Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Baby Led Weaning: Melanie's experience

Today's post is written by my good friend Melanie. She's sharing her experience introducing solids with baby led weaning (BLW). Since Asher is almost four months old (!!!), BLW is on my mind again and we plan to start him on food this way, once he turns six months. I hope you enjoy reading about how much Melanie and her family have loved BLW!
Hi, Melanie! How did you get started with baby led weaning? 

To be honest, I kind of dreaded the idea of doing baby purees. I really didn't want to buy them from the store because of cost, but I cringed at the thought of having to make them. I didn't feel like I had the energy or patience to do it (the clean up of blenders and food processors is not fun, let's be honest). In retrospect I 'd only really seen babies fed in the movies and I also think the idea of it left me unimpressed: messy, fighting to get food in your baby's mouth and tedious. I'm sorry if I offend anyone who loves feeding their baby purees! I'm sure there are fun parts to it, too.

Anyways, I had barely time to consider the food issue once our daughter was born, but low and behold a good friend with a baby girl six months older was trying out this approach called baby led weaning (anyone know the revolutionary Kelly Alberts?). Hearing about her positive experiences really piqued my interest. As much as I love to have someone explain their experiences (and certainly I appreciated having someone to refer to and use as a sounding board), I also like to process decisions with as much information as possible. So I also searched out the resources in the library to guide me and actually ended up purchasing one key resource explaining the idea to go through thoroughly myself. The Baby Led Weaning Cookbook was really easy to read very practical and having a copy on hand was reassuring: I could refer to it throughout the stages and build my understanding of how to foster a fun eating experience and confident eating skills! (The book guides you through first signs that your baby is ready to begin BLW and then suggests appropriate food for the physical skill levels your baby it at. For example, if baby is just working on grasping food, cut food into long strips or offer food with handles. It also addresses concerns such as allergens, salt-intake, choking hazards. The BLW mantra also takes the emphasis off calorie intake, suggesting that 'food before one is just for fun,' as mother's milk or formula provide enough nutrients to sustain the baby.)

Tell us about your daughter, Gabriella... how old is she, what does she love to eat, etc. 

Our daughter is nearly 19 months old. She is an adventurous girl, easy-going and loves looking after her dolls, going on walks, singing and music, being spun or tossed in the air and loves watching people. Gabriella also loves reading, looking at pictures of herself and she loves dogs. She has about 40 words under her belt, now runs to hugs us, gives kisses, has a recent interested in keys and locks and loves play food.
Gabriella loves fruit of course, inhaling blueberries, oranges, grapes to name a few. Beans are our go-to protein, especially chick-peas and black beans. She loves pasta, nuts, cous-cous, rice, peas, avocado, yogurt, oatmeal, green smoothies, and eggs. She'll eat most of my spiced dishes, but I have to be careful that they aren't too hot! She's confident with a fork and getting better with a spoon. We have practiced using a butter knife to cut a banana together as well. She uses a small plastic cup (open on top) for water and usually use a sippy cup for milk.

In your experience, what are the most significant reasons to introduce solids using baby led weaning?

There are so many reasons we have loved doing BLW with our daughter. Here are a few:

- baby's engaging with not only tastes of food, but exposed early on to textures, smells and the experience of eating.

- baby is sharing in mealtimes with us. This has been such an easy transition into the routine of mealtimes and instills the importance of eating meals together as a family

- there is little rush to eat. The emphasis is on experiencing and enjoying food. It's helped both my husband and I to also slow down and engage over the shared meal experience

- cooking foods for baby to share in has really encouraged and propelled me in my own exploration of healthy eating. It's become a lot more vegetable based and it's helped me become much more aware of processed foods and other dangerous additives that not only do I want to avoid exposing my daughter to, but now myself (dyes, added sugars, excess salt). It also inspires me to keep offering a variety of foods.  I've also been more adventurous in trying new foods for the sake of introducing them to our daughter! That's fun! Okra anyone?

- Independence! I think this method is so empowering to baby! Baby has so many opportunities to develop a range of skills including hand-eye coordination, grasping, and handling food confidently in her mouth. Baby also gets to explore food at her own pace, which makes it so much more fun for her!

- We've actually been able to do some baby sign language with our daughter it seems like the dinner table is one of the easiest places to consistently introduce some basic signs. I think the BLW process has allowed flexibility in learning these signs and as baby is already learning independence in eating, learning to communicate during this process seems to compliment this process. Signs we focused on early on included: more, water, all done, eat, milk, and hot

-I imagine that baby-led weaning is probably how most of the world feeds their kids and certainly it is how it was done in the past. I appreciate this, especially as it offers a simplicity to how we feed our kids and really is one of the first steps in instilling independence. The shared experience of food and groundwork layed for a healthy attitude and approach to food for our kids' lives can't be underestimated; I truly believe BLW is an avenue which makes this possible.

What are some of the challenges of baby led weaning? Specifically, please address your experience with gagging, choking, etc. 

