When I first started thinking about feeding Hattie solids I felt anxiety creeping into the back of my mind. I have a very Type A personality and I started to worry about how my rigid schedules would be able to bend around even more scheduling, planning, and implementing. At the time Hattie was thriving solely off of breast milk and I loved having that quick, ever ready, perfect temperature supply of food. Many people offered their suggestions about starting her on purées at around 4 months, but it did not sit well with me and I felt as if that was not the right avenue for our family. I wanted to wait until I HAD to give her purées because this milk thing was just way too easy! I was doing some research about feeding etc. when I came across the word ‘Baby Led’. My curious mind scrambled to find out what this meant and as soon as Google informed me, I was hooked. I knew that Baby Led was for us from the second I discovered its foundation and objectives, but I was also a bit nervous about venturing into this new world that I knew nothing about. Feeding purées was something that I could consult with my mother and mother-in-law about, but this Baby Led Weaning was brand new territory. At the time, Hattie was beginning to grab at our food if we were holding her while we were eating. She occasionally would smack her mouth and lick her lips,hungry for a taste of what we were having! I had a strong feeling that her interest in food would fuel her ability to take right to the concepts of Baby Led.
I ordered this book on Baby Led Weaning, as well as this cookbook. I read them both, while also reading various blogs on other families and their experience with Baby Led Weaning. I was gearing up for what I knew would soon come, and the more that I learned, the more excited I became to initiate Hattie into the Baby Led Weaning family. A few weeks before Hattie turned 6 months old, we were eating out with family at a local restaurant, and Hattie grabbed a bell pepper slice off of my plate. I decided to let her have at it. She gnawed at that sucker for the rest of the night, savoring the flavors and exploring the feel of this new thing in her mouth. I made a mental note of the fact that this is what Baby Led is all about…allowing her to start eating how and when she wants. I sat her in her high chair at home a few times between that night and the 6 month mark, but she was not spectacular at sitting up unassisted yet, which is quite a big deal. I would have to mash towels around her to keep her erect. I mainly sat her in the highchair this way at our mealtime so that she would become accustomed to being involved in family dinners. Not a whole lot of food exploration occurred at that point. It is very important to wait until your baby can sit unassisted before you begin giving them food, Baby Led style. This is an indication that their upper body muscles have developed enough to give them every ability they need to begin learning to eat. It also helps to avoid choking. Once I felt confident in her ability to sit up, we began our Baby Led adventure. I started giving her one meal a day with us, most likely dinner, since that was usually the only meal that we shared as a family that fell during her awake time. I began with simple independent ingredients, like vegetable or fruit slices. She still nursed regularly day and night, we just added in food for experimentation.
Baby Led advises you to cut their food into “finger like” slices. This was great because she was able to hold the food with her fists and still have pieces sticking out of the end to eat. I would provide her water to sip during her meals and she would drink at her leisure. For breakfast I would load a spoon with Fage total (full fat) yogurt and she would feed herself. It wasn’t the cleanest process, but it was such a joy watching her work so diligently to get the spoon to her mouth, and then light up as she realized that she had fed herself! Such a proud girl!
Here is what we learned in the beginning phases
– A good highchair is worth its value, whatever that may be. We use a wooden Eddie Bauer highchair, mainly because I liked how it looked in our kitchen. Thankfully, it is a useful highchair as well. It has a tray insert that is removable so that you don’t have to remove the entire tray for cleaning (however, initially I was wiping down the ENTIRE highchair after every meal). It also sat her in a good vertical position, and even had a nice little nook on the backside to hold bibs. Many Baby Led parent’s swear by this Ikea highchair for its simple design and even simpler clean up. I think I will invest in this one for our outdoor kitchen. My mother in law has this highchair and it is so wonderful. It has a removable plastic piece that covers the entire tray, even the sides, so that no matter how far her little fingers wonder, the tray has her covered. It also converts to a booster seat and a stool eventually so that it will be able to hold its place a lot longer in her kitchen than any other highchair ever would.
-Avocado and bananas are the “browning” foods. You leave them on their clothes or bibs for longer than 10 minutes, and they will cause browning to occur. Not fun. We learned the hard way that these bibs are fabulous. I found ours at Target, but any baby supply store will most likely carry a plastic bib of some sort. Target also has these bibs in prints for boys. My mom has one like this at her house for Hattie and it works well also. You will really appreciate a bib that wipes clean and doesn’t stain after about four loads of laundry…I promise.
