Monday, April 6, 2015

Baby Led Weaning: An Introduction

I recall being at a barbecue, about 1 year B.C. (before children) and seeing my friend Kristen's young daughter toddling around in adorable cloth diapers, munching on a stalk of raw broccoli. I was flabbergasted. Cloth diapers in 2012? Babies eating food that wasn't pureed into an unidentifiable mush? I immediately began peppering her with questions. How I adopted her cloth diaper ways is a story for another post, but I was intrigued to learn from her about this thing called Baby Led Weaning. I learned that babies, from a very early age, can eat a variety of whole food, and THEY LIKE IT! You mean I didn't have to wash blender parts, prepare 87 different recipes, or drop a small fortune in the baby food aisle to make sure my kid was getting the best food out there? Sign me up!

I did my research once The KLAW was born, and we decided to give this BLW stuff a try. I love talking about our experience with it, and find myself sharing tips over and over within my mom groups. My friend Darcy challenged me to write a blog post on the topic, and I thought it was a great idea. Not only could I reach more people, it would save me from retyping the same way-too-long facebook posts every few weeks.

Very Hungry Caterpillar
Please note: I've had one child. His personality and developmental curve led themselves to BLW. He tried everything I offered him, so much so that his first birthday had a "Very Hungry Caterpillar" theme. But remember: Every baby is different. YMMV. I hope you can use these tips, but please don't despair if your experience with your own child isn't the same as ours. As long as your kid is reasonably healthy (peeing, pooping, growing), you're doing great. And if your kid is fed a pouch or a puree - don't panic! Your kid is not broken! It's not worth ruining Christmas because a well-meaning Grandma thought little Jimmy looked hungry and needed some nom noms and shoved mashed banana in his face with a spoon.

First, what exactly is Baby Led Weaning? In my experience, it has absolutely nothing to do with weaning. The KLAW is still nursing many times a day, but also loves to eat solid food. It should be called Baby Led Food Introduction, in my opinion. Basically, you take cues from your child as to what they are ready to try in terms of solid food, and introduce accordingly. They are fed table foods, just like mama and dada eat, complete with seasonings and (unless it is a normally pureed/soft food like applesauce or mashed potatoes) they are served in easy to handle pieces. The child is offered the food, and eats as much as he wants. This supposedly teaches portion control and reduces obesity later in life. I found that some days The KLAW could put away an entire small chicken breast with some sides, and other days would rather feed the whole thing to the dog. Remember, for kids under one, food is for fun. Most of their nutrition is still coming from breastmilk or formula.

Happy to share
Signs of Readiness

This Cheeto is delish.
The signs your child is ready for solid table food become pretty obvious. He should be able to sit up, even if it's with some support in a padded high chair or bumbo. He should be showing an interest in what you are eating. We knew The KLAW was ready to start on solids when, at five months old, he grabbed a Cheeto out of his daddy's hand and started chomping on it happily. The next two signs are a kind of chicken/egg situation. The skills will start out rudimentary, but improve quickly with practice eating. The baby should be able to pick up an object in his fist, put it in its mouth, and gnaw on it. At first your kid might stab himself in the eye with a zucchini spear, then take a nibble and immediately eject it from his mouth with his tongue. NORMAL. He's learning. This will improve quickly. One difference between BLW and spoon feeding is that with BLW a baby learns to chew, then swallow, whereas with purees, the baby learns to swallow, then chew.

Next, he might get the food to the back of his mouth, but gag, and maybe even throw up. Traumatic, but again, NORMAL. Gagging is not choking. Your baby might choke on any number of food or non-food items. Knowing the baby Heimlich is important. But if your kiddo is trying to down a delicious piece of asparagus and suddenly looks and sounds like he's hacking up a hairball? Yeah, that's gagging. NORMAL. Look up BLW videos on YouTube to see what to expect. Soon your kid will go from grasping his food like a microphone to being able to pick up small pieces with his fingertips using a pincer grip. At this point your options for self-feeding increase dramatically. I honestly think that BLW helped The KLAW develop really great manual dexterity.

The KLAW was a dental prodigy from an early age. He cut his first teeth at 5 months, and is currently working on his two year molars (the final four baby teeth) at 18 months. While I think this helped speed along his affinity for solid foods, you would be freaking amazed what these little tykes can gum. The KLAW was eating bits of steak with two or four teeth. So if your child is showing all the other signs of being ready for food, don't let his gummy smile hold you back! Fun fact: Cold, raw foods with soothing properties (like cucumber) can provide teething relief, as can frozen fruits (such as grapes) offered in a mesh teether.

Pickles are delicious and feel good on my swollen gums

Introduce new foods with caution, one food every three days or so to make sure there are no allergies. There is so much literature out there about allergies, all conflicting. Introduce peanuts too early, your child will have a peanut allergy. Don't introduce them early, your kid will have a peanut allergy. Who knows. We have no family history of food allergies, and no reason to believe our kid had any sensitivities based on the foods he received second-hand from my breast milk. So we stuck to the three day rule for a couple weeks, then just let him try whatever. I kept a list of foods he tried, so that we could back out what he might have reacted to, if he had a reaction. Process of elimination is easier when you only introduce one at a time, is the logic behind the three day rule.

Also, just because you see some redness on your kid's face, doesn't mean a trip to the ER. Consider what you just fed your child. Was is applesauce with a healthy dose of cinnamon or garlicky hummus? Did your kid smear it all over his face or drool incessantly throughout lunch? Ok, now think about how YOUR face would look if you gave yourself a cinnamon/garlic facial. Probably red and irritated. It's NORMAL. Use your mama gut, as with most things parenting-related.

