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'My twin babies feed themselves stir fry rice and steak...with a fork. Yes, really.'

I have this recurring nightmare, about once or twice a month. I stagger out of the kitchen after a long day to deliver my kids a delicious feast. But they refuse to take a bite. Of anything. I can’t coax them to kiss a single kernel of corn.

Then I wake up screaming, catch my breath, peer across the dark bedroom to my bookshelf, make sure my Bible is still there, and go back to sleep.

My “Bible” is a secular masterpiece. It’s the Baby-Led Weaning book. And I am its newest disciple.

Baby-led weaning is a philosophy of infant development that is equal parts terrifying and liberating. In short, it preaches the gospel of giving solid, grown-up foods to little babies. The idea is that even bubs as young as six months benefit from trying to feed themselves real food, rather than only being spoon-fed purées. Like many religions, it gets a bad rep.

LISTEN: Sean explains why baby led weaning is so important on Mamamia’s latest podcast for new parents, The Baby Bubble:

If you google “baby-led weaning”, terms like “dangerous” and “choking” might distract you from more positive ones like “healthier” and “confident eaters”. But before you’re totally turned off to it, hear me out.

I started baby-led weaning (affectionately known to converts as “BLW”) when my twins turned six months old. I skipped expensive purées, didn’t spend endless hours mashing meals, and simply fed them finger foods.

As I write this sentence, I’m watching my 14-month-olds feed themselves a spicy Asian stir-fry with rice and steak. Oh, and did I mention that they’re doing it with forks?

Like any good born-again evangelist, it is my duty to convert you to the BLW cult. Thus, please enjoy the “Nine Things I Didn’t Know About Baby-Led Weaning” (which might as well be titled “Stop Over-Analysing It And Just Give Baby-Led Weaning A Bloody Shot”):

1. Your baby has a better gag reflex than you.

Every parent who opposes BLW is afraid of gagging. And I’d be lying to you if I said that I wasn’t afraid of it too. But the truth is, your baby is going to gag at some point in the first few months of eating solids. Whether that happens at six months or later, you’re just delaying the inevitable.

What finally convinced me to dive in, other than learning that gagging is a safe reflex to get rid of food, was a study called “A Baby-led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking”.

It compared 206 baby-led weaners to a “control” group who were spoon-fed. While the baby-led weaners did gag more at six months, they gagged less by eight months. There was no difference in the number of actual choking episodes.

Zoe Marshall and Sean Szeps are here to bring the mother’s (and father’s) group to your ears. 

Video by MMC

2. Food before the age of one is just for fun.

I went into parenting thinking babies needed to start eating at around six months to be healthy. But it turns out they get all the nutrition they need from breast milk or formula at that age.

All those purées you’re shoving in your baby’s mouth to make sure they grow up big and strong aren’t necessary. So why not introduce them to different textures, aromas, colours and tastes?

Also keep in mind that your baby’s stomach is only the size of his tiny little fist. If you’re exploring BLW for the first time, be aware that your baby may only eat a tablespoon or two of food, especially in the beginning. That’s okay.

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3. Get over yourself.

I hate to be harsh, but the problem isn’t them, it’s you. What will derail your path to BLW enlightenment isn’t your baby’s lack of interest in shoving a steak into their face. It’s your fear that they’ll choke if they try.

If you want her to be a confident eater, and if you want the simplicity of cooking the same dish for every member of the family, you’re going to need to get out of your own way.

4. First time is not always the charm.

Some babies take time to learn how to self-feed. It may take multiple exposures to certain foods before they decide to pick it up and gnaw on it. Or maybe it won’t work at all.

As a parent, you probably spend too much time judging yourself for failing at things you think others are getting right. Don’t worry. We’re not getting this one right either. Trust your gut and wing it.

baby led weaning ideas
Sean says it takes getting used to but the results are worth it. Image: Supplied.

5. Beginnings are messy.

Because we had decided to forego purées, I remember thinking that we’d have tidier babies. And we did! Their faces were much less messy. Our floors and walls, on the other hand, were like an explosion in a noodle factory.

I had to remind myself on a frequent basis that the goal of BLW was to let my babies explore food at their own pace, NOT to keep the house clean. Whether you like it or not, a perfectly cleaned and cooked carrot WILL get crushed, thrown, smeared and dropped long before it finds its way into your child's mouth. The sooner you come to terms with that, the easier the process will be.

Shopping tip: If you’re not keen on cleaning the floor multiple times a day, then you should probably grab a few plastic tablecloths to put under your high chair and an art smock instead of a beautiful bib.

6. BLW helps fine-tune motor development.

I went into BLW thinking that it would make my kids better eaters, faster. But what I didn’t know was that it was going support the development of their hand-eye coordination, dexterity and oral development. So if any of that stuff matters to you, give it a shot.

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baby led weaning ideas
It's not just good for their diets, it will help their development too. Image: Supplied.

7. Big food can be safer than small food.

BLW is not without its risks. We’re talking about babies, after all. And there are some absolute choking no-nos. Nuts. Seeds. Grapes. Popcorn. Windpipe-sized chunks of anything, really. Plus, babies under nine months don’t have the motor skills to pick up small objects, anyway. They’re clumsy as hell.

That’s why you want to stick to long, thin, soft foods like strips of cooked carrot, broccoli, beans and sweet potato. Naturally soft foods like banana and avocado also worked well. In baby-led weaning, as in so many areas of life, size matters.

8. You’ll save money.

I was shocked to find out how much money we seemed to be saving. Having a baby (two in our case) is very expensive, but you knew that already. Not only are fresh groceries cheaper than processed baby food, you’ll buy the same meals for everyone in the family and save in bulk.

9. People will judge you - and that’s okay!

Fact: you’re going to get judged during your parenting journey. By many people. All the time.

Also a fact: There’s no “right” way to parent. If there was, there would be a “How To Raise The Perfect Human” book. And according to Google, that doesn’t exist yet.

What worked for your friends and family might not be a perfect fit for you, so if you decide to try BLW, trust your gut and ignore the haters.

There’s not a lot that scares me in this world, but the thought of my children becoming picky eaters sends chills racing up my spine. Once I realised there was nothing to fear from a sensible baby-led weaning strategy, it just made sense to us.

And you know what? It worked. Really, really well. We share our meals with the kids and are constantly complimented on what great eaters they are.

Have you tried baby lead weaning? What was your experience like? Tell us in the comments section below. 

To hear me and my The Baby Bubble co-host, Zoe Marshall talk more about my baby weaning journey, surrogacy experience and every parent's ongoing nightmare: baby temper tantrums, listen to the very first episode of The Baby Bubble podcast! Get it in your ears.

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