Baby-Led Weaning: Navigating the Early Stages of BLW
Starting to Wean the Baby-Led Way
As currently recommended by healthcare professionals in the UK, my husband and I decided to start weaning the twins when they reached 6 months of age. I was very keen to try weaning the baby-led way (see our book for more details on the benefits), but in keeping with the majority of first-time parents we were nervous about the babies choking on solids. However, after much research (and true to our own experiences) we found that luckily this did not happen. I was surprised that both of them only gagged twice during the first week of weaning and that was it! Following this, the babies soon learnt one of the fundamental milestones of Baby-Led Weaning which is to chew rather than swallow first.
I know that a few of our followers are just embarking on their Baby-Led Weaning journey, so I thought that I would jot down a few helpful tips! For more detailed information on the benefits, nutrition and methods of starting Baby-Led Weaning please refer to our book.
First Aid for Babies and Children
For peace of mind my husband and I decided to attend a baby and child first aid course a couple of weeks before we actually started weaning the twins. Not only does it cover what to do in the event of proper choking (real choking is silent and you will not hear it which is why it is important to never leave your baby unattended when weaning) but also what to do with burns, cuts, nose bleeds and general baby CPR. We did a condensed course so it took a whole day and we were very tired by the end of it, but it was definitely worth it for our peace of mind (you can download a first aid app from the Red Cross here and watch a helpful video on choking here).
The First Taste
The first solid food we offered the twins was roasted vegetables. We figured that this was a good place to start as the vegetables were solid enough for them to grip hold of but also soft enough to be mushed between their gums. The twins really took to the roasted carrot and sweet potato (which are still firm favourites!) offered.
As a first-time parent I put a lot of pressure on myself and would worry that the twins weren't eating much when we started Baby-Led Weaning. It is important to remember that your baby's main source of nutrition will still be from their milk feeds so although it is easier said than done, try not to worry too much if they aren't eating full meals. When starting Baby-Led Weaning it is more about your baby getting used to the idea of eating and giving them the chance to experience flavours and textures rather than eating for nourishment (see our book for more on this topic). You will see that over a few weeks your little one will gradually start to eat more and as they do so they will naturally start to reduce the amount of milk that they are drinking and eventually drop feeds. However, it is equally important to ensure that your baby is well hydrated during this whole process so be sure to offer water or milk with each meal even if your baby decides not to accept it and follows their usual milk feed routine.
One of the benefits of Baby-Led Weaning is that your baby will learn their limits. We always gave the twins portion sizes that suited them but when they wolfed it down we would offer a little more. However, they never felt the need to finish everything that was on their plate (as we were made to do when young) which can also be a good thing as they know when to stop when they are full and it reduces the chances of overeating and childhood obesity. This also means that once your baby starts eating more you can gradually start introducing meal times. It is helpful to remember that weaning is a process so it will take your baby a few months to fully get up to speed.
When starting to wean it is a good idea to offer food to your baby when they are not tired or hungry. It might sound counter-productive to offer then solids when they're not hungry, but it means that they will be in a better mood and open to exploring the smells, textures and taste of their food. Some parents have found that their little ones still show no interest in food at 6 months - this is fine too as you can always wait for a couple of weeks to try again and see if their outlook has changed (this is often the case with premature babies).
Tableware for Baby-Led Weaning
My husband and I decided that it would be a good to try introducing cutlery from the outset as using cutlery encourages babies to develop their coordination and dexterity. We thought that as the twins didn't know any different and had seen us using cutlery it would be the opportune time to get them used to it. Both Little Master A and Little Miss E surprised us by being very dexterous when using a spoon (we didn't introduce a fork until later and I only introduced a toddler knife to my daughter when she was 2 years old). I'm not sure if this was because they were excited about using their spoons or if they were just so keen to shovel Greek yoghurt and porridge into their mouths, but it worked well! I had thought that their coordination wouldn't be very good and that they would get it into their hair, eyes etc, but we were pleasantly surprised. I personally think that it is a good idea to let your baby have a try and see how they get on as they might see cutlery as a fun toy at feeding time and even if they don't do well at first they will soon get the hang of it. However, there is nothing wrong with them using their hands to eat at first as they are getting used to the texture of foods. They may also play with their food a little bit. This is fine too as if your baby is happy and relaxed eating will become an enjoyable, exploratory experience for them and they will be more keen to cooperate.