But what about gluten and sugar? I dunno, but these donuts are delicious!
Honey is the one food that is an absolute no-no for any child under one. It is not an allergy situation, it is the fact that honey can contain botulism, which their little immune systems can't fight off. The botulism can't be cooked or filtered out, so can remain even in processed foods. Be mindful of honey graham cracker products, honey cereals, and honey butters. After the age of one, go nuts with the local honey, it's supposedly great to ward off those allergies!

What to feed your kid

By now you're probably thinking, ok great, but WHAT DO YOU FEED THE BABY? Again, the answer is, for the most part, whatever mama and dada are eating. I found myself modifying my meals or restaurant orders slightly to accommodate my youngin's developing palate. That means more soft finger foods to share (never order an infant a kid's meal, you'll be wasting your money). But if it tastes good to you, chances are it could taste good to your kid. Have you tasted rice cereal or "chicken pea pear" puree baby food? GROSS. If you wouldn't eat it, why would you want your kid to?

Don't be afraid of spices and herbs, or dishes with several integrated ingredients. I found that The KLAW would not eat avocado, but would put away some guacamole on tortilla chips (the thin ones - super thick ones are no bueno for babies: not crumbly enough and with sharp corners). At seven months old he was eating curry, By one year he would eat salsa with a spoon. Not every kid will be like that of course, but you'll never know if you don't try. Even butter and garlic in mashed potatoes made them more appealing to my little guy. Limit salt and sugar to your discretion. Cook your food a variety of ways as you would for yourself. Roasted, grilled, or sauteed foods offer you more opportunity to infuse a little flavor than plain ol' steaming.

I set out with the intention of offering my kid wholesome healthy foods. ONLY wholesome healthy foods. File that delusion under "I was a better parent before I had a kid." When The KLAW's first food was a Cheeto, I realized that an organic, whole food, fresh-from-scratch every day lifestyle was, for us, a pipe dream. I mean, was I really going to give up Cheetos? My list of suggested foods includes nice healthy choices along with those quick and easy snack foods that are good for playdates, grocery store distractions, and other public/meltdown-inducing situations.

Stage One: Fist Grip and Gumming 

We tried one puree- Beets. It turned
our baby in to a zombie.
Start off with spear-shaped foods that little hands can grasp with a fist, leaving an end sticking out to gnaw on. Soft foods are preferable. You can also offer the child a loaded spoon (or loaded chip/cracker/bread) if the food is conducive to being eaten that way (like mashed potatoes or hummus on pita), but let him put the spoon to his mouth. Since your child is self-feeding, and is, let's be honest, still kind of a spazz, there will be a mess. Put the food directly on the high chair tray to avoid projectile bowls, invest in a good bib with a pocket to catch wayward morsels, lay down a tarp under the high chair (or get a dog), and stock up on washcloths. In early days, you might find that a sample of solid food simply whets your nursling's appetite for boob juice.

Stage Two: Pincer Grip

You can introduce smaller items now that they have chewing and swallowing down for the most part and can pick up little items with their fingertips. Things like blueberries, hot dogs and grapes can be introduced but should be monitored as they are choking hazards. To be safe, cut into non-windpipe sized pieces before serving. You can pre-cut bites of cooked meat or other knife-and-fork type foods for your kid

Stage Three: Utensils and Dipping

Offer your child a kiddie fork or spoon when they seem interested. At some point kids might begin to prefer to eat EVERYTHING off a fork, including whole dinner rolls, or want to dip all their food in some sort of sauce like ranch dressing or ketchup. At this point fingers may still be used too. Offer food pre-cut for little mouths. This toddler phase can include whatever you're having at mealtime.

Good First Foods for Stages One and Two

Dried or Freeze-dried fruits (mango, pineapple, prunes, apricots, raisins, etc)
Apples (baked or sauce)
Oranges (Cuties or other seedless varieties)
Peaches or other stonefruit
Strawberries (and later smaller berries)

Avocado (or Guacamole with chips)
Broccoli (cooked or raw)
Butternut Squash
Carrot sticks (cooked at first)
Cucumber spears
Green Beans
Pepper strips (green, yellow, red - raw or cooked)
Potatoes (roasted wedges or mashed)
Sweet Potatoes (baked "fries" or mashed)
Zucchini spears

Grains, Proteins & Dairy
Cheese sticks
Egg (scrambled, hardboiled, quiche, etc.)
Hummus (on pita or pretzels)
Meats (soft meats like pulled pork or brisket, poultry in strips or chunks, ground beef etc)
Pancakes (or waffles)
Pasta (shapes like bowtie or penne are good, with any type of sauce)
Peanut Butter Toast fingers (or with jelly!)
Refried Beans

Animal Crackers
Lentil/Pea snap snacks
Pirate Booty (cheaper than the Gerber puffs)
Pretzels (rods are good)
Veggie Straws (in the chip aisle or healthfood section)

Pea snacks from TJ's

The main online resource for Baby Led Weaning is, naturally, They have a facebook group as well. Wholesome Baby Food is another site many moms like for their healthy recipes, most of which are purees but is a good resource for baby nutrition in general and has a section on BLW. And of course, consult your pediatrician. She may think you're bonkers (mine gave me side-eye when, at his six-month appointment, I told her The KLAW had tried 40 foods already.), but can advise you on allergies and other factors particular to your baby's development.

Yum! Who doesn;t love fair corn?
Happy eating, and please feel free to contact me with any questions!

No comments: