Baby-led weaning and parent-led sanity

One mom approaches baby-led weaning with optimism and success, until she ventures to ask a question on an online forum, only to be harshly criticized by other parents. 

Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff
Two couples, one with a baby, chat on a side street in Stockholm, Sweden, on March 9.

When I first learned about baby-led weaning (BLW) I was beyond excited that I could give my baby the same food we were eating at dinner. I read more about this type of introduction to solid foods to babies and was intrigued by it. 

The more I researched, the more I learned about the benefits. Studies suggest that BLW can make a child more independent, creative, lower chances for obesity later in childhood, and help with fine-motor skills.

Being a first-time mom, I joined Facebook groups on BLW and found out how “serious” this whole BLW movement was. Baby-led weaning had some pretty strict rules. You can only serve your baby food that they can put in their mouth by themselves, starting when they are about six-months-old. 

I learned that I couldn't help my daughter out, even if she seemed frustrated and couldn't hold on to a slippery piece of pear. I could only use a spoon if I pre-loaded it and handed it to her. 

It’s a messy, yet fun, process to watch your baby explore food and try to feed themselves. But, it can be pretty scary when the baby starts gagging, then you are not “allowed” to do anything when they gag, because that’s how they’re learning how to eat solids. You must also learn the difference between choking and gagging. 

I enjoyed giving our baby bananas, avocados, and sweet potatoes. I watched her carefully, and when she became better at chewing and swallowing, I introduced more food such as fish, pasta, and bread. 

I remember we were invited over to a friend's house for dinner when our baby was about 8-months-old. She was getting the hang of BLW, but she was still making a huge mess around her, and on her clothes and face. 

So I asked a question on one of the BLW Facebook groups: "Will our baby be OK if I give her baby food puree when we eat at our friend’s house, to avoid the mess?"

And I was attacked. I was told if I feed her pureed food from a spoon, then it would not be called BLW anymore. It would be called “traditional weaning.” To put a finer point on the message, one mom wrote, “If a vegetarian eats meat once in a while, will he still be called a vegetarian?”

I didn’t know one method of feeding a baby was that serious. Is a baby who does BLW smarter than a baby who does traditional weaning? Of course not. Just like a child who reads before his or her classmates is not necessarily “smarter” than the rest of the class.  

One is not a better mom for giving her child pieces of steamed, organic asparagus rather than a jar of pureed, mashed bananas. Every family’s situation is different – whether comparing social and economical circumstances, or values and traditions.

Despite the rude “advice” I received from the group, I did a combination of BLW and traditional weaning for dinner with our friends. I usually try to feed our baby healthy, nutritious food, but she’s tasted french fries, ice cream, baklava, Nutella, and even coffee. We eat out occasionally, and I still give her baby food pouches for snacks. 

I’ve learned that to be a mother is to be flexible and open-minded to different ideas and suggestions.  

Shaming parents just because they don’t follow “the rules” in one area of parenting is nothing short of immature. Mothers and fathers make their own rules – and hopefully they quickly learn not to abide only by the rules from Facebook groups sometimes comprised of competitive, uptight, and judgmental parents. 

The mommy wars and competition seem never-ending, whether it’s about breast-feeding vs. formula, BLW vs. traditional weaning, stay-at-home vs. career moms, and the list goes on. 

Since becoming a first-time mother, I have learned to do my own research, to listen to different points of view, and to stop asking potentially controversial questions on online forums.

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