After a few weeks of Baby Led I felt confused about how to diversify her meals, and the cleanup after her meals took as long as the meal itself. I soon learned that the whole goal of Baby Led is to take the stress out of cooking extra, so I decided that it was time to prove to myself that Hattie could eat what I was eating. In the beginning I only gave her slices of tender fruit or steamed vegetables, but as she grew and adapted, so did I. I soon learned that she could handle baked chicken, and sauteed squash and onions as well as she could an avocado. Honestly,it made me much more aware of my eating because whatever I put into my mouth, she wanted a bite of, so I had to make sure that everything I ate was worth eating…
Baby Led is messy, but it is easily manageable. If this Type A neat freak can handle it, so can you. I moved the highchair out into the entry way where the floor is white so that I can easily see the dropped food, rather than on the wooden floor where it blends in. We eat our meals at the bar stools most of the time so that we are next to her rather than secluded away at the table. This is only temporary and once she cleans up her act we will all move back to the table (flexibility is key!) At every meal I line her seat with a large bath towel. It covers the back of the seat, all the way down to her legs. This really helps me save clean up time. When she is finished eating I walk the towel outside and shake out all of the fallen food. If the towel is salvageable at this point I roll it up and save it in the seat for another meal. If it is dirty or has any “browning” food on it I throw it in the dirty clothes, or in the wash. I suggest dedicating a couple of older towels to this job, or buying a few cheap towels at the store so that it doesn’t cause any heartache when they stain.
– for breakfast I leave her in her PJ’s and put her in a bib. If she is eating a food for breakfast that has the potential to be very messy, like raspberries, or ripe plums I will strip her down to her diaper and a bib and feed her this way. When her PJ’s are on, I just take them off and put them into the dirty clothes after her meal, shake out the towel, then wipe her hands and her face off before putting on her lotion and dressing her for the day. If I let her eat in her diaper that day because of the mess, I will take her straight into the bathroom and rinse her off in the tub before dressing her for the day. I then clean up the tray and any spilled food while she has her mid-morning play time on the floor.
– Hattie eats lunch right after her morning nap. I take off her clothes, and put her in a bib and repeat the same breakfast process. If she is eating a food that will do no harm when dropped, I will leave her clothes on, but this is rare. After lunch I take her to the bathroom to rinse her off and this is when I change her diaper from her nap and redress her for her afternoon play.
– For supper I leave her in her clothes if the food isn’t one that stains, and strip her if not. After this meal she goes straight into the bath tub for her evening bath, so it works out perfect. I simply let Ben take her into the bathroom, start her water, and play with her squirt toys while I clean up her dinner mess, and then I join them to finish off her bath.
Having the towel in her highchair saves SO MUCH time, because I never have to spend the time wiping down her seat or her cushion, plus her seat has too many nooks and crannies that food particles can sneak into. If we had a house dog it would be even better because I would never have to round up stray food on the floor after meals either!
When we are eating outside of the house we have to adapt to the environment that we are going to so that Hattie can still partake in the meals. I keep a small little basket in my trunk with a table mat, seat cover, and bibs inside for a quick set up for when we are eating at a restaurant. I have found myself under the table on multiple occasions scooping her droppings into a pile and whisking them to the trash with a napkin because I am too embarrassed to leave her mess for the staff to clean! I know that this too will pass and she will be eating much neater in the near future, so please do not worry that your child is messier than most. I’m sure Hattie has them beat…
If we are planning to go to someone else’s house to eat where a highchair will not be present we bring along her bumbo and the coordinating food tray (very useful purchase) and set her up on a towel or some sort of floor protector so that she can enjoy her meal as well.
If the weather is pleasant I like to take Hattie outside to eat her meals, usually breakfast or lunch. I set her bumbo on the swing (staying by her side the entire time) and let her eat away. This method is so wonderful when it comes to cleaning up, because our dog, Jill, and the ants take care of it for me, all I have to do is clean her bumbo!
