When Hazel was around four months old, I started researching Baby Led Weaning. I read the Gill Rapely book everyone recommends. I joined the Facebook groups. Within a few days I was completely convinced that this was the weaning method for us and started daydreaming about preparing delicious family meals, eating them together at the table and having a thoroughly lovely time. And yes, I bought the bamboo plate and bowl.
Fast forward seven months, and things haven’t quiiiiiiite panned out how I imagined. Weaning, like everything involved in raising a child, is really hard work. And despite the baby-led method being toted as ‘easy, natural, less faff and much quicker’ when compared to traditional weaning, it’s still a massive pain in the ass, tbh.
Hazel is now 11 months old (HOW?!) and is a pretty good eater. She certainly has her favourites (pasta with anything, porridge, bolognese, hard boiled eggs) but will try anything that’s put in front of her. Our weaning journey has been reasonably straightforward – Hazel took to eating pretty quickly and doesn’t have any allergies – but it’s still been a slog, and a very different experience to the ones described by certain outspoken members of BLW groups (“you fed your baby a bit of porridge on a SPOON?! OUT OUT OUT!”).
Now we’ve mostly dropped daytime milk feeds in favour of solids (Hazel has a feed first and last thing but generally nothing in the day), I have a few points of interest on the whole weaning game. So here they are…
– The mess is unreal. At first you’ll try to avoid it, but as time goes on you’ll learn to accept your kitchen will be various states of grim for the next… three years? And if you’re still disinfecting the high chair after every meal more than two weeks down the line, you’re a much better mum than me…
-Weaning can be very slow going. Some babies take to it really well, but for most, the transition from milk to food is weird and annoying and they’re just not into it. Hazel was really cautious at first – I remember proudly presenting her with sliced avocado for her first meal and she just looked at it, nonplussed, and threw it on the floor (see above point). But I kept plugging away and now she’s generally a good eater.
-Spoon feeding is not off the table, even if you’re following a BLW method. Yeah, yeah – I know it’s not what the book says. But I don’t care, because if a spoon is the easiest way to get food in – porridge, soup, yogurt – I’ll be using it. I give Hazel pre-loaded spoons (with the food in-situ) so she gets an idea of the concept, but I’ll happily feed her myself if necessary. This is something I was dead against when we started weaning, but as time has gone on and it’s clear Hazel has learnt how to feed herself, I’ve got over it.
-It’s fine to offer the same or similar dishes day to day. Food variety is important, so I try to mix it up a bit – pasta with pesto and chicken one day, then pasta with Philadelphia and spinach the next. I’m all for cooking creatively but when you’re back at work and bloody knackered come 4pm, quick and easy always wins.
-Fish fillets are your friend. Seriously, I love fish. Babies can only have two portions of oily fish a week due to mercury levels (or something), but Hazel always has her full quota because it’s just SO EASY. Salmon with sweet potato and peas. Cod with broccoli. Tuna with pasta. Boom.
-Don’t bother with the bamboo plate. We have Ikea plastic plates, bowls and cutlery that we use to dish up, but all food gets dumped on the highchair tray. Did you know a plate really resembles a frisbee? Yeah…
-Speaking of highchairs, the Ikea Antilop (or fancy wooden version, which we have) is all you need. I now choose my restaurants based on their highchair offering – if they have the Antilop, I’m through the door.
-Bibs without sleeves are largely useless, mainly because after a few weeks your baby will learn how to pull them off. Hazel is also highly suspicious of anything that doesn’t feel like clothing, so plastic bibs of all descriptions are out. We use these towelling bibs and although they have to be washed after every meal so therefore contribute to Laundry Mountain at an alarming rate, they do at least keep her clothes clean.
-With weaning also comes water, and with water comes about 50 billion different cups to choose from. Will you go for the classic sippy? Free flow? Straw or spout? What about a 360? Maybe a doidy? The list is literally endless. After trying all of the above, we’ve settled on an open doidy cup for in the highchair and a Munchkin 360 for out and about.
-My final tip is – don’t sweat it. Right at the beginning of our ~weaning journey~ I was a member of various BLW Facebook groups and getting totally stressed about cooking these amazing, elaborate meals, never spoon feeding and never handing Hazel anything lest she become a 15 year-old who still needs her mum to place food into her open palm. Then I read an article about feeding a toddler that basically said ‘don’t panic, you’re good’. Babies and children KNOW when you’re stressing – they pick up on those vibes and act accordingly (i.e., the way you don’t want them to). So now I try to have a relaxed, calm approach to mealtimes – it doesn’t always work and I often get frustrated when Hazel doesn’t eat much but when I do chill out and just leave her to it, she eats well. So there’s definitely something in it!
Have you started weaning yet? Let me know your top tips and words of despair/encouragement in the comments!