September 10, 2015

How We've Done Baby-Led Weaning (and Why I've Never Bought or Made a Single Jar of Baby Food)

Skip the baby food and introduce your child to all the food your family eats. So much easier (and less expensive!) than buying or making baby food.


I can’t remember how I came across the idea of baby-led weaning, but when Ella was a few months old, I requested the book from my library and was totally sold. (I thought the book was pretty repetitive and you can find out basically everything you need to know on their website).

The basic idea is that there’s no reason to start babies on the usual tasteless rice cereal and then slowly graduate up to jarred mashed vegetables and fruits, all of which you spoon-feed your baby. 

The Baby-Led Weaning folks say your baby can feed themselves, eat most table foods, and skip the puree stage entirely.

This appealed to me for three main reasons. First, we didn’t have a lot of money and I was kind of astounded by how much baby food cost. Second, I like to cook but I had zeeeeeero interest in spending my cooking time cooking vegetables, pureeing them, and freezing them in ice cube trays. If that’s your idea of fun, more power to you, but I’d rather be making cookies. And third, I wanted my children to be introduced to a wide variety of the kinds of food we regularly eat, rather than a diet of Puffs and pureed beans.

With each of the girls, we’ve waited to introduce food until they seemed interested in it (Baby-Led Weaning recommends around six months, rather than the four months for starting “solids” that you hear more commonly).

Ella started grabbing for our food when she was five months old, and Ani was closer to six months (she was fascinated by food, but it seemed to take her forever to figure out how in the world to chew or swallow – it was a mess!). At about five months, Star showed clear annoyance that she was being left of out meals, so we started sticking food on her tray and letting her have at it.

Bart and I get wild enjoyment over her serious concentration she hunts down a rogue blueberry on the tray or her loud indignation when no one is offering her food. I LOVE that baby-led weaning gives your baby so much practice learning fine motor skills. Star has been our fastest to pick it up, and watching her carefully pick up noodles or raspberries and try to get them to her mouth gets me every time.

I feel like one of the biggest concerns for most people is choking. If you give your baby a slice of apple, aren’t they probably going to kill themselves with it? Baby-led weaning says that what’s more likely to choke your baby is you shoving food into their mouth, instead of letting them control it and that if they’re putting their own foods in their mouth, they won’t stick it too far back or put in more than they can handle, and this has proved true for all three of our babies so far.

They may gag themselves, which is one of the methods babies have of moving food around in their mouths, but they can handle most things. Aside from soft things like oatmeal or yogurt, Baby-led weaning recommends cutting sticks of foods about the size of a baby carrot or a finger for them to be able to hold and gnaw on, whether that’s an apple slice, a carrot, or a piece of meat.

Obviously, when they are little, they only eat when we are right there with them to supervise.

It’s amazing how many adult foods can easily be eaten by a baby. Whether it is vegetables from a salad (I never give them lettuce because that stuff is HARD to chew with few or no teeth), rice, noodles, a piece of meat, fruits, or curry, I can almost always find something in our regular meals to hand over to Star.

I also have go-to foods that I can give the babies for breakfast or lunch when I’m not making a full meal. Blueberries, a piece of wheat bread, a handful of breakfast cereal, pretzel sticks, halved grapes or baby tomatoes, slices of apples or peaches or pears or bell pepper to gnaw on, chunks of banana or pieces of cheese are all popular, easy choices at our house.

The main deviation we do from the official method is that we do spoon-feed them some foods. If it’s yogurt or soup or curry or oatmeal, I’ll use a baby spoon (I love these soft Munchkin ones and we’ve had them since Ella was tiny - we bought them at Target) to give them small bites of it, but I don’t force it into their mouth, and if they grab for the spoon, I’ll let them have it. But you’ll be amazed at how quickly they learn to use a spoon on their own and with minimal mess.

It also makes going out to eat or over to someone else’s house really simple. I don’t have to worry about packing baby food, my children get used to eating adult food rather than something off the kid’s menu (which is usually unhealthy or over-priced anyway – don’t I sound like a super fun mom?), and I don’t have to ask a host to make my child something special. Whatever we order or are served, we can usually feed to our baby without difficulty.

I think doing baby-led weaning has also given me a good mindset about dealing with my children and their diets as they get older. From the beginning, they mainly eat what we do, so I’ve never felt any need to offer them separate food. My job is to provide them with healthy foods – their job is to eat. If they don’t eat, that’s fine; I’m not going to push any foods on them., but I’m also not going to offer the an applesauce pouch or frozen chicken nuggets at every meal just so they’ll eat something. From the start, there is not kid food and adult food, there’s just food.

I nurse my babies and continue to nurse full-time as they start real foods, so I don’t worry about how much they’re eating because I know they’re getting enough calories and nutrition from breast milk. 

Ella loved a bottle from her earliest weeks of life and moved easily into whole milk when she turned one and drank a cup most mornings until she was around three. Ani was never really into a bottle, so when she stopped nursing at around 15 months, she mainly just drank water after that. We only drink water at meals and the girls rarely ask for anything else to drink except when they’re eating graham crackers for a snack and want milk to dip them in.

