Updated: Aug 2
Around 6 months, babies can be introduced to solid foods, which begins the weaning process. They won't be fully weaned to solid food until after 1 year, and breastmilk or formula should be their main source of nutrition until then. There are quite a few different methods of weaning to solids. Baby-led weaning (BLW) has become very popular in the past few years. I have done sort of a hybrid approach, which I will share about here.
Disclaimer: This is unrelated to sleep advice. I'm not saying that my weaning approach will help your child sleep better. I am simply sharing our experience. Also, if you're trying to find out how to do the full BLW approach, this is not a post for you. I took the parts of BLW that made sense to me, and altered the parts that didn't. Do what is best for your child!
What is Baby-led Weaning?
Now that that's out of the way...when Gideon was a baby, I had never heard of #babyledweaning (BLW). So, at his 4-month appointment, his pediatrician said we could start giving him some solids if we wanted to- purees, oatmeal, and cereals. I wasn't in a rush and felt like he was still pretty little, so I waited until he was 5 months and then we did start some purees. (I skipped the rice cereals and oatmeals altogther.)
When he was 6 months, I started hearing about the baby-led weaning approach. Here's my very quick summary of what baby-led weaning is: you completely skip all purees, cereals, oatmeal, etc. and start giving your child finger-length chunks of "real food" from the start. You just put it out in front of him, and let him play and learn how to put it into his mouth and eventually eat. There are some readiness signs, like your child needs to be at least 6 months and sitting unassisted. Having teeth is not a requirement as they can gum their food to chew it. There is usually some gagging and possibly even vomiting involved as they learn how to chew and swallow real food. It's also recommended to get trained in infant CPR.
The whole idea with doing this is that the baby is in full control of what goes into his mouth. Baby-led weaning is meant to be exactly what the name implies: baby is leading the process. On the other hand, when you are spoon-feeding purees and things like that, BLW suggests that you are in control and, as a result, can push your baby to eat when he's not really hungry. There is also research about their bellies not being ready for any food until 6 months, so BLW does not agree with starting anything other than breastmilk or formula before 6 months.
BLW and Purees
As I said above, I had already started purees with Gideon. Once I heard about the BLW approach, I was interested but thought I had already "ruined it" by giving him purees. I started doing some research and also inquired about this in a BLW group on Facebook. What I found was that the BLW approach says if you started with purees and want to switch to baby-led weaning, you can! You simply need to cold-turkey quit giving purees. Then the next day, start baby-led weaning with non-pureed food! Great!
This is exactly what I did with Gideon. He had been having purees for over a month and was now 7.5 months old. So, I cold-turkey stopped giving him purees and the next day started with "real" food. He did awesome! He got all of the benefits of baby-led weaning (they say BLW kids are less picky and eat healthier, for one) even though I had started him on purees. I will also say that he had very little gagging and no vomitting (that I remember at least).
My Hybrid Approach
When Phoebe reached about 6 months, I thought to myself...if I can do purees first and then just switch to the BLW approach one day...why couldn't I do that on purpose? The main reason BLW skips purees is so the baby can be in control, so you aren't stuffing him when he's not hungry. However, I could always tell when my babies wanted more or were done, even with purees. If I put a spoonful in their mouth and they immediately swallowed and opened wide for another bite- they clearly wanted more. If they turned their heads away or kept their little mouths closed when they spoon came near, then I didn't force it. I never tried to get them to eat a certain amount, I still let them lead. Also, once they started to grab for the spoon themselves, I would go ahead and let them do so while still guiding their hand.
In short...that was my hybrid approach that I did with all 3 kids. I still waited until they were 6 months old, like BLW suggests (other than Gideon since I didn't know). I do agree with the research that their little tummies aren't ready for anything other than breastmilk or formula before then. However, I did do purees with all of them for about a month or two before switching to the full BLW "real" food approach.
Doing it this way just put me a little more at ease with the gagging and it felt more like a natural transition. To me, it makes complete sense to go from only eating liquid to purees, then to full solids. The BLW premise that you have to skip purees and go straight to actual chunks of food never made sense to me. I believe the idea is that purees aren't a real food texture and you want the baby to get used to the real food textures as soon as possible.
However, I disagree with that. I think that pureed food IS a real food texture. There's applesauce and yogurt and soup...all of these things are more similar to the texture of a puree. So, why wouldn't we want babies to get used to that texture as well? The notion that pureed food isn't "real" food doesn't quite make sense to me. And you CAN give babies purees while still letting them lead the weaning process.
I love the idea of baby-led weaning, however, our experience with a hybrid approach made more sense for our family. Food before age 1 is meant for learning and fun anyway; baby's main nutrition should still come from breastmilk and/or formula. So, don't rush or force it, whatever way you decide to do it!
~Ashley Bell, your pediatric sleep consultant
Have you started your baby on solids hoping that it would help him sleep better at night, but it hasn't? Sometimes, giving a baby more calories during the day will help him cut out a night feed as he doesn't need those calories at night anymore. However, if your baby is still up multiple times a night at this age, it's unlikely that solids alone will solve the issue. If you'd like to talk with me about the sleep issues you're experiencing and how we can solve them, contact me!