-written November 16, 2016
Tonight I sat across from my toddler with sticky rice, a peanut dipping sauce, and steamed green beans on our plates. As I watched her down everything I put in front of her with delight I silently thanked baby-led weaning (BLW). God is so good, he answered my fervent prayers during pregnancy leading me to the doctor that not only did and does take such good care of our health but she has led me to so many amazing natural paths to succeed in life and childrearing. BLW was and is one such adventure.
What is baby-led weaning? You ask.
Here’s the skinny. It comes in two parts: part one, when your baby comes of 6 months of age you start placing portions of what you are serving for dinner in front of them (no food before, only breastmilk); part two, you let the baby grow into learning to eat these foods at their own pace as you continue to nurse them on demand until they tell you they are done nursing.
How to tackle baby-led weaning part one.
I recommend you pick up your own copy of Baby-Led Weaning to help you with what to expect and how to get started. After you’ve picked up your book and done your reading you’ll know four main things.
One, serve your child age appropriate food. Ultimately you will be the best gauge for your baby in discerning what kinds shapes and sizes of foods they handle well. The book Baby-Led Weaning will give you good starting point food ideas for each age. For example, good first foods are stick shaped foods like cooked carrots, cooked broccoli, cucumber, toast sticks, etc. However, with my daughter I started her on all the winter soups and stews I was making to warm up our cold December bones and she loved munching on the chunks of sweet potatoes, beans, and other bits she could grab with her little, not-yet-so-nimble fingers.
Two, don’t be afraid if they gag and cough. Babies at that age have their gag reflex so far forward it’s nuts. Because of this it is actually very difficult for a BLW baby to choke because they learn their food boundaries at a time when their gag reflex is like a bodyguard on crack. If they seem to be having trouble getting the food back into the non gag zone though simply lean them forward and tap lightly on their back. Vwala, back to normal and your baby will likely not even be remotely upset by the minor scuffle.
Three, be aware of allergies. Each new food you introduce to your baby is best to be done separately and in a small dose to then be monitored afterwards. That way you know which food it is that upset them. Pay particular attention to any foods that are on your list of family allergies. The BLW approach actually helps to fight allergies too as you’re nursing longer – best immunity booster there is.
Four, don’t be concerned with how much they eat. AKA, don’t attempt to force feed your baby or serve them something else. This is why part two, continuing to nurse on demand, is so amazing. Sometimes your baby might not be into their first taste of broccoli or sometimes they don’t have much of an appetite for table food that day. Guess what? They are still getting all they need right from your breastmilk! What they don’t eat in table food they will make up for in breastmilk. Man, I would have and probably would still be a stress pot about Maisy getting enough to eat if I wasn’t still nursing her. Nursing like this is also very important for your perseverance in sticking to your guns about not starting in on feeding your baby something different for dinner. This is exactly how picky eating sneaks into your baby’s palate and how it becomes a habit in your meal prep. Before you know it, you’re making two separate meals at every meal.
How to tackle baby-led weaning part two.
Nursing until your baby says there done? Did I read that correctly? Yes. Most moms now-a-days don’t nurse past 1 year. The minimum my doctor recommends is 2 years. Why? Breastmilk is baby miracle grow! And it’s also a mommy happy pill. So many good things happen in your baby’s body and your body when breastfeeding is involved. If you let your baby nurse good and long you’re giving them the best support for immunity, brain development, preventing allergies and so much more!
I nurse Maisy anywhere between 4 – 8 times a day. My favorite nursing memories with her have actually been in the last 4-5 months. I can’t imagine not having that intimate alone time with my daughter when we often laugh so hard together, snuggle so sweetly, and just stare into each others eyes. I still nurse Maisy to sleep most of the time too and I love how comforted she drifts off into sleep that way. I love that when my daughter is hurt physically or emotionally, is cold, or is sick that she comes to me asking for “moh moke.” I also love that, since I still have a breastmilk supply, I can use my milk to treat owies, even ear infections.
Isn’t it so time consuming to still breastfeed? From what I understand most kids Maisy’s age eat around 5 times a day. Since she enjoys breastmilk throughout the day we get to do the adult norm of 3 meals a day. No snacks needed for the most part. This saves me so much time! Breastmilk is easy to serve – it’s ready-made! Besides, if she’s not sick she usually just nurses before and after sleep times and I would be helping her go to sleep at that time anyways; since I love to multitask I love that I’m feeding my daughter, helping her fall asleep, comforting her, and getting some quiet time all at once.
How do you know when your baby is done? I’m sorry my answer will be far from concrete, but it’s just simply that you’ll know. I can’t tell you that your baby will be done when they have all their teeth, or when they turn 2.5, or when they’ve been potty trained. It’s just not the same for every kid. And you don’t have to be afraid of what other people think of you on this matter! I’ve never been uncomfortable with women nursing toddlers but I know many people are. So, if you are nervous about those that do get uncomfortable, what you can do is be respectful of others and teach your toddler to do the same. Providing for my girl’s needs is my top priority but my second priority is to be respectful of others. I choose not to nurse Maisy in public at her age unless I’m at another mom’s house, at the doctor’s office, or if I forgot her sippy cup of water and she’s clearly so thirsty. If I encounter the last scenario I’m teaching my daughter to ask for milk respectfully and to accept the answer “wait” until we can get to a secluded location like a dressing room or the car. I am not embarrassed, I simply want to respect others.
Why should I do this baby-led weaning thing?
Oh man there are a lot of great reasons, but here are my favorites: babies are less likely to be picky eaters, babies develop stronger immune systems than their counterparts, babies don’t require separate “kid friendly” meals, it’s actually easier and less messy, and I got to skip buying and/or making baby puree!
Again, I don’t know it all, but I do know that Maisy eats, and loves eating, just about everything! She eats everything from plain greek yogurt, to all her fruits and vegetables, any ethnic food, hummus, soup, chili, pizza with any toppings, any meal I spice up with a little extra health like my tomato and hummus grilled cheese sandwiches, and so much more. Some of her favorite foods include oranges of any kind, edamame, frozen or steamed green peas, cheese of any kind (our most recent purchase was gouda), greek yogurt, grapes, and soups. My kid is a testament to this BLW rocking at teaching your kid a diverse diet!