I’m sure you realize that jarred baby food mixtures lining the baby aisles at Target are exclusively a modern phenomenon.
While the companies that manufacture these products spend a heckuva lot of money to have you believe that their small jars are the perfect marriage of nutrition and convenience, I am here to tell you that it’s a big fat lie. The modern baby food industry is neither healthy nor convenient.
If you want to go the route of pureeing everything in sight and mashing things together in bizarre flavor combinations and spoon-feeding them into baby’s mouth, hey – who am I to judge? You go right on ahead with your awesome pureeing self. But for all of those mamas who simply don’t know that there’s another way – this post is for you.
You do not have to buy food in jars from stores in order to feed your baby. You also don’t have to replicate that process on a homemade scale. There’s an even simpler way.
Mothers throughout history did not have access to Heinz baby food in jars, “conveniently” labelled by age, containing gloopy blends of random foods that no grown person in their right mind would willingly consume of their own volition.
So what did they do?
Well, first of all – they almost always breastfed. Breastfeeding is the historically normal way to feed a baby. Even today, the World Health Organization recommends that a baby be breastfeed up to two years and beyond (As of right now, Canaan is 20 months and quite fond of mama’s milk at wake-up and bedtime).
Beyond that, what do you do? Many people think of weaning as the end of breastfeeding (or formula if you use it), but in actuality, weaning simply refers to the beginning of the introduction of foods beyond milk. So when baby has her first taste of solid food, the weaning process has begun.
But the baby food sold in stores is not actually considered a very healthy choice for babies. Highly processed, often using fillers and undesirable added ingredients, it is one of those things that is fine in the grand scheme of things, but let’s not forget to set our standards high and stay true to them as we are able.
Nonetheless, even the sad state of nutrition and the unnecessary ingredients are not the primary reason for why we chose to do baby-led weaning. It is actually an entirely different philosophy of food for babies altogether.
So then: what is Baby-Led Weaning, anyway?
image via flickr cc
Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) defined
It is simply allowing the baby to eat table food on his own timetable and of his own volition. It doesn’t involve spoon-feeding pureed homemade foods into his mouth (except for the obvious exceptions, like applesauce, which many BLW parents allow babies to attempt on their own anyway), and it doesn’t involve weird orange-ish or greenish coloured mixtures in a jar from a store. It is intentionally respectful to his personhood and his choices.
It goes a little something like this: make dinner. Serve the family. Place a bit on baby’s tray. Watch him explore and enjoy. The end.
Why it’s great
1. Easier and more convenient.
The baby explores and feeds himself while you eat your own food. “Puree Homemade baby food” doesn’t have to be on your to-do list any more than “puree homemade grown-up food” does. You will probably also experience less mealtime battles, as the baby is respected to take control of what goes in her own mouth (out of the selection you provide).
2. Regular food is far more enjoyable than pureed food.
I had extensive jaw surgery when I was in high school. Both of my jaws were broken and repositioned using titanium screws and plates. I couldn’t eat for months. At first I had to have totally liquified food.
Imagine your Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Now imagine it all in the blender, with water to thin it out. Mmmmm – appetizing, no? Actually, it was disgusting. I hated every second of it because it tasted NOTHING like turkey dinner. I could barely choke it down. I am naturally thin, but I went down to 92lbs after surgery because I lost the desire to eat.
As I can testify: a steady diet of pureed baby food denies the pleasure of the incredible array of textures and colours that are in our foods, and that’s a misfortune indeed.
3. Helps build an appreciation for a large variety of textures, colours, and tastes.
Baby-led weaning allows baby to decide when he is full, helping him develop a healthy sense of satiety.
Many studies have actually found that forcing a child to finish their plate no matter what can contribute to over-eating habits later in life, from not being allowed to develop and listen to their own sense of when they’ve had enough.
4. Goes along nicely with a Real Food philosophy.
You don’t need cereals (we avoid grains for the first year, minimum) and jars of factory-processed purees. Gnawing on a chicken leg, gumming pieces of fresh peaches in the summer, mushing around some chunks of avocado and licking it off your fingers… baby-led weaning encourages and celebrates all of that.
It coincides perfectly to the Real Food philosophy of eating food in its natural form as much as possible, without adulteration or factory processing.
5. Helps practice hand-eye coordination.
Babies who are allowed to practice baby-led weaning are likely to more easily develop hand-eye coordination, and be able to be self-sufficient in feeding fairly quickly.
My youngest (we did BLW with 2 out of 3 of our kids) has been feeding himself anything and everything since he was 14 months old. He was almost exclusively breastfed for a long time – he was not interested in eating solids until after a year old – but once he got started there was no stopping him.
Because he was given a spoon and bowl from the start, he was able to do things like successfully feed himself a bowl of chili at 15 months old.
Tips to Remember:
- Big hunks of food are best to start, not small diced pieces, while the pincer grasp is still developing.
- Never leave baby unattended!
- Be prepared for mess. Remember that playing with food as a baby is an important pre-cursor to a healthy food relationship later in life.
- Young babies typically have a built-in reflex that pushes food out of the mouth from the back of the throat to prevent choking. Exploration is an important part of the process.
- Remember to avoid the common choking hazards in the first year, like popcorn and nuts, etc.
How to Know If Baby is Ready?
If baby is sitting up, reaching for things in a coordinated fashion, developing the pincer grasp (picking things up between the thumb and forefinger), and showing a great interest in the food, then she’s probably ready.
If she can’t get it into her own mouth easily, she’s probably not ready to eat it.
So, let’s say you make a lovely roast chicken with mashed potatoes and broccoli for dinner. Set the table, set the serving dishes before your family, and carve your chicken. Place a few chunks of chicken, a couple pieces of broccoli, and a blob of mashed potatoes on a plate, and put it on your baby’s tray. Or, if you’ve been around the baby-loves-throwing-food block a time or two before, you’ve wised up and will place those foods directly on baby’s tray. (Ha! Mama wins this round, babycakes.)
It’s simple, intuitive, and a complete joy to watch. A baby experiencing the many different foods that our world has to offer, and slowly falling in love with them, is an amazing thing to witness.
Hello, I see a light at the end of the tunnel….My baby is 13 months. I feed him with homemade food since 7 months. I tried led weaning with fruits, and he throw them…and still doing it. What can I do?…he just want me to feed him with spoon or my fingers. 🙁
I am on my first baby and I am totally lost as to how to do the food introduction and have been doing a lot of reading up and I cook with many different spices… Should I hold of on spices for the portions I am going to feed him? So far he has only gotten rice cereal so I hope it is not too late to try the LED weaning. He has just began sitting up on his own at 5 months and I want to start feeding solids at 6 months.. Is that too soon?? Could really use some advice on this because I do not know anyone who has tried this thx
Hi! First of all how do you pronounce your sons name?! My sons name is Kannon (Cannon) with a K! cute! 🙂
second, I had a friend who told me about baby led weaning, and I just decided to get on Pinterest tonight and look around.. well I found this article! woo! Most simple yet informative article I have read. My baby just turned 6 months on Friday, he tries to eat my food all the time and is awesome with picking things up and putting them into his mouth. So I decided to give this try! Ya’ll wish me luck! Nervous, but gonna try it. Anyone have any food recommendations for this? besides the previously mentioned. thanks! 🙂
Somehow I missed this comment from months ago! But hey, better late than never, right? My son’s name is pronounced “Kay-nen”… it’s from the Old Testament – the Promised Land. I love Cannon as well! So cute 🙂
How has baby-led weaning gone in these last few months? I published this a few months ago, and you might enjoy it: https://redandhoney.com/babys-first-solids/
Thanks for the comment! Nice to “meet” you! 🙂
Curious to hear your thoughts on iron needs… Typically, solids are started at 6mon because baby’s iron stores run out, and breast milk contains no iron…
Yeah, tried this with my son. Nope. He would gag & throw up anytime I’d let him play with chunks of food. He had to have smooth pureed food up to a year – when he FINALLY decided he wanted to eat food by himself. Up til then he was simply not interested. But he was HUNGRY. So I fed him pureed food. Because I’m a mean momma who wants my son to be filled up. And he weaned himself off breastmilk at 8 mo – just wouldn’t take it anymore. So I did the best I could! I do appreciate this list & the to-dos, because I will definitely try again with next baby, but it’s also hard, because I would beat myself up about feeding him “baby food”, not being able to breastfeed as long (or as much) as I wanted to. I felt like I was failing because I wasn’t doing it the “right” way. I finally just had to give up and realize I was doing the best I could – but it still hurts a little when I think about the ways I could have been “better.”
