Hey y’all! Today I wanted to talk a bit about our experience with baby led weaning and my advice for getting over mealtime anxiety!
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Baby led weaning is not a new concept, but it is recently growing in popularity and many moms are opting to use this method over traditional weaning. For those who haven’t heard of it, it actually has nothing to do with weaning your baby off breast milk or formula. The term baby led weaning was coined in the UK where the word “weaning” is used to mean starting solid foods. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding for a minimum of 2 years, so please don’t be confused that I’m recommending actually weaning your baby. 🙂 I recommend nursing as long as you can or as long as your baby/toddler wants to! The benefits of breastfeeding do not stop at any certain age. But enough about that for now! 😉 Baby led weaning means you start baby off on real whole foods and they learn to feed themselves. You completely skip the purées and “baby food” that is used in traditional weaning. Why are people choosing this method? There are many benefits to baby led weaning, such as:
-Baby learns to feed themselves. Less work for the parents and encourages independence.
-Baby learns what actual food tastes like with all the different flavors and textures instead of plain mush. Children who are introduced to food this way are far less likely to be picky eaters and are far more likely to enjoy veggies, and “grown up” food (as opposed to plain, boring “kids menu” food)
-Baby is in control of the whole process. You’re not force feeding them with a spoon. They control how much or how little they eat, and what they eat, which fits right in with feeding/nursing on demand. Only they know how hungry or full they are so they will eat what they want. It gives them control which is a good thing! This makes meal times more pleasant for everyone.
-You don’t have to make or buy “special” food for them. Baby eats what you eat, within reason. There are obviously some exceptions to this because they can’t eat everything yet, but there is usually something in every meal that is perfectly fine for a baby to eat.
-And the big plus- Baby learns how to maneuver food in their mouth and they learn to chew first and swallow second, which lessens the chance of them choking. They also learn quickly to spit out food they can’t handle. Babies who start on purées learn to put food in their mouth and immediately swallow it. Gabe once found a tiny piece of something on the floor. I try hard to keep the floors clean, but ya know, things find their way to the floor sometimes. Gabe picked up this tiny piece of whatever and instantly put it in his mouth. I kinda freaked out, and couldn’t get him to open his mouth at all. After a minute or so he spit it out because it was hard and I guess he realized he couldn’t swallow it. I was so glad he had had this practice already with his food because otherwise we may have had a scarier experience!
So for all these reasons, I decided baby led weaning was the best choice for us and was so excited to get started. We started a bit late because Gabe wasn’t sitting up independently until about 7 and a half months old. Babies need to be at least 6 months old, and able to sit up by themselves to start baby led weaning. As soon as he met this milestone we started!
As soon as we started though, my excitement quickly turned to major mealtime anxiety, which honestly surprised me, as I’m usually pretty chill! Babies’ gag reflexes are located way further up on their tongue to prevent them from choking, so when we started, there was a LOT of gagging. Talking to friends, I realized that not all babies gag a lot but most do. It’s completely normal and okay, but I could NOT handle it. It often looks similar to choking and can be very dramatic and even cause them to throw up if they gag really strongly. This happened to us quite a bit and Gabe threw up a handful of times due to gagging in the beginning. Luckily Ryan was always able to remain calm and comfort Gabe while I looked away and cringed and prayed. Ryan works a lot of hours though and would not be around for every meal so I had to figure something out to get through this by myself. I strongly considered just going with purées instead because my mealtime anxiety was so strong. I dreaded giving Gabe food and watched him like a hawk the entire time he would eat..and then have a mini heart attack every time he gagged or even when food went in his mouth. I would often cut mealtimes short after a gagging episode since I literally couldn’t handle it anymore. Getting over this was quite a process but I’m mostly fine with meals now. Gabe rarely gags anymore and when he does, they are very mild and I stay relatively calm. 😉 I searched the internet far and wide on ideas to help me get over this and “what should I do?!?” but I never found much that was helpful, so I’m here for those mamas who are completely freaked out, to tell you what helped me!
If you already have issues with anxiety, baby led weaning may not be for you. I do think BLW has many benefits over purées but ultimately YOUR comfort has to be highly considered. Please do not make yourself miserable doing baby led weaning because you feel obligated to. Babies really feed off of our energy and mood and they can sense when we are anxious or afraid and will mirror that in themselves. If you’re completely too freaked out and not able to get past your fears, your baby will sense it and may begin to hate mealtimes too. I think making mealtimes enjoyable for you and baby is more important than sticking with BLW if it’s too stressful. Most of us were traditionally weaned back in the 80s-90s and we all learned how to eat. 😉
But if you want to overcome these fears, here’s what worked for me!
