At 6 months old, our paediatrician gave us the go ahead to start Charles with solids. I was terrified. I struggled with breastfeeding and after months of endless tears, we finally got our groove and breastfeeding was starting to become something that was working for us. Now, I felt like I was back at square one with no idea how to start, what foods to offer or how often I should be offering solids.
In those first few weeks, I probably spent every nap and every evening reading countless blogs, Facebook posts and every book on the subject of baby led weaning (BLW) and starting solids. My conclusion: everyone has an opinion, reading only helps so much and eventually you just have to go for it.
I have come a long way from those first scary steps into the world of baby led weaning. If I could go back and give myself some advice before I started baby led weaning, it would be this:
1. BABY LED WEANING DOESN’T NEED TO BE ALL OR NOTHING
When I first started into solids with Charles, I was under the assumption that purees were not “allowed” with BWL. Food needed to be given in solid form and spoon feeding was a big no-no. So one evening, as I was sweating over the stove, steaming Charles’s broccoli to perfect tenderness only to have it immediately thrown on the floor, I said screw it. I gave Charles a pouch of sweet potato and apple puree and guess what…it worked. He ate and was happy, I got to relax and enjoy watching him try new flavours and the BLW police weren’t crashing through the door, telling me I was a bad mom for spoon feeding.
I felt so much pressure to fit into the what’s “right” that I forgot to do what works for our family. And what works, is having purees and baby cereal ready for evenings that are busy, or when I’m tired or when we just have nothing in the fridge and that’s ok.
If you’re worried about the fruit content in many pre-packaged puree pouches, opt for purees with vegetables listed as the first ingredient, such as Gerber Organics pumpkin, banana & carrot or vegetable only purees. If you love the idea of the convenience of purees but want to control what your baby is exposed to, then reusable food pouches would be an excellent option.
2. INVEST IN A HIGHCHAIR FOOTREST
I love a bargain, so when I saw the IKEA Antilop high chair I thought it was perfect. It was $25, was sturdy and was recommended by countless other parents. Plus, I fell in love with Yeah Baby Goods cushion covers (I have the whale shark & pear prints) and I loved the idea of rotating cushion covers when I got bored of the print or they were dirty.
Fast forward 4 months and I’ve noticed that Charles is getting increasingly restless in his highchair, pushing up out of his seat and at times refusing to eat. I started doing some research and I realised that his frustration in the highchair is probably because of increasing discomfort as he’s getting bigger. In looking for a bargain, I missed a crucial part of proper eating behaviour – foot stability.
Footrests provide core stability and proper posture for your child as they sit and eat. Ideally, you want your child to be sitting with their hips, knees and ankles at a 90 degree angle. Dangling feet, puts tension on the hip joint and as your child grows this can cause back and hip pain especially if left for prolonged periods in the chair. If you’ve noticed that your child crosses their ankles, kicks their legs or is a distracted eater, it might be because they’re missing that hip stability.
If you’re like me and have an IKEA Antilop high chair, don’t stress. Thankfully, Woodbyjl is an amazing Canadian craftsman who builds custom footrests specifically for the Antilop highchair. Each footrest is handmade and is extremely well priced compared to other online vendors. When installing or adjusting the footrest, always make sure your child’s feet are flat and supported at a 90 degree angle.
3. KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GAGGING AND CHOKING
The biggest question I constantly get asked when I do baby led weaning Q&As is, “are you afraid of choking?”. Yes, definitely.
My first experience with gagging was over Thanksgiving dinner. We decided that Thanksgiving was the perfect opportunity to introduce solids, which in hindsight was a terrible idea. Starting anything new with a baby, especially eating, when there is extra stimulation, new faces and an unfamiliar environment may not have been the best choice. Regardless, we were determined that Charles would join us for Thanksgiving dinner. It was about 3 bites into his shredded turkey, that my mother-in-law screamed across the table, “he’s choking!”. Without a second thought, I yanked him from his highchair, flipped him upside down and whacked his back sending his belly’s worth of breastmilk and partial digested dinner all over the dining room wall, floor and table. What I quickly realized, after the fear of a choking infant was gone, was that what my mother-in-law thought was choking, was actually gagging and without intervention he would probably have been fine and the walls would have been considerably less splattered.
The trick is to recognize what’s choking and what’s gagging. Gagging is totally normal and is a natural safety response that protects your baby. Compared to an adult, an infant’s gag reflex is considerably more forward in the mouth. You may notice that when chewing on fingers your baby may gag themselves and this is because of that advanced gag reflex. Thankfully, as babies grow and begin experimenting with more foods and textures, this reflex moves farther back and gagging episodes should start to happen less frequently.
If you’re still unsure of what’s gagging versus choking, I would strongly encourage you watch some YouTube videos explaining the difference. By recognizing the signs of choking (little to no sound, open-mouthed, wide-eyed, bluish skin around lips, if older may put hands on throat) you will be better prepared to calmly take swift action. Remember that when feeding your child solids, they must always be supervised, sitting in an upright position and given age-appropriate foods. If you have any concerns regarding gagging or choking episodes, contact your healthcare provider for more information or call 911 in the case of an emergency.
4. EMBRACE THE MESS
Baby led weaning is not for the faint or heart, or for the compulsive cleaner. While watching Charles eat and explore foods is wonderful, and at times hilarious, experience for our family to share. That said, watching him dump an entire bowl of Cheerios and milk on the floor and throw pasta across the kitchen can be extremely frustrating. There were countless evenings where I spent more time cleaning the floor than I did making and serving him dinner. I often joke about getting a dog for the sole purpose of having a living floor cleaner.
My tolerance for thrown food has definitely been improving as Charles explores his food more. Changing my view on meals from a task that needed to be done to an opportunity for fun has made a huge difference in embracing the mess of BLW. I love watching the joy in his face as he mashes his hands into porridge, flings peaches at me and wipes peanut butter in his hair.
Investing in full coverage bibs or aprons, such as Ikea’s Kladdig bib or BIBado coveralls, can make clean up a breeze. Simply use, remove, rinse or wash, dry and repeat. Additionally, if you’re like me and you have a food flinger on your hands, a floor spill mat, such as Bumkins splat mat, may save you some major floor cleaning time, if you don’t already own a dog that is.
Charles is now almost 10 months old and we have learned so much since his first steps into solids. Regardless of where you are on your BLW adventure, whether you have a ferocious eater or a baby more interested in smearing their food than eating it, remember to have fun. Speak with your healthcare provider if you have any concerns about eating and introducing solids.