10/09/2012 12:38 EDT | Updated 12/09/2012 05:12 EST

Let Them Eat Meat! A Quick-Start Guide to Baby-Led Weaning


If there's one thing I've learned from parenthood, it's never say "never."

And so it was with baby-led weaning. I was nursing my then eight-month-old who -- until that point -- was an ardent breastfeeder and had been gobbling up baby mush for two months with gusto. Then he started biting me; when he drew blood one morning, I called La Leche League for advice. That is, after I put about a pound of Lasinoh on my mangled nipple.

"Are you letting him feed himself?" the breastfeeding guru asked.

"Uh, no -- he's only eight months old. I'm feeding him with a spoon," I retorted, eyes rolling.

She went on to explain that babies should breastfeed first, then feed themselves. That he was probably filling up with too many solids and was biting me to tell me that he simply couldn't fit anything more in his belly. Do away with the baby cereals and purees, she insisted. Give him "real" food -- right from my plate, she said. If he can pick it up and eat it, he can have it. Otherwise, let him be. Let him fill up on mama's milk, she assured me.

I remember phoning a friend shortly after, and laughing. The ridiculousness of a tiny baby feeding himself was pure comedy. Aside from that, what child wouldn't want the lovingly homemade organic butternut squash and Fuji apple puree set before him, fed spoonful by spoonful by his doting mommy?

But when the biting continued and I found myself dreading the nursing hour, I surrendered. I surrendered to the idea that maybe -- just maybe -- I was giving him too much food, even though force-feeding was certainly not on the agenda. I didn't stop the mush, but I did cut back dramatically. Just like that, the biting stopped. And breastfeeding became enjoyable again. He self-weaned, happily and easily, at 14 months old.

His sister, on the other hand, would have nothing to do with solids. I tried rice, barley, oatmeal. I tried sweet potato, carrots and other sweet veggies that were my son's first favourites. I could barely get a spoon into her mouth. After two weeks of this, I felt like a failure, my daughter was frustrated and my son was all but ignored at every meal. So I did what any other Type A mom would do: I turned to Google.

Search: "My six-month-old will not eat solids." Try it. You'll get about 13.5 million results. Like all things motherhood, I was not alone.

I don't recall how many pages upon pages I looked at before stumbling across baby-led weaning (more frequently called BLW by insiders). I think I read the bulk of the site in one sitting. I was fascinated, and yet it didn't dawn on me until months later that this was precisely what that La Leche League leader had suggested so many years before. It just lacked a fancy name.

BLW in a nutshell: Baby starts eating once she can sit up unsupported and pick up her own food and put it into her mouth unassisted -- generally sometime between six and eight months old. Let's say you make steak, carrots and broccoli for dinner. Instead of using your Baby Bullet to churn it into an indiscernible paste, you'd cut the (unsalted) steak and (steamed or roasted) carrots into into finger-sized strips, take a few single stalks of steamed broccoli and place it all on your baby's tray.

Now, you eat your dinner. You enjoy conversation with your partner. You ask your older child about his school day. Your baby may or may not eat. She may inspect her dinner; she may whip it clear across the room (just for fun, not because your cooking stinks). She may surprise you and demolish four stalks of broccoli in 30 seconds flat.

You're now part of the BLW movement. Easy as that.

But what about the choking? This is definitely the No. 1 question people ask me when we talk BLW. I'm not kidding when I say I read Gill Rapley's chapter on choking vs. gagging at least seven times. It freaked me out, too, and I could hardly believe that a baby's gag reflex is actually nowhere near his airway in the first year of life. So when you see your baby cough up a piece of food, there was probably no real choking danger. That said, I never left my daughter's side in those first few months of BLW.

And, let me tell you, she did a lot of gagging. Yet every time, out came the food and she would smile and continue eating. It was hard to watch at first, but I learned to trust her biology. And she was never frustrated with food again. She seemed to love the independence, and I know I loved the independence BLW gave me. I could enjoy every meal alongside everyone else at the table, no longer the last to eat because I'd spent the bulk of mealtime spoon-feeding. It was common sense -- and it was liberating.

With Health Canada's latest recommendation that iron-rich goodies like beef and eggs can be among baby's first foods, I think this is a great opportunity for parents to consider BLW.

The most important part of practicing BLW is that everyone caring for your child is on board with the idea. So, talk about it. Read about it. Scroll through the hundreds (perhaps thousands) of YouTube videos showing babies of all ages enjoying real food with their own hands. Because the biggest hurdle is your own confidence, and if you see -- again -- that you're not alone, and you feel empowered to give BLW a try, it might just change your life. Or, at least your lunch.