By Trisha Bautista
Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) is definitely a buzzword among new parents nowadays, especially for introducing solids to infants. It has gained popularity in recent years, because of its deviation from the traditional way of feeding your children with pureed food.
With BLW, the term “weaning” actually refers to the practice of slowly training an infant to eat solid foods as a supplement to their mother’s milk or formula. The main principle is that babies learn to feed themselves from the start, and they skip the purees and go straight to table food that you eat, too.
So WHAT is baby-led weaning?
According to world-leading BLW authority Gill Rapley and early BLW practitioner and coauthor Tracey Murkett in their book “Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods-and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater,” the idea that infants must start with purees is a myth. In fact, they say infants who are ready to eat solids are also ready to feed themselves (practicing hand-eye coordination in the process). They are also able to instinctively choose what they want to eat and how much they need, because you empower them to feed themselves.
Won’t my baby choke?
Experts and advocates of baby-led weaning say babies’ gag reflexes are far more sensitive than ours which means that their gagging threshold is much farther away from the back of the throat. This means they’re more protected from choking than we are.
How does BLW work?
The general principle of baby-led weaning enables infants to eat table food by offering them finger food-sized pieces of food soft enough to be mashed by their gums. This usually means feeding them fresh, soft fruits like mangoes and avocadoes, steaming harder fruits and veggies to make them mash-able with their gums, and boiling meats and poultry to make them softer. The same rules of feeding baby purees apply when it comes to nutrition and allergies. In the case of BLW, experts say it’s actually more nutritious because babies are trained to eat “adult” food from the get go, and much of what they eat is actually fresh fruits and vegetables. They skip the common infant cereals and bottled purees bought from stores.
What can I feed my child?
Hardcore BLW practitioners feed their babies exactly what they’re eating, often foregoing stronger seasoning and more flavorful dishes to suit a baby’s palette. There are many resources online and in the book I mentioned above, but most of the recipes and ideas are for Western cuisine, fruits, palettes, and ingredients.
How I’ve adapted BLW to our Asian Cuisine
However, throughout my four months of practicing BLW on my now 9-month old, I’ve discovered that we’ve had to improvise as as we go along, adjusting the BLW principles to fit our Filipino and Asian cuisine. I’ve found that it’s so much easier than preparing purees, and all the claims of BLW have been true so far! My baby is a voracious eater, eating all sorts of fruits and veggies and meat we offer him. He eats on schedule with the rest of the household, but also knows how to refuse food when he’s not hungry.
Here are some tips I’ve gathered along the way:
1. At first I was also terrified of the baby choking, but I eased into BLW by mashing, then using fresh, soft fruits.
We started with bananas, mangoes and avocadoes because of their soft, mushy texture. I started out by mashing bananas, then avocadoes, than mangoes, in some milk, following the usual three-day rule of introducing foods. However, I noticed that my baby naturally grabbed at the mush with his hands, trying to feed himself. After about a week of mashed fruits, I gathered some guts and offered him finger-food-sized fruits.
2. Start by offering something they can gnaw at with no chance of choking on it.
This idea occurred to me because of my paranoia for choking. I knew my baby wasn’t allergic to mangoes (thanks to mashed purees from a week before), but I wasn’t quite ready to feed him finger food. I peeled the bone section of a ripe mango, wrapped the bottom half in a cloth napkin, and offered it to him. He instinctively grasped the mango with two hands (on the napkin), and immediately started gnawing at the mango flesh on the bone. He LOVED it. This ended up being my default breakfast.
3. Offer naturally soft and mushy tropical fruits in pieces thick enough for them to grasp easily, but narrow enough to eat easily. A good gauge is a piece of fruit the size of your pointer finger. When in doubt, test the softness yourself.
Since I was understandably still slightly doubtful and very worried about choking, I went with my gut and stuck to naturally soft fruits. Very ripe bananas were my first choice—I gave him small lakatan bananas with half of the fruit still covered by peel. However, he ended up trying to eat the peel, too. So I decided to cut it the same way I did the mangoes and avocadoes—in finger-sized strips big enough for him to grasp easily. Another great fruit I discovered for BLW is the papaya in the smaller variety (usually called solo papaya in groceries). The texture is just right for babies—not to mushy that it’ll be hard to pick up, but not as firm as fresh melons or honeydews that are still slightly crunchy. Time and again, I’ve found tropical fruits to be very baby friendly!
4. Asian soup dishes are your best friend, but serve it to your baby sans soup.
This especially applies to Filipino soup dishes like Nilaga (beef soup), Sinigang (tamarind soup), and Tinola (chicken soup). Soup dishes are great because the meat is boiled for a long time, making them soft and easy to eat. To avoid a huge mess, however, we only cook them in the soup dish and fish out the meat and veggies when it’s time for the to eat. We serve the food to the baby without soup, veggies included. Tinola (chicken cooked with ginger, garlic, papaya or sayote, and malunggay) was perfect because chicken is usually softer than beef or pork, and papayas are great for avoiding constipation (which is normal at the start of the solids stage stage). Serve the meat, and veggies separately so baby can choose and explore both tastes freely. Cut the meat in little strips, long enough that they can grasp it in their palms, but short enough to manage in their mouths.
5. To help a baby eat rice, get the Japanese variety (or other stickier ones).
Trust me, a baby will eat rice and make a huge mess (read: rice in all his folds and creases), because he will use his hands. To avoid this and to help baby grasp rice in his tiny hands, go for the stickier kinds. It’ll help him bring the rice from plate to mouth without landing everywhere else.
6. Refrigerate fruits and serve cold to teething babies.
It soothes their achy gums, and are great natural teethers! Solo papaya varieties are perfect for this.
7. When in doubt, steam or boil.
Unsure about the hardness or softness of food? When in doubt, steam or boil some more. When the rest of the family eats a non-soup dish, that usually means the meat is a bit tougher. To save us the hassle of cooking a totally separate dish, we just boil whatever viand is being served for an additional 30 minutes to an hour until it feels soft enough for the baby to mash with his gums.
Watch your baby closely every meal time, and when in doubt about the softness, either boil or steam some more. Baby Led Weaning has been wonderful for us, and it’s amazing to see a nine month-old eat independently—he prefers feeding himself and knows exactly when he’s full, and loves fruits and vegetables. If you’re still iffy about it but want to try, watch videos on the internet so you have a better idea, and make sure you or your childcare provider knows how to do infant CPR.
Trisha Bautista is a writer, editor, and PR practitioner with articles published in many of the country’s top magazines and lifestyle websites. She’s a mother to an eight months-old baby boy, and is constantly trying to find the time to stay fit and healthy while balancing married life, motherhood, career, and a social life. She enjoys discovering health, fitness, beauty, and shopping hacks to maximize time and money, and loves the occasional wine night.