I highly recommend this IKEA high chair because it’s so easy to wipe down. Three kids in - plus another baby using it when we rented our house out with all our furniture last year - and it still looks basically brand new. Plus, it’s super cheap. (Someone asked on Instagram if we have trouble taking off the tray. The answer is yes and so we basically never remove it. We just wipe the whole thing down with a sponge).

My children are certainly not perfect eaters – they turn up their nose at various items, would rather eat popsicles than dinner, and, given their choice, always pick chicken fingers at a restaurant. When someone offered Ella a few Puffs as a baby, she pretty much scarfed down their whole bottle. But they are willing to try most new foods, eat the majority of things I serve for dinner, and have many of their favorite foods are healthy.

Any other questions about baby-led weaning? I'd love to hear if you've done it or if you want to know more details.

(P.S. That super cute drool bib Star is wearing was a gift from a Texas friend - they've available on Amazon here).

25 comments:

  1. This is pretty much exactly what we did with Kyle because he was not all about the pureed baby food life. He'll eat pouches now, but as an infant we probably wasted money on about 50 baby food jars that he never touched. Kinsley on the other hand definitely choked self feeding herself baby puffs quite a few times and she definitely needed the pureed foods, but she's obviously a completely different scenario anyways. Ps. Star is the most beautiful baby!

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  2. We did BLW w/ my second because he hated the spoon and now I'm BLW for lyfe. It's so easy and amazing. The gag reflex is so much closer to the front on babies that they seem like they're gagging when they're just working through where that food should be in their mouths. It didn't make him any less picky, unfortunately, but was way easier to deal with and he enjoyed it too.

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  3. I heard about baby led weaning after I'd started my first on puréed, and started cereal with my second by 5 months because I was just so sick of all the spit up-- and it helped. But after buying/making so much baby food, I really wish I had just done BLW. So much about it appeals to me.

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  4. I don't have kids, but I've heard lots about baby led weaning and I know that's definitely the route we will take when they come along. I also know I am totally getting that ikea highchair.. I was at ikea the other day and almost bought it, but reined myself in!

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  5. Is that what it's called? I thought it was just laziness. For me, anyway. I did puree stuff for my first (still what we were eating, just whizzed to mush in a food processor), but with two and three, it was just way easier to tear off little bits of things when we were all eating. Like you, I do spoon-feed things like yogurt, but otherwise? Nope. Chucking things on the tray works for me.

    Plus, the entertainment value is significant. Just yesterday I gave the baby a whole very ripe pear and then got to enjoy the spectacle of him decorating himself and the near vicinity with mushy pear. And then he had a bath.

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    1. It was called laziness at our house too! Also, my daughter would stare us down as we ate, so it just made sense to give her small pieces of what we were eating. I completely agree with the idea that there isn't kid food and adult food; it's just food. Amen! My kids are great eaters and I think the main reason is we have been giving them "real" food since they started eating.

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  6. See, my girl would have nursed until she was 8 if I let her! She was a comforts eater from day 1 and just always wanted to nurse even though she was a champ at solids. I weaned her 5 days after her second birthday because I had had enough!

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  7. Yes! The latest study finding on peanut allergies came out right around the time my daughter was beginning to show interest in foods, and this completely changed how we planned to "introduce" foods to her. It was shocking to learn that instead of protecting from allergy, withholding peanut introduction significantly increased odds of allergy, even in children with a family history of allergy! Needless to say, I was pretty shocked and decided then and there that our girl would be eating the same dinner as us!

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  8. We did baby led weaning with our second- awesome! I bought a couple packages of baby food when we went to Mexico and he was 6 months old- not knowing for sure what kind of food I could get him there! He is now 17 months old, using a fork, and eating almost everything we put in front of him! It's probably the best thing ever.... I used a baby bullet once with him and only used 2 of the jars of food I made-- it's also a huge time saver-- you don't have to sit there and spoon feed your baby! We still do (with soup, etc especially if we're out), but it's definitely not very much!

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  9. I didn't discover baby-led weaning until we were already on our third child (you would have thought it would have been intuitive, but it wasn't), and I love it. With our first two kids, I was so stressed out about when to introduce foods and when they were "allowed" to have something with several ingredients, like a graham cracker or a Cheerio. We have all been much happier with our third and fourth kids. I'm less of a basket case, and my husband feels like he can help feed our kids without worrying that I'm going to freak out about giving them a food that hasn't been "introduced" yet. And, I don't know if this has any direct correlation, but our third child is the best eater of the bunch.

    A lot of people ask me about choking concerns, but I found the book so informative in this regard. Like April said above, when the baby is young, the gag reflex is farther up on the tongue, which makes babies gag more frequently but also helps them learn how to deal with food before it's even close to being too far back in their mouths. I remember the book said that we actually do babies a disservice by waiting to give them finger foods until they're older because by that time, the reflex is farther back, which proves more of a choking hazard than if they'd already learned to chew and swallow.