The scariest part for me was worrying that she would choke. You will read on any Baby Led forum or blog that choking and gagging are two very different things, and once you understand this concept you will believe it to be true and feel much more at ease. I urge you to read Baby Led and learn for yourself. To make it short and sweet, a baby’s gag reflex is so far forward at the beginning of their solid food experience that they will gag as they try to move food towards the back of their mouths. I noticed this in the beginning but it never lasted more than a few seconds and it was an obvious gag. Occasionally Hattie will tear off a chunk of food that she gags on but she will cough and clear her throat quickly. A baby’s cough will be much more effective than a pat on the back from you will be. Should your baby make a face as if something is stuck in their throat and remain silent, not able to cough or take in air, you should prepare to intervene. I also urge you to become CPR certified, or at least familiar with infant CPR before beginning Baby Led. This will not only make you feel safer, but leave you prepared to act should the need arise.
Many parents also worry about allergies, but this is all a matter of personal beliefs. We had no family history of food allergies, so I did not fret too much about the tried and true routine of trying only one food at a time for a few days before adding another. If your child should start to show signs of wheezing, itchy skin, or redness and swelling after eating CALL YOUR DOCTOR. They will know the best plan of care. I dove right in to experimenting with foods, but I did keep children’s diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and a dispenser on hand (in my diaper bag and at home) in case an allergic reaction did ever occur. I am not providing professional advice so ALWAYS consult your doctor before giving your child medicine, but I keep a note with my diphenhydramine with dosage information that I personally would use (1/4 tsp since she is under 20 pounds. Once she reaches 20 pounds I would give her 1/2 tsp for every 20 pounds.)
I think one of my greatest “aha” moments when it came to her ability to eat happened a few months back, I sat down to eat a nectarine and Hattie crawled up to my chair grunting. I had taken one bite into the fruit so I picked her up and sat her on my lap facing outward and held the fruit for her to sample. She began gumming into the side where I had bitten into and she gnawed until she ripped a piece off. This continued until she finished one side and began to scrape her gums on the pit. I removed the pit so that she could continue and she eventually ate the entire nectarine! Hattie began Baby Led weaning at exactly six months old and her first two teeth did not erupt until she was ten months old, so don’t fret if your baby’s only tools are gums because they are effective, mark my word.
It has been so rewarding to watch as Hattie gains self confidence in her ability to eat. She has gone from using her palms to stuff food into her mouth, to mastering her pincher grasp and using her tiny little fingers to pick up even the smallest pea. She likes being a part of our meals and has started to offer us “bites” of her food while eating.
Meal time is such a joyful time at our house. We all have so much fun eating and watching one another eat. Hattie tries to mimic our habits and we try not to giggle at her every move. She genuinely loves to eat, and we love that she loves this. So many special moments have been shared around food with our little darling and we know that healthy eating habits are being instilled now that will form the foundation for her future. She relates food to fun and this in itself is such a blessing. Hattie had continued to nurse about 4-5 ounces every 3 hours or so throughout her progression with solids, but at around 7 months I noticed that she was starting to attempt to self wean. She would go longer than 3 hours before acting hungry and would only nurse for a few minutes once we sat down. I now mainly nurse her at night (heaven forbid) and have found it easier to pump during the day and serve her milk in a cup so that she can continue to play. She does not want to stop to nurse during playtime and it becomes a battle, so I had to find a solution and this seems to work well. I know that she still needs breast milk for the fats and nutritional benefits that it provides during this time of growth. I also recognize that the food she eats needs to be nutritionally dense, so I look for foods that meet this criteria.
As far as drinks go, Hattie only gets breast milk or water. I keep a cup of water in the ice box and I let her sip on it when she wakes from her naps, and I keep it near her while she plays so that she can sip on it when she gets thirsty. I also keep it handy during mealtimes. I allowed her to start drinking water at 7 months, but you should consult with your pediatrician to find out what is best for your child. I do not recommend juice at this point. Hattie loves her water, and if she is happy with this, why push the issue and give her an empty calorie like juice? If you want them to have the nutrients that are in fruit, give them the fruit to eat, not the juice. It is recommended that babies under 6 months only drink breast milk or formula and babies over this age until their first birthday only drink breast milk, formula, and water. Leave the juice alone please…push the H2O!! Do your own research on the matter and I am sure you will begin to feel the same way.
At this time we are working on utensils! I will help Hattie put scrambled eggs or something solid onto a small plastic fork and she navigates it to her mouth. She also flings it off at times, but Rome wasn’t built in a day…I have found that forks are easier for her to use than spoons because they are able to spear the food rather than scoop, which is a much finer motor skill. I will update you as we progress.
Give Baby Led a go, let me know what you think.