This seems to be the way my youngest wants to eat, he will not take anything from a spoon! I made all my older sons food, and that was so much work! Did you also follow the three day rule for introducing new foods, and did you stick to when they say to give certain foods at certain ages? I would be scared to that some of the things I cook with like garlic or onion might hurt his tummy? Or be scared of introducing more than one food at once…..any advice?
We were kind of forced into BLW with my son. He ate from a spoon for a few months after we started solids (which was when he was 6-7 months old), but at one point, maybe at around 9-10 months, all of a sudden he started refusing anything from a spoon. By that time he had a few teeth, so we started cutting/shredding food up into small pieces and let him feed himself, and he was happy. Peas and corn worked well, as did fruit and pasta. I only bought baby food in a jar once, and he would not let it come near his mouth. I don’t even remember feeding commercial baby food to my daughter, who is older. We also did BLW with her, because she was super-interested in what we were eating at a fairly early age. I remember her just mowing down on small, soft pieces of bread, also at around 10 mos. Never had a problem, the kids were happier, we were happier and it was so easy. I did have a hand-operated food mill which I used to puree food, if necessary, when the kids were still eating mush and we were out for supper. It was a bit of a pain, but it did save me from hauling around a bunch of pre-made baby food with me.
Having said that, BLW was no guarantee that my kids would eat anything and everything. My daughter is pretty good and has always eaten almost everything we’ve offered her. But my son is still super-picky.
I love this idea but it seems scary to me. A friend of mine had an 18 month old who almost died from a banana piece and woke up as mentally advanced as a newborn. While this is a special circumstance, I think you should be really careful taking this type of advice loosely. There are definitely ages where this is the best way to go but if the baby isn’t ready for chewing, don’t give them things they can’t chew. Do what feels right but don’t ignore your pediatrician!!
Emily @ Recipes to Nourish
LOVE this! Thank you so much for this post and inspiration. This changed everything for me! I did everything different with my first baby – she didn’t start eating solids until after a year – she loved mommy’s milk. But I didn’t know what I know now about intro, so I made a lot of grains 🙁 and other purees – at least they were homemade. Oh well, we do better when we know better. This time around I have at least had success with Real Food intro (mostly WAPF inspired foods) … but I felt nervous about baby-led. So I did start out making purees. This gave me the info I needed and the confidence! Hubby and I read this at the beginning of the month and Tiny Love has been doing great, plus less choking too! Thank you, thank you, thank you!
That’s SO fabulous!! I’m so glad that this post helped give you a little confidence boost, and that you are happy with Baby-Led Weaning. It’s such a relaxing and fun approach 🙂
I absolutely love this post. With my first I tried making all my own homemade baby food. I was exhausted after just a few weeks. I felt I needed to keep at it to be a “good” mom. By the time the second baby came I decided to go with baby led weaning. Best decision ever! Today, she’s a very adventurous and confident eater. My first born is slowly coming around too. I hope more moms follow such an easy, natural way of feeding. Thanks so much for sharing!
