We were told to “embrace the mess” with baby led weaning. Well, have a look at the aftermath of letting our baby feed herself cooked pumpkin with a spoon…
Quite a mess. And, that photo doesn’t capture the smeared pumpkin on her face, neck, in her hair, on the sides of the high chair. Nor does it show the bits that fell to the floor.
We were quite proud of her, though. My wife gave her a spoon with a bit of pumpkin, and she had no trouble putting the tip of the spoon in her mouth and licking the pumpkin. It was like she’d used a spoon before. Most likely, it’s because my wife gave her the spoon, so she started holding it roughly right. Plus, she’s watched Mama and Papa use spoons many times, and I’ve let her play with a teaspoon before.
She seemed to like pumpkin. Very soon she ditched the spoon altogether, going straight for the plate with her hands. That’s when things got really messy, and pumpkin went everywhere.
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby led weaning is letting babies feed themselves right from the start (round 6 months). You skip spoon-feeding purees, and go straight for small soft solids such as cooked carrot, avocado, etc.
Why Choose Baby-Led Weaning? The Pros
My wife’s favourite reason for baby led weaning, is that it eliminates the need to prepare special food. The baby can eat bits of what we’re eating. And, if the baby doesn’t like it, we can eat it. So less food waste.
NOTE: Initially, the baby won’t be eating exactly the same as you. It’s recommended to start with single items only, so you can pinpoint allergies. Some possible options are: soft finger-food such as cooked carrot, avocado, banana, little bits of egg, or strips of chicken.
For the baby it’s a chance to try out real foods; to experience their textures, tastes, smells, etc. They’re learning even as they eat, developing motor skills, hand-eye coordination, chewing, etc. Plus, they’ll enjoy the greater independence because they’re not reliant on you feeding them. They’re learning how to feed themselves instead.
Baby Led Weaning – The Cons/Risks
As with anything, there are downsides, and it’s not for everyone. For some, it’s too different from what they know, and doing things “the way my Mama did it” feels secure. That is perfectly reasonable.
We met a couple who were too scared to try baby led weaning, because you need to know what to do if the baby chokes, and need to be more careful with food allergies. Yes, those are risks. However, I suggest that knowing how to help a choking baby is very important either way. Babies stick all sorts of things in their mouths, and can choke on more than just food.
It helps if you can remain calm, and learn to tell the difference between gagging and choking. Gagging will happen often as the child learns how to swallow food. Choking, on the other hand, is when food gets stuck in their throat or windpipe, blocking breathing. Click here for a good video on what to do.
There are also babies with developmental delays or special needs, who may need to be fed by hand the more traditional way.
When to Start Baby-Led Weaning
The current advice is to wait until they can sit upright unaided, which is usually round 6 months old. Beyond that, your child will probably give you cues. Our baby took an increasing interest in the food we’re eating. She would reach out to try and touch our food, and touch our cups/glasses.
Be sure to read up on baby-led weaning before starting, so you know what to do. Find out what foods are recommended, and which to avoid. There are plenty of resources online, including an entire website devoted to the topic.
It’s also a very good idea to learn what to do when your child chokes. Even better, learn first aid. Look for a class that teaches infant CPR. Please don’t freak out reading this, because this is a “just in case” recommendation. You are likely to never need it, but first aid is very valuable in general. There are way more situations where basic first aid is a potential life-saver than feeding your baby.
Yes, Embrace the Mess
It’s still to early for us to give you a full picture of baby led weaning, because we’re just getting started. However, we can confirm that you need to “embrace the mess.” We thoroughly enjoy seeing our baby feed herself. While we’re providing the food, she’s the one in charge. It gives her a sense of autonomy, which she clearly enjoys (she wants to be able to do things herself).
Slight correction, I use the phrase “feeding herself” very loosely, because she’s not eating much of the food yet. Very little actually gets swallowed at this early stage, which is fine. She’s got plenty of breast-milk to keep her tummy full while she learns how to eat solids.
All in all, we’re enjoying having our baby join us at the dinner table. It’s a true family dinner now, albeit a messy one. And, it’s hilariously entertaining… so long as we forget that we’ll be the ones who have to clean up the mess.