-Pray! This seems so simple and obvious but it is ultimately what helped me the most, more than anything else on this list. If you’re a believing mama, pray and give your anxiety to God. Pray with your baby out loud over each and every meal and ask Him to help them learn to eat and chew and for them to not have any issues with gagging or choking and for you to remain calm. Mealtimes became a lot more tolerable when I started doing this. Gabe started gagging less. He still gagged some, but I was also able to remain more calm when I remembered to trust God and give my fears to Him. I had to keep reminding myself that He holds Gabe in His hands and He has control over what happens and I need to put my faith and trust in Him. When I would get really anxious I would start singing a little tune that I grew up with in my family called “I Will Trust in the Lord.” It always calmed me down, and my singing also calms Gabe down so we were both able to relax a little.
-Move SLOWWW. Many moms who do BLW give their babies huge meals with big chunks of this and that and I would compare myself and worry that Gabe was never going to get there. I ultimately had to just forget that and move at my own pace so I’d be more comfortable. This often meant giving Gabe super tiny meals of extremely soft food he could feed himself, or something roughly mashed (like avocado) that he could feed himself with a spoon or fork. I’d mash it enough so that I was comfortable but still chunky enough that he’d have to chew it and I would load it onto a little fork or spoon for him like this one. (I love these so much because they’re so easy for Gabe to hold himself and they also have the little guard to prevent them from shoving it too far in their mouths so they can’t gag or choke themselves with it!!) It worked really great! He was still eating real food, still self-feeding, and also had the added bonus of learning how to use a spoon. As long as you’re still nursing on demand or formula feeding, your baby is getting all the nutrition they need. Just keep moving along with food at your own slow pace and your baby WILL get it eventually, even if it’s later than many other babies. Gabe moved very slow with food (mostly because of me..) but now at 10 months he is really starting to enjoy food and eat more! He still doesn’t eat a lot, but he makes progress every day. Letting them play with food is just as important at this stage than getting them to eat and swallow.
-Take an infant CPR class or at least watch instructional videos on YouTube so you’re familiar with it in case of an emergency. Actual choking is rare but can definitely still happen (with BLW as well as traditional weaning) so you need to have some level of familiarity with infant Heimlich and CPR. Just knowing it will put your mind more at ease.
-Join a baby led weaning group on Facebook. I’m a part of the Baby Led Weaning for Beginners group on Facebook. There are so many knowledgeable mamas in there that will post their experiences and advice. There are even threads where you can watch videos of babies gagging and working their way through it. Babies are very capable of handling food in their mouths and preventing themselves from choking if we give them the chance. Seeing other babies do this successfully may help. If it makes you even more anxious though, don’t watch! 😉 I could not watch for awhile because I’d get too freaked out, but eventually, you will start to trust your baby more and more and be so proud at the way they handle food. The pride you feel when your baby does a good job with a meal will propel you forward to keep at it, knowing that they are gaining this great skill!
-Knowing you’re not alone is helpful too which is why I wanted to write this! I read so many blogs about baby led weaning and watched videos and all the moms were so chill and confident about it and I felt like I was just being crazy! I saw many posts in the BLW group of mamas with mealtime anxiety though; many who had overcome it, and many who were working through it. If this is you, please know it is totally normal and fine! I am normally a very chill mom! I don’t worry that much or get anxiety about anything else, but mealtimes were definitely my one major trigger. I’m so glad to be on the other side of it though!
I can now handle mealtimes, and Gabe is finally starting to eat better. I’m so proud of him and all the many foods he has already tried, such as many veggies (he LOVES veggies, yay!), Indian food, Thai food, Mexican food, Arabic food, and just about all regular ‘ol American food. He will try everything and likes just about all of it and is not picky. It’s such a joy to see him enjoying “grown up” food! 🙂
The only con to Baby led weaning is the inevitable mess.. haha! But seeing your happy baby is worth the clean up. When it’s just too much, I throw him in the tub and he splashed around and ends up cleaning himself up in the process. 😉 So fun.
Here are some photos of Gabe enjoying messy mealtime and some super cute post-bath photos. (Because they’re way too cute not to share!) 🙂
This adorable linen towel was sent to me by Magic Linen! It is so beautiful, cozy, and high quality and I absolutely love it.
If you have any other tips for mamas with mealtime anxiety, please let me know in the comments!