I did the exact same thing – tons of purees with my first, and then none with my second! 🙂
Daja at The Provision Room
I’ve been nursing for nearly 13 years….straight! 8 kids. And I LOVE this post! It’s the very best approach in my opinion. I can proudly boast that I have never bought jarred baby food for any of my children. And they have somehow survived to become good eaters. 🙂
Sharing this post on FB and pinning it for our readers!
My mom did the homemade baby food route with us, and I planned to do the same until I heard about BLW. And oh man–why do people feed babies any other way?! Seriously, it is so easy. No battles, no fuss, no extra work (I have seen babies be spoon-fed–they manage to get just as messy!). It just makes so much sense.
Love it! You explained it so well. We did BLW and I were very happy with the process. I think it really helped our daughter learn to love a variety of foods — at 2 1/2, there’s almost nothing she won’t eat. Kale, spinach, aged cheeses, green beans, fish . . . it’s all fair game. I can hardly list a thing she won’t eat. I think it REALLY helps to allow them to put food into their own mouths at their own pace, so that food is never a source of fear or power struggles. And if she doesn’t want to eat, she doesn’t have to. Nobody is shoving food into her mouth.
There was a period of time where I was a little concerned I was screwing things up — she was 15 months and hardly eating any solids. Just breastmilk. Other kids who were 6-8 months younger than her (who were fed the conventional way — formula, baby food) ate way more solid food than she did. But I tried to just trust her and ride it out, and I’m so glad I did — she’s a great eater now.
My BLW kids were more sustained by breastmilk than solid foods for a long time too. It was after their first birthday when they first started showing interest. I think that’s totally normal 🙂
I agree. My 2 children were exclusively breastfed for a year and then raised on a vegan diet. They are beautiful, healthy and in their 20’s now and my daughter Sage’s iron levels are completely normal. Being a nurse turned stay at home mum, I had no idea that once I had my first child that I would naturally not adhere to the conventional methods of child raising in NZ. I am a believer in doing ‘what is best for you’ but to have ‘permission’ to do what our heart is yearning, is priceless. Women helping women by sharing and expressing through Blogs is a great gift in our modern world.
We love baby led weaning! All mine (4) have been introduced to what we eat right form the start. We have always just given them what we are eating. I feel it makes them SO much less picky and we never have to deal with any “texture” issues because their food has always been “textured.” We never had to bridge the gap from smooth and pureed to chunky. I LOVE watching them learn about their food and explore it. I am always amazed how quickly they learn to feed themselves and quickly begin to prefer it (nice way of saying WILL NOT be fed haha). I totally agree with the gagging comment as well. They are learning how their mouths work. Just stay near by and keep you voice calm. They will work it out. If they are making noise they are okay! One last reason I love it is the fact that it is fun! Watching them taste new foods always makes my husband and I laugh. My 8 month old tried a stuffed grape leaf at a Greek festival one time. She put it in her mouth, took it out, shivered, and then proceeded to eat the whole thing. Haha. you never know what they will take a liking too.
Our oldest 2 arrived already eating (at ages 2 and 4) but I didn’t think of this with our youngest because everyone said he needed to eat. so at 4 months old we started adding cereals and veggies, fruit and meat to his diet. I did make my own puree unless we were traveling but he really just preferred milk. Even when he began eating solid foods he didn’t really want it much so I let him have what he wanted and tried to give him lots of healthy options. The doctor made a fuss about the fact he drank 40oz of milk a day at 18 mo old instead of eating but I figured he knew what he wanted and needed and I let him drink as much whole raw milk as he wanted. Next time I will do it this way. So much easier!
My favorite reason that we did (and will continue with) BLW. . . the gag reflex, if you’re shoving foods past behind natural gag reflex they don’t get the chance to learn how to use it themselves, being that it is much father forward for babies it’s quite terrifying for mommy, but baby actually gets to know and understand their own body, resulting in less problems as they grow into toddlerhood and have less buffer. . . Just beware chocking id silent, gagging is normal!
That’s an EXCELLENT distinction about choking vs gagging, Stephie. Thanks for adding that!