Baby-led Weaning (BLW). This is a method of introducing solid food to babies which differs from traditional weaning in several ways. The clue is in the name, it is ‘Baby-led’ which means giving your baby the opportunity to explore, taste and experience food at their own pace. This is done by giving baby the same meal as the whole family. You ensure there is very low salt, low sugar, no whole nuts, and no honey under the age of one year old. Apart from this baby’s first introduction to food could be anything, from porridge to a full roast dinner! Food is cut into easy to handle portions and popped in front of baby… and then it is up to them. No spoon feeding, no ‘open wide for the aeroplane’, your little one squishes the food, throws the food and eventually (I promise you this does happen) learns to eat independently.
Initially when researching weaning I thought it was all purees and was raring to go with my hand blender, but when I heard about BLW I was so intrigued. How can a six month old baby eat “proper” food? This book, ‘Baby-led Weaning: Helping your baby to love good food’ by Gill Rapley & Tracey Murkett, was recommended to me and I read it cover to cover in a day. It goes through all aspects of BLW; the benefits, the principles behind it, when to start and what to feed them. What really stood out to me though was the family aspect of it. BLW encourages the family to eat together, your baby sees what you are eating and as you have put the same foods on their plate mimics you and tries them. It’s really sociable, and after spending six months eating cold food due to R’s innate ability to sense a mealtime and want breastfeeding, the thought of sitting with him and eating a hot meal was heavenly.
Our family always sat down and ate together, every night for as long as I can remember. Ok sure when mum worked evenings Dad made us the delicious delicacy of Bachelors savoury rice, but we still ate together. I’ve got great memories of sitting round that table chatting over our days, smelling the flowers that Mum had brought in from the garden and going back for seconds of whatever was keeping warm on the Aga.
I’d love that for my little family. So a weaning method that made me look at our whole routine, our meals, and our lifestyle, and then tailoring our evening dinners so they were more family orientated just made sense to me. And so far it has been BRILLIANT. We sit down and eat dinner together every evening. R has his little mini portion, and it ends up all over his face, the floor, me, the walls. He loves it and we love it. We are all eating healthier meals, much more fruit and veggies and it has prompted us to vary our diets more so R gets to taste everything there is to offer.
Initially we faced some scepticism from others, but I believe there are more benefits to BLW then just the family time. R’s dexterity has come on in leaps and bounds, he picks up peas and beans individually and eats them with great concentration, and is beginning to get the hang of using a spoon. By being able to touch, play with and experiment with different foods and textures it is giving him the sensory experiences that are so vital for babies. He’s also remarkably unfussy so far, and I hope this will continue!
However, and I am sure this is the same for any parent that is weaning their child be this via traditional methods or BLW, what I wasn’t expecting was that there are days when weaning is HARD. (Lets be honest,I reckon that could sum up my whole experience of parenthood, amazing but bloody difficult.) I expected BLW to be messy, so invested in a large wipe clean plastic tablecloth which goes under the highchair, bibs with long sleeves to cover R up, and lots and lots of flannels in preparation for face-wiping. Ready for the mess, or so I thought. What I wasn’t ready for was the monotony. In the early days of weaning the majority of the food ended up everywhere except inside of R. I was wiping the highchair, the floor, cleaning down R, putting stained clothes and bibs to soak… three times a day. It felt like all I was doing was cleaning and feeding him, cleaning and feeding him, cleaning and feeding him. I used to love it when we reached lunchtime as I knew I would have D to help with the next mealtime.
And then there’s the preparation of the food. It’s so easy in some ways because you just offer up a little bit of what you are having… but what about the days when my lunch consists of two coffees and a shitload of biscuits (don’t judge, we’ve all been there). You can’t throw a chocolate digestive on the highchair tray and call it lunch can you? However, as I’ve already said, as a result of BLW we have looked at what we are eating as a family so there’s always something pretty healthy and quick to whip up in the fridge. Finding the time and the energy to keep churning out the spinach muffins, berry pancakes, and bean packed chillis isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I do share a lot of our meals over on Instagram but don’t be fooled, behind the scenes there’s a lot of cream cheese sandwiches and Ella’s kitchen baby snacks.
On the never ending mess and giving the baby toast for breakfast and lunch days you just have to keep going. The mess does lessen as they get older – although now at eleven months R has learnt to throw things for fun, he finds it hilarious watching things hit the floor. And you don’t have to be a domestic goddess, or make incredible amazing meals all the time! I keep freezing little portions of what we are having so even if its a chocolate digestive day I can feel super smug when I defrost a portion of a healthy home-made stew for R.
Ultimately, I think BLW is bloody amazing. Its definitely one of the best decisions as parents D and I have made so far. We are both healthier, happier, and enjoying introducing R to our favourite foods… even if I do end up with hummus in my hair on a regular basis.
Keep messy folks, B x