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Baby Led Weaning (BLW)

This weekend we are starting Ben on solids.  This is a big step for any baby.  For the first time he will be eating something that didn’t come from me, his mother.  He will have to figure out how to bring food to his mouth, chew, and swallow.  Those all sound like such simple things, but when you are only 6 months old they aren’t.  Ben and I have been blessed to have a good nursing relationship.  He is a champion eater that way.  But those skills are totally different from eating ‘real food.’

Yes, I put real food in quotations.  The reason for that is two fold.  One, saying real food implies that breastmilk or formula are not real foods.  They are.  These foods have the nutrition babies need and they eat it.  They are  practically perfect foods in that they provide everything a baby needs in one neat little package.  But they is different than the normal food most people eat every day.  I also put it in quotations because the current traditional step away from some form of milk is to move into baby food.  This baby food is usually purees, either commercially purchased or made at home.  I would argue this food does not fit in with what we traditionally think of as the food a majority of people eat every day.

With baby led weaning, we dive right into the real food that you and I eat on a regular basis.  It is prepared in a way that a baby can eat- it is softer and cut into shapes and sizes a baby can easily grasp.  But it isn’t necessarily pureed, and it definitely isn’t spooned into the baby’s mouth.  Right from the start the baby is responsible for feeding himself.  The goal of this is for the baby to learn how to manipulate food on his own. It is supposed to aid in making new eaters less picky.  It is also supposed to cut down on mealtime battles, since the child is choosing how much to eat.

If you would like more information, I suggest googling it.  A ton of information will pop up.  Specifically, this site has some good information.  (A couple affiliate links here.  They don’t cost you any more, but purchasing using them helps me keep this blog going.) We have  this book, and I copied some recipes from  this cookbook  to use as a guide.

Why start now? The research shows that babies really do best if they hold off on starting solids until they are six months old.  I understand that this is not always possible.  Some babies need supplementing sooner.  Some babies express a strong interest in eating sooner.  Sometimes it works best for the family to start baby a little earlier.  And sometimes, usually when there are more than one child in the home, it just kind of happens because baby gets a hold of some food earlier than planned.  But studies currently show holding out until six months is best.  By six months of age, babies can grasp items and bring them to their mouths.  They can sit up on their own (with support around them of course).  The tongue thrust reflex is further back on the tongue.  And around that age, milk stops being enough to fill them up all the time.  Babies start moving more, and frankly can need more to eat.  Six months is also a good time because babies are open to trying a lot of new things.  We all know young children who are very very picky eaters.  This is normal.  But it is something that develops as children age.  So starting at a time when kids are more open to new foods is a good idea.

Now the big question- Why is Team Cartwright using this approach?  Well, a few reasons.

1) Ben could do it.  I did a lot of research on how to start introducing solids.  We are fortunate that Ben has been doing great on nursing and could wait until 6 months to start solids.  He is showing all the signs of being ready to start now, he can sit unsupported, he can grasp toys and bring them to his mouth, and he is starting to really watch people when they eat.  Well, he really watches Pat.  Ben doesn’t seem super interested in what I am eating yet.  All that being said, he is doing really well with a just nursing diet.  He is a good sized baby, so we aren’t worried about getting extra calories into him.  His current diet isn’t lacking, so milk can remain the major source of his nutrition a little longer.  Fortunately, I am able to produce what he needs to eat and be satisfied.  BLW does not result in a lot of food actually being eaten right away.  It is really played with and explored, with the occasional bit making its to baby’s stomach.  We can take the time to let Ben learn how to feed himself without having to worry if he is eating enough.  So one big reason we are doing this is that we can.

2)  It removes parental pressure.  Another reason to use this approach is to try to eliminate some worries.  I know, with me and with pretty much every mother in the world, this is impossible.  How can I not worry about whether my child is eating right or not?  I can’t.  But so far I  have had to trust that he will eat the amount he needs to.  His body will tell him when he is hungry and how much he wants to eat.  Why mess with this now?  Why should I suddenly decide he needs to finish a set quantity of food?  Sometimes I am really hungry and eat a lot.  Sometimes I am not.  Why should Ben be any different?  Allowing him to feed himself and decide when he is done allows me to try to not worry so much.  As long as I am providing healthy options for him, he should be fine.  I really do think babies know how much they need and want to eat better than we do.  All this being said I will still worry.  A lot.