The first few months of BLW were probably the most tentative for us as parents in the feeding process. The BLW method makes this differentiation between gagging and choking: gagging means baby is working the food in her mouth (learning how to move it around and eventually how to swallow), so there will be noise. Choking means that there is no sound at all and thus the throat is blocked. It's also important to note that babies have a gag reflex in their mouths which is further forward, so they would gag on food further in their  mouths than adults. As frightening as it is to hearing gagging, it is a good sign. The method encourages you to hold off if you hear those sounds and watch to see baby work out the food. This is an important step in the learning process of managing food in your mouth. It was certainly something to get used to. Our daughter had a little motor sound that accompanied eating in the first months as well.  Yet in the whole experience so far we have never seen her choke. We gave her back a few thumps, but that was more than likely due to our over-protectiveness. She's been a champ with food and has come a long way. We're very confident in how she handles food. I also wanted to note that compared to purees this process reverses the order of feeding skills: rather than learning how to swallow first as purees focus on, baby is learning how to move food around and then swallow.

Another hurdle, which can be a big tester, is the messiness factor. BLW is messy (don't say I didn't warn you). We are currently in a rented apartment completely covered in carpet. It was a huge risk to take on BLW, praying that we'd leave behind no stains (we need our damage deposit back!). Our best efforts in keeping the floor clean was purchasing a mess mat. It's a round plastic mat we bought specifically for babies from Toy R Us.
It's honestly been so easy to clean up and covers a good amount of space! We also bought full sleeved plastic bibs. These have been a huge help in keeping our daughter's clothes clean (especially in the intitial months), and again, have been really easy to clean up. Lastly, we bought a really simple booster seat which is completely plastic (no cloth), so it's very easy to wipe down. The other bonus is that it's small and can easily compact for us to take it places. We did use a bumbo chair and tray in the first month but without ridges on the tray it was very difficult to keep food on the tray and get the necessary 'scoop' of food. The nice part about the bumbo is that our daughter sat in the middle of the table right in the action when we first started. That was fun!

Tell us about some reactions you got from others... Was your husband on board? How about your parents? Friends?

My husband was interested certainly and supportive when I told him about BLW, but his initial reaction was, 'can't we still feed her some purees?' I think he realyl liked the idea of sitting down with our daughter and spoon feeding her. Although purees were an option, I knew I wanted to give the BLW approach our best effort and purees seemed to defeat the ultimate goal and perhaps would even interfere. My husband now loves BLW and loves how much fun it is to eat with our daughter, both for her and for us! Other family members were also supportive, although it still takes time to get used to eating with a noisy and very messy baby. My mom said she wishes she had thought of doing it when we were younger. I have a twin brother, so I'm sure it would have saved her a lot of time! I have also had a few friends interested in BLW, but I think it's easier to explain sometimes when they see BLW in action. I hope this write up gives a better picture of our experience with it.

All that to be said, we still have a typical toddler and some meals she's not interested in what's be served, can be picky, and still makes a mess sometimes. Food in hair? Ick! She has food preferences and we still work hard to ensure she has a well-balanced meal. Developing good eating habits take effort, patience and persistence!  

Anything else you'd like to add? Some cute pictures of Gabriella covered in delicious meals that she is feeding herself, perhaps?! ;)

Lastly, just to note, we didn't begin BLW with all three meals. We chose to start with dinner as both my husband and I would both be there. This was especially helpful for peace of mind: our thinking was that we'd have two sets of hands if we needed to quickly extract our daughter from her chair and help her if we thought she was choking. We could also talk through the shared experience this way and tag team the clean up. Today, it's still easier to have one person wipe hands while the other grabs the tray! After a month and a half or so, I felt confident enough to add another meal. Breakfast ended up being my easiest meal to prepare for our daughter, as we often eat from a rotating selection including blueberry pancakes, oatmeal (with raisins, seeds and a variety of other good stuff), on rare occasions cheerios & milk, and one of our other favorites, a cooked quinoa cereal. Yogurt 'yo', is mixed in with the hot cereals to quickly cool it down. My least creative meal was added to our schedule at around 9 months. Lunch is also often a rotating schedule including left-overs on occasion, pasta & tomato veggie sauce including chick peas, eggs in many forms, wraps with avocado & refried beans, green smoothies, raw veggies & hummus, and grilled cheese sandwiches & soup. Dinners vary quite a bit, but right now we're eating a lot of vegetarian meals including lentil patties, bean soups and stews. I really like one-pot meals, but try to do some sides a few times a week with fish or another meat. When we do eat meat, we're careful to use good quality organic beef, chicken and pork. We usually have one snack a day and it's in the afternoon. It can include things like apple & peanut butter, applesauce, rice cakes, cheese, dried fruit & dry cereal, fruit of any kind, nuts and yogurt & berries.


Thanks so much, Melanie! It's so fun to read about someone else's experience and I'm beyond thrilled that BLW worked so well for your family! (Readers: you can find more about how Charlotte learned to eat using BLW here)

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