After I uploaded my first post on baby-led weaning I chatted with a lovely group of kiwi mums who had a bunch of questions for me. Here are my replies to some of the common questions.
The starting process is quite daunting, when do I get started?
Firstly it is important that your baby is showing all the signs that she is ready to investigate food. She needs to be able to sit up unassisted, this is very important as until this point her gastrointestinal tract is not ready to digest food. Feeding prior to this stage may cause her to develop allergies later as the lining of the gut wall is not tight enough to prevent undigested food particles from getting through. When this happens her immune system mounts an attack and the second third or fourth time she eats this food she could have an allergic reaction. Knowing your baby is physically ready is the most important start to this journey.
I want to do BLW but I am scared my baby will choke. How will I know if she is in trouble?
The first few weeks and even months can be quite scary as most babies will gag on some of their meal. We feel these fears because as adults when we experience gagging, the food is very close to our airway but this is not the case with babies. Their gag reflex is very far from their throat and it gets closer and closer as they get older. A spoon fed toddler is more likely to choke when introduced to finger foods than a toddler who learnt about chewing and swallowing from the get go. It is important that before you do start you know the difference between gagging and choking on food. Gagging is noisy with spluttering, coughing and mucus coming up occasionally, whereas choking is silent. You might feel more comfortable if you take an infant CPR course before starting.If you still feel uncomfortable then starting with very soft foods may make you feel more at ease.
How do I start?
The saying is, “food before one is just for fun” and it is important to keep this in mind. I see many mums really pushing their babies to eat solids when all they really need is breast milk or formula. It is hard to feel 100% confident when you start BLW. Especially if you are a first time Mum or Dad because no matter how much you read or watch videos, those initial times your baby puts food in their mouth is scary. You don’t know how they are going to react and you probably have fears of choking and allergic reactions. To start with, give your baby a few bits of food cut into finger sized sticks and see what he does. He may get it in his mouth first time or he may play with it. Some babies can spend the first couple of months just playing with barely any food entering their mouth, and this is perfectly normal.
Can I do a mix of spoon feeding and baby-led weaning?
The simple answer is no. You can do spoon feeding alongside finger food OR you can do BLW but not both simultaneously. BLW is allowing your baby to learn to feed themselves. If a parent is sometimes spoon feeding meals then it can actually be quite dangerous. She learns that “spoon comes in, now I swallow” and then when she tries to do this with a stick of baked apple she will think she can do the same. Once she is ready to hold a spoon herself then you can preload the spoon but let her take it to her mouth herself and learn how to put it in and take the food off with her tongue. With food like yoghurt or custard or guacamole, your baby may respond well to dippers. Use a fruit or vegetable wedge, dip it in then let her eat it.
How do I get over the fear of giving my baby control?
To be honest I am not sure you can get over this fear until you see how successful BLW is with your baby. So many times Anu and I had to literally sit on our hands to stop ourselves intervening when Bowie put a whole piece of food in her mouth. But the more you watch them and please never take your eyes off a baby while they are eating, the more you see how they work the process out. They may nibble on the end or they may stuff it in, then use their teeth or gums to chomp on it. Once they learn that it is too big to swallow they start to spit the big pieces out and eventually pull it out with their fingers. A catcher bib is THE best thing you can use if you want to minimise the mess, but let's face it, a baby or toddler feeding themselves will ALWAYS be messy. One thing I can not stress enough is, never try to put food into your babies mouth. Only they can control their gag reflex and by putting food into their mouth they lose that control and can struggle to move it to a safe place. It is also not wise to put your finger in baby’s mouth to fish food out as you can push it further back. Relinquishing control and trusting your baby to use their instincts is tough but very rewarding.
Do I need to wait till my baby has teeth before starting BLW?
No you do not need to. You will be amazed at what your baby can eat with just his gums. Don’t feel you need to stick to soft foods either. He will still love to have a go at tearing off strips of meat and sucking all the lovely juice out. This is a great way for him to get iron into his diet. Large bones such as lamb shanks, cutlets or chicken drumsticks are especially great during teething times as they provide some lovely relief as well as some extra nutrition not found in the meat itself. Just watch for small bones, chicken drums have a pin bone that needs to be removed first.
What do I need to avoid due to the possibility of allergies?
I have done a lot of reading on this subject and it is still pretty controversial to many but I will answer with what I recommend. If you have concerns however, I suggest doing a little bit of reading for yourself before you decide your approach.
- If you or your partner have/had allergic reactions to foods then consider trying each food separately and over a few days to see if your baby has any reactions. If not then it is up to you whether you want to try several foods in one meal.
- Making breakfast or lunch the only meal that your baby has for the first few weeks can be a good idea as it is easier to deal with an allergic reaction during the day than during the night.
- Grains and legumes are difficult for a baby to digest especially wheat and should be avoided till 1 year of age at a minimum. Wheat ideally should be avoided till the molar teeth have come through. Pseudo-grains such as buckwheat, quinoa, chia and amaranth are more easily digestible from an earlier age provided they are prepared in a traditional manner.
- When it comes to eggs, a reaction from the yolk is rare. The egg white however, contain a protein called avidin and this can be a common allergen. If your baby has a severe reaction including swelling and or anaphylaxis then avoiding eggs altogether is best. If they have a mild to moderate skin reaction then avoiding eggs till 10 months plus is recommended.
- Honey is perhaps the most controversial of all foods. Most recommend waiting till 1 year plus because of the risks of infant botulism. This is an area I suggest you do your own reading on to make an informed decision.
- Nuts are also a common concern, however, if there is no family history of allergy then these are generally safe to try! Whole nuts are a choking hazard so only introduce nuts in the form of nut butter, ground or in baking before 3 years of age.
How much food do I give and how long do I need to give them to try and eat it?
It is good to give your baby a range of foods at each meal, I suggest at least 3 but no more than 7. In terms of quantity, it is best to stick with finger-sized initially or a fist-sized pile of mashed potato for example or bolognese sauce. They may just play with it, throw it around, smear it across the tray at first but this is all helpful. This teaches them about different textures, colours and gravity! It is good to allow a reasonable amount of time to play and eat. Sitting down for 15 minutes to eat a meal is not good for anyone's digestion and can teach your baby that they need to eat quickly or the food will be taken away. I think they are ready to finish when they seem to be over it and making a noise to get out of their chair. Sometimes we just don’t have time to do this but when the option is there give them the space to eat at their own pace.