Bowls and Plates
Suction bowls and melamine plates are a favourite in our house. The bowls are great at reducing any accidental spillage when the babies first start weaning and also there is less chance of them picking the bowl up and putting the food on their head or on the floor! However, there are a few times where a determined baby will manage it, but as you will be standing by hopefully you will be able to intervene when necessary.
Cups and Sippy Cups
Additionally, we started offering tap water to the twins with their meals and found a helpful cup for them to use rather than a cup with spout. Dentists believe that prolonged use of bottles/cups with a teat for drinking increases the chances of tooth decay in babies and toddlers because any liquid that they drink has more contact with their teeth. It is also said that introducing a cup from 6 months of age will help to develop your child's motor skills.
I didn't feel that the twins were quite ready for an open cup (due to spillage!) so stumbled across these 360 Miracle Cups (you can get two sizes, the smaller one has handles and the larger one doesn't). They have a clever mechanism on top to prevent spilling but also allow your baby to drink in the same manner that they would from an open cup. My husband and I did wonder how effective they were so I have to admit that I actually tried drinking from one (it did feel odd but I can confirm that they work really well)! As the twins got older they started wanting to drink from an open cup so we started using open topped melamine mugs and the miracle cup at bedtime in place of a bottle.
When we are out and about we do tend to follow the parenting trend of using a sippy cup or bottle with a straw as it is just easier in terms of low chances of spillage. At first we did try a sippy cup with an anti-spill valve but the twins found it quite hard to get any water out at all so we moved on to bottles with straws which they seem to get on better with. However, Little Master A is such a "chewer" that he would bite the plastic end of his straw which made me nervous in case he swallowed it so we managed to find bottles with a hard BPA free plastic straw attached.
Other Helpful Tips When Starting BLW
What High Chair Should I Choose for Weaning?
On the subject of high chairs, I remember spending ages agonising over which chair to get! What height did we need it to be? Would it be helpful if it was foldable? I need to find one that is comfortable!... In the end we decided to get some from IKEA as an interim solution as they are cheap and cheerful. They didn't look very comfortable, but the chairs were so good that we kept them and didn't buy replacements as we had planned! At the time I didn't think that whether you choose to get your baby a comfortable high chair, a colourful/pretty one, one that folds etc. the most important thing that you should consider is "how easy is it to clean?". The answer with the IKEA high chairs is very easy! You can remove the top tray to wash it in the sink or use wipe it down with a wet cloth (I also like to use Dettol wipes/spray which are anti-bacterial but it is also safe to eat off the surface afterwards). The other benefit of the IKEA high chair is that it comes with a blow up cushion that we would remove and take out and about with us to insert into wooden restaurant/pub high chairs that don't have cushions and leave your baby sliding down/moving around unable to support themselves!
What Bib Should My Baby Wear?
My mother kindly bought us some BPA free plastic bibs with the catching pocket at the bottom. They were useful when we first started Baby-Led Weaning as the babies were only eating large finger foods. However, once the twins started eating the likes of porridge, yoghurt, curry and stews it soon got messy! I then thought that a fully plastic apron-style bib would work well to keep their clothes clean and dry. Unfortunately, this also didn't go entirely to plan either as the food would just slide down the bib and onto the babies' laps, feet and the floor! So it was back to the drawing board... Eventually we stumbled upon fabric apron bibs with a plastic backing (initially from the Aldi baby event and later from Mothercare (but it seems they only sell ones without sleeves at the moment)). They soon became a firm favourite as they soak up any wet food, but the plastic forms a protective layer which doesn't allow the food to permeate through the bib onto baby's clothing (on researching while writing this post I have come across these bibs which are water repellant and look effective). But as you know with all babies things/phases constantly change so now the twins are older and relatively neat with their eating we have gone back to using the original pocket bib!
Dealing with the Baby-Led Weaning Mess
I know that lots of people worry about the mess! Luckily our floors can be mopped clean (a friend suggested I invest in a steam mop, which was great advice!) or I would use a good old dustpan and brush for dry crumbs. Alternatively, I did get really fed up of cleaning all the time so used an old plastic tablecloth to put underneath the babies' high chairs. As mentioned above, for cleaning high chairs and table surfaces a staple in our house are anti-bacterial wipes! They're probably not the most cost-effective solution, but us parents do love a packet of wipes!
So, fellow parents, I hope that you find these tips helpful however you decide to start Baby-Led Weaning!
(Also see our post on Baby and Toddler Breakfasts as it has tips on basic foods which are good for starting Baby-Led Weaning)
For more detailed information on the benefits, nutrition and methods of starting Baby-Led Weaning please refer to our book.