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  10. Question for you: do you attempt to keep them from making a total mess with the food on their tray? I never read BLW though this is essentially what I've done because I'm lazy, but I don't normally just put a handful of food on the tray because my one year old makes such a mess. After reading "French Kids Eat Everything" I was inspired by the concept that they don't let kids make a mess at meals because "that's not how the French behave". How do you do that without spoon-feeding them though? If I give my kid some bow tie pesto pasta on his tray he will just smoosh it into oblivion.

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    1. I just don't give her very much at a time - it seems like it's overwhelming to her to have too much. So I'll give her four or five blueberries and let her eat those before I give her more. And there is definitely a lot of sweeping after she's done. I guess my children are not very good at being French.

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  11. Just make sure things that are choking hazards are cut appropriately. Hot dogs, popcorn, grapes, etc are all the size of an infants trachea. Choking is a real danger with those foods. I provide in home services to infants toddlers and see this so often it scares me. And really watch your baby for signs of difficulty. Certain textures and foods are so difficult. Peas for example are are multiple textures because of the skin. Giving babies adult food is fine, but be in tune with your baby!

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  12. We did BLW too and for all the same reasons you listed. I loved it and will do it again in a heartbeat. I had some friends try it at the same time as me and were just way too nervous the entire time and reverted back to traditional weaning. Sigh. Some folks can't handle gagging and despite learning the difference between gagging and choking, still can't handle it. Oh well. My son is 18 months and it blows me away how good his dexterity and ease of use with cutlery is now. He was popping peas into his mouth with pincer grip before he was a year. And you're right - eating out is so much easier!

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  13. I didn't know about BLW until our little girl was about 1 so we didn't do that with her. I'm intrigued by the idea though and may consider it for any future children we may have. I'm also going to invest in an easier to clean high chair! I was so concerned that Ellie would be uncomfortable in a chair like the Ikea chair, so I bought this padded, now disgusting, high chair. haha I neglected to consider the fact that somehow we sit just fine on wooden chairs. Ah well. Live and learn!

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  14. I tried rice cereal with my first and she wanted nothing to do with it. She wasn't interested in solids until she was 10 months old and could feed herself, so she led us to BLW on her own!

    And now I really want since graham crackers and milk.

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  15. Love it. I've had many people give me grief or eye rolls- like, you can't just give a 6 month old an apple hello! Suit yourself I say. I thought it was so great.

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  16. Oh my goodness, that picture of Star. It makes me want to give her all sorts of hugs and squishes. We are doing a mix of BLW and spoonfed because E and I share my morning green smoothie, and I don't trust her to drink from a cup quite yet. And because she actually loves rice cereal. That and seaweed have been some of her favorite foods, so I think Japan will go well, haha!

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  17. I just have to say that I love your blog. Seriously love it. LOVE. I laughed out loud about your baby eating a whole jar of puffs, because my kids totally have done that because we never ever buy them. If they are lucky, they get plain puffed wheat. Thanks for sharing your method!

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  18. This is a thing? I thought it was a judgment on me for laughing (hopefully privately) at the moms around me who were making their own organic baby food. My second son hated all things pureed (wouldn't eat yogurt until preschool) and ended up just eating table food. I got a lot of lectures about ingredient control (is this a California thing? where you only introduce one new food a week?) so sometimes I'd have to make sure that his food was kept out of the casserole or whatever, so it was a bit of extra work but not much. Also I nursed for ages so like you I could ignore nutrition for the baby.

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  19. This is basically what we did with our son. I read about it at Young House Love when he was a baby baby and I was instantly sold on the not buying baby food, not pureeing everything, and not being tied to a chair spooning everything in his mouth! Basically, being lazy and cheap. He's eaten what we've eaten (besides snacks and desserts I hide from him, haha) since he was 5-6 months old (2 1/2 now). I love it. Never going back to "regular" baby feeding.

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  20. We did mostly purees with our first, but I wasn't freaked about giving her actual foods either. At the time, it was what worked best for us. For future kiddos, I definitely see how BLW would be easier (more kids, fewer hands) and we will definitely try that route. I tend not to be fastidious about following complete sets of rules, so I can also see a hybrid approach working for us. Thanks for the post.

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  21. I agree whole-heartedly with this post. We didn't exactly follow BLW with our first because we didn't know about it, so he did have rice cereal and purees to start, but we realized right away that he just wanted what we had. And since he already had several teeth we just gave him stuff right off our plate. I feel very strongly about eating meals together, as well as there not being "kid food" and "adult food" but just food, like you said. So whatever we eat, he eats (he is now almost 2) and he is a great eater! He will try everything! I'm talking meatloaf, kale salad, tikka masala, fried rice, really everything. Sometimes he doesn't like it, but I don't care if he is willing to try. Second baby is on her way and we plan to use the same method of just giving her what we have. Also, I LOVE the ikea high chair and recommend it to everyone (whether they ask or not).

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  22. Thanks for sharing this. I thought I was just being lazy. But this idea gives it a bit more structure and reenforces safety than just being lazy

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  23. Thanks for sharing this. I thought I was just being lazy. But this idea gives it a bit more structure and reenforces safety than just being lazy

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