I’m not a baby-feeding expert. I only have one baby so far, and he’s only nine months old, so we’re still trying things out.
My only qualifications thus far are:
Here are the pros and cons of Baby Led Weaning (henceforth known as BLW) in my experience:
Give a baby a piece of apple. Sure, they can gnaw at it and eventually eat some of it. It only takes about a million years.
“Steam it!” you say. Okay, but then be prepared to lose approximately 10 years of your life due to anxiety about your baby choking.
If you have time to sit and watch your baby gnaw a piece of food for all of eternity, go for it. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here napping or watching Netflix or winning the Nobel Peace Prize with all of the time I saved while spoon-feeding my child.
Also, if you have a child like mine who wants to eat all of the food right now, he will get frustrated that there's no food actually going into his stomach. This will make him fussy, he will throw the apple on the floor in frustration, and the whole process starts over again.
I guess the food isn’t technically wasted if the dog eats it, but frankly I’m not in the habit of carefully preparing nutritious vegetables for a creature who also eats dead things outside.
Even if you don’t have a willing trash receptacle waiting for every morsel to hit the floor, I’m guessing you won’t be feeding your kid the food that he drops (unless you’re some god or goddess among parents whose floor is actually clean enough to eat off of). BLW basically meant that Ben would eat one eighth of a teaspoon of food, and the rest would go into the trash (or the dog’s mouth). I’m not a big stickler for a grocery budget, but even I can see that’s going to add up.
BLW claims that you’ll save time in food prep, because you can just feed baby whatever you’re having. Turns out that my diet doesn’t consist of mostly unseasoned, steamed vegetable and fruit wedges.
Let’s say, hypothetically, that I’m having a turkey sandwich with chips for lunch. Ben has zero teeth for chewing and a barely developed pincer grasp. How am I serving him what I’m eating? I’m still prepping a separate meal for Ben even if I’m not pureeing it, which doesn’t save me any time at all. And guess what? After I’ve spent extra time preparing a BLW-appropriate meal for Ben, extra time watching him gnaw at it in frustration only to throw most of it on the floor (leaving him still hungry, which means extra time to feed him another bottle), I then have to clean him up.
I know, I know, that doesn’t sound too bad, but believe me, BLW makes messes like none other. There will be food smashed into every crevice on your baby’s face, hands, ears, and hair, and in her high chair, plus on the floor and potentially on the dog. The mess was actually the number one reason I stopped BLW. I dreaded cleaning up so much that I just wouldn’t feed Ben at all. (I still fed him milk, obviously.) Call me crazy, but I think it’s better to feed your kid purees than not feed him solids at all.
I think this one mostly speaks for itself. Turns out that even when your baby succeeds at gnawing off a piece of food, he immediately tries to swallow it (silly babies) because he doesn't know how to chew and doesn't have any teeth, resulting in horrible gagging (if you’re lucky) and choking (if you’re not). The offending piece of food is then spit out, baby still hasn’t eaten anything, and you want to throw up from anxiety. Yaaaaaay!
All of this being said, BLW isn’t all bad. I feel like I learned some important philosophical foundations about introducing solids from this approach.
When Ben was first getting interested in our food but not quite ready to start eating solids, this was a fun way to introduce him to new flavors with minimal resistance. He already wanted to stick everything in his mouth to learn how new things tasted on his own. I think there’s some merit to this idea for picky eaters: as they explore new foods with their mouths, they get familiarized with the flavors without a power struggle with mom or dad.
BLW encourages including babies as part of the family meal rather than eating at a separate time and a separate meal from everyone else. While the timing doesn’t always work out for us, I've seen considerable benefit from eating with Ben. If I’m eating at the same time and showing a lot of enthusiasm for the food, Ben is much more excited and willing to eat.
By contrast, he fusses more and refuses the spoon more often if the person feeding him is disengaged or distracted. When I make it a fun activity and show him how yummy the food is, he wants what I’ve got! Also, he can totally tell when I’m fake-eating, so I’ve learned to tolerate the taste of some pretty weird food combos. (My husband, on the other hand, finds salmon and applesauce seasoned with baby drool less than palatable. Odd.)
BLW teaches that introducing solids, especially at first, is more about introducing new flavors and textures than trying to actually switch baby over from milk or formula. This helps take the worry out of how much baby is eating, because they’re still getting all of the necessary calories from milk. I think there’s even a saying for it: “Food before one is just for fun!”
I definitely saw some wisdom in in the BLW philosophy, it was just the practice that didn’t work for me.
From my experience with BLW, I learned to look at introducing solids differently. It isn’t about sticking a certain amount of rice cereal down Ben’s throat to fill him up, it’s about introducing him to a world of new flavors and textures.
This led me to skip bland purees and cereals altogether. Instead I feed Ben fruits, vegetables, meats, and whatever I’m eating (I just grind everything up in my handy food mill). If I feed him plain yogurt, I season it with cinnamon or cumin so that he can learn what those taste like. I skip sugar and salt, but everything else is fair game. He loves lime juice on his avocados, ricotta in his spinach, and can even handle some red pepper flakes in his cabbage.
I stay engaged and make eating fun for him, because BLW did teach me that feeding my baby doesn’t have to be scary or a chore. It’s about the joy and adventure that comes from exploring different foods, which is an awesome thing to teach your child!