3)  Cost.  It’s cheaper.  At least in theory, I think.  We won’t have to buy special baby foods.  Honestly, those little jars and pouches are expensive!  While saving money might not always be the best reason to do something, let’s be honest.  It matters.  With BLW we can feed Ben in a healthy manner without spending a ton of money? Awesome.

4)  Convenience.  I already love that I don’t have to pack up food for Ben when we go out.  I mean, I am the food.  So being able to feed him whatever Pat and I are eating really cuts back on what I have to carry around.  I already pack lunches for myself every day, so it will be easy to throw in a little extra for Ben to eat.  If we are out at a restaurant?  No problem, just order something Ben can enjoy as well.  Yes, there will be plenty of times that I have to bring special foods for Ben.  But knowing he isn’t limited to just traditional baby food opens up a lot more options for us.

5)  Healthy Family.  It can help the whole family eat healthier.  I don’t want to have to prepare another meal in addition to what Pat and I eat.  True, at first what Ben eats will dictate what I make.  And I am sure that Ben will be eating different foods from us from time to time.  But on the whole, once we really get going I am going to make foods that Ben can eat.  Who doesn’t want to serve their child the healthiest foods they can?  As a result, Pat and I will be eating healthier.  Yes, this is just a theory.  But let’s go with it.

6) Easy to discipline. Pat and I feel this method will go along nicely with our plan for love and logic discipline.  We can save the details of love and logic for another time.  But in a nutshell, it uses natural consequences as a deterrent for negative behavior as opposed to punishment.  I think an example will explain what I mean best.  Say Ben throws his dinner.  Yes, it is a matter of when this happens, not if.  (And yes, for this example, you have to keep assume that he is at a point where he knows this is not allowed.)  Well, this is not behavior we can let continue.  So what happens if Ben throws his food?  Dinner is over.  He is removed from the situation.  That is the consequence.  If we are worrying about how much Ben is eating, we might not be able to do this.  We could be stuck fighting him on eating his dinner versus throwing it.  Since most of his calories are still coming from milk feedings, and since he can choose how much he eats, we can assume he is done with his dinner.  Basically, dinner table behavior we don’t like means losing the privilege of being at the dinner table.  This, along with everything else, will have to grow and change as Ben does.  But we feel it is a good start.

7) Encourages family time.  In general, meal times are a social, family time.  If Pat or I am focused on just feeding Ben, we aren’t enjoying our time together to the same degree as we would be as three people handling our own food.  The goal is to teach Ben how to behave at mealtimes and how these sorts of social situations work.  The best way to do that is by modeling the behavior we want to see and letting Ben practice it.  The most natural way we can think of to do this is by following BLW.  And I think it will be a lot of fun!!

8) It works for us. The biggest reason we are doing BLW is that we think it is the best choice for our family.  I haven’t been a parent very long.  But I have learned that for any situation there are many possible courses of action.  The best way to do something is the way that works best for your family.  Not what worked best for the neighbors.  Not what worked best for some expert.  What works best for you and your family.  Pat and I think this will work best for Team Cartwright.  So we are going to give it a go.

While the BLW weaning books I read said we could just dive in and give Ben anything, we will still be following a bit more traditional path in introducing food.  We do plan to follow most AAP guidelines on ages to start foods.  We will also be waiting a few days in between new foods to be sure Ben doesn’t have any bad reactions.  Neither Pat nor I have a history of food allergies, and as a result we are not anticipating problems.  But why not be safe?  We have a timeline of how we are going to start introducing foods, but really once we get started Ben is in the driver’s seat.  Pat and I will follow the pace he sets.

Now, all this being said this could be a colossal failure.  I mean, a really big failure.  That will be fine.  Pat and my mother keep reminding me that this decision isn’t set in stone.  We can change our minds at any time.  We can and will adapt our approach as needed.  And I know we will.

One final note on BLW.  It will be messy.  That is the biggest drawback according to most of the books I’ve read.  We have no problems with that and are ready to embrace the mess.  Be ready for some truly great messy baby pictures.

I’m ready.  Let’s do this solids thing.


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