the limit! I started sharing some of Emme’s meals over on her Instagram page – @wigglessquiggle – if you’re interested in seeing what she eats. So far I haven’t found anything that she doesn’t like but she really likes chicken, strawberries, and pasta. She’s even surprised me by trying foods like mushrooms, brussels sprouts, and bell peppers.
I’m feeling more confident in our BLW journey and Emme is doing so great so far. She eats one or two meals per day, usually breakfast and lunch. The only downside is I can no longer eat around Emme in peace. She wants whatever I’m eating and most of the time I’m happy to give her a taste. Fingers crossed that I have a foodie in the making!
If you want more information on baby led weaning, I encourage you to read Baby Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods. There are also BLW groups on Facebook full of great information and helpful members. My favorite group is Baby Led Weaning for Beginners, which is strictly monitored to offer correct and valuable information like how to serve foods, meal ideas, and helpful BLW products.