Okay so I don’t actually think people who start baby-led weaning at six months are insane, but holy heck it has not gone well for us. A couple of weeks ago, James had his six month well-baby appointment at the pediatrician’s office and she cleared him to start all the food (except the standard baby no-no foods like whole grapes, nuts, and honey).
Prior to this, James had started to get pretty excited about purees; it took us a while but by six months he was eating fruits, vegetables, and grains of varying thicknesses, practicing drinking out of a cup, and even trying to feed himself with the spoon at times! He was sitting independently, seemed interested in our food, and had definitely lost the tongue thrust reflex from when he was younger.
On the surface, he met all of the pre-requisites for starting baby-led weaning. So the next day, I went to the store and got all kinds of fun first foods for him to try: broccoli, sweet potato, cucumber, banana, avocado, kiwi–all kinds of good stuff. I also got a box of rice husk teethers for him to try because they looked fun and are supposedly good for babies 6+ months who can sit.
Day 1: Broccoli
Well, though some babies may do just fine with finger-length foods to try at six months, James did not. We tried broccoli first because that’s what the rest of us were having with dinner. I was so excited to be able to give him food that was part of the rest of the family’s meal! It felt like such an exciting new step! But my hopes were quickly dashed. I set the broccoli down in front of James, he was super excited about it, which was promising, but when he tried to pick it up, the floret broke apart in his fingers and what didn’t get smeared all over the placemat ended up falling in his lap or onto the floor where the dog happily cleaned up the sad, green remains.
The stalk was too difficult for James to pick up on his own, so I helped him when he started getting frustrated. He was sort of able to chew small bites of the stalk with help, but he didn’t seem thrilled about the flavor and gagged a bit (which is still within the realm of normal and which I was expecting).
Day 2: Cucumber
The next night, the rest of us were having Wagyu beef burgers, baked beans, and salad, and James was having apple-pumpkin-granola puree with a side of cucumber. I thought we could try cucumber since it is a little bit harder than broccoli, so it might be easier for James to pick up and gnaw on without it falling apart. I spent almost an hour looking up pictures of cucumber to serve to six-month olds to make sure I cut it correctly and that it would be a safe food to feed him.
Even as I put the cucumber in front of him, I had a terrible feeling in my gut. “How could it possibly safe to hand my child this giant choking hazard?” Well, it turns out, it wasn’t. After about two minutes of mostly successful gnawing on the cucumber, he managed to dislodge a bite too big and my heart nearly stopped as I saw the silent, open-mouth gasping I had seen in all the baby CPR videos I had watched and had been terrified to ever see in real life. I quickly got up and unbuckled him from his high-chair to start whopping him on the back, and as I did he managed to cough it out. He cried, Daddy and I gave him real big hugs, and I felt like garbage.
Day 3: Kiwi and Rice Rusks
After the cucumber incident, I decided no more foods that wouldn’t naturally disintegrate or mush into a pulp in the baby’s mouth, so I went with some very ripe Sungold Kiwi and some Rice Rusk teethers.
The kiwi was too slippery for him to pick up on his own, and I was too afraid to give him thick pieces, so instead, I held the little slices up to his mouth for him and controlled how big of a bite he could take. This worked pretty well but seemed to defeat the “baby-led” part of baby-led weaning.
The rice rusks were a mostly good idea, except for the fact that our over-eager beaver couldn’t figure out how to take responsibly-sized bites of them and so ended up collapsing into a puddle of tears as giant cracker bits stuck to his lips and the roof of his mouth. I pulled a fifth cracker out of my crying baby’s mouth before I finally said, “Okay, that’s enough for today.”
Day 4: Banana
As one last-ditch effort, I decided to give banana a try because I knew I could cut the peel off part of the banana for him to chew on, but leave part of the peel on so it was easier to hold. I also knew banana was soft and easily mushable. As with all of our other culinary experiments into the BLW foray, it started optimistic-enough, at least insofar as James seemed interested in the banana.
It didn’t take long, though, to realize that we were going to have the same problem with the banana that we had had with the cucumber and the rice-husks: too big of bites. I had read that this was fairly normal and that babies had to experience taking too big of a bite, gag on it, and then learn from the experience to take smaller bites. But James just didn’t seem to be learning and I couldn’t handle another choking scare, so I took my failed experiment to the trash and gave my sweet boy a big hug and told him it was okay.
So that’s it, that’s where we landed. We’re going to take a break from the baby-led weaning for a bit and come back to it again another time–maybe in a week or a month, we’ll see. It was so great to see James get so excited about food, and ultimately, I didn’t want him to lose that excitement from having too many close scares with choking or from getting frustrated with foods he couldn’t pick up on his own. I also didn’t want to diminish the joy he’s getting out of purees by pushing him too far too quickly or take away too much of his autonomy by having to micromanage his eating out of fear.
I’m sure there are tons of people for whom starting solids has been much less traumatizing, but if you’re in the same boat as us, just know it’s okay. Give them little bites of what you can, when you can, especially to expose them to high-allergen foods, try incorporating larger pieces of food when you can, but most of all, just go with what’s working for them. 100% of children go on to eat food (barring a severe medical complication), so there’s really nothing to stress about.