My game plan as a new parent is to always be ready. Maybe that's unrealistic, maybe it's downright silly, but it's the only plan I've got.
So I definitely wanted to be ready when my daughter started eating solids. That was supposed to go down when she was 6 months old.
In preparation of this milestone, I looked around online to see how it should all play out, and I came across this thing called baby-led weaning.
If you’re not familiar with BLW, it basically means you skip the purées and give your child finger foods, which they essentially feed themselves. That’s right—they pick up the food, put it in their mouth, chew and swallow, and you can basically sit back, enjoy a nice glass of wine and read a magazine.
I got very excited about this option, mainly because it seemed like a great way of approaching solids that would allow my daughter to explore textures and flavors with a little bit of independence.
When I asked around, it turned out I had several friends who were doing BLW. I invited myself over to their houses and watched in awe as their kids sat in their highchairs and devoured everything from broccoli florets to apples.
We have to do that, I thought.
So I went ahead and got my boyfriend onboard and did all of the typical preparation: I bought the official books on Amazon and I watched half a dozen videos on YouTube, in which babies ate incredibly daunting things like whole carrots, steak and green bean casserole.
I was getting increasingly excited.
We were visiting my parents in Florida when Skyler turned 6 months old, and to prepare for the first official non-breastmilk meal, my mom went out and bought several jars of baby food for her to try.
“Mom,” I said, picking up the jars and scoffing at them, “Purées are so yesterday and spoon-feeding is totally outdated. Everybody’s doing baby-led weaning. We’re going to skip right to table food.”
“Do you really think that’s a good idea? You have to liquefy everything for babies at this age,” she told me. Oh my mom, so old-fashioned, I thought.
But as the moment of truth drew closer, I started to panic. What if my mom was right, like she usually is? What is Sky gagged or, worse yet, what if she choked? Last time I checked she had a total of zero teeth. Would she really be able to mash the food with her gums? How would she know what to do? What if I gave her a piece of food that was too big?
“Well, maybe we’ll give her the purées now, since you already bought them, and when we get home we’ll start BLW,” I said.
But a funny thing happened when we got home. I continued to put BLW off. One day, then one week, then one month.
I thought about doing it all the time. Once I steamed small pieces of carrot until they were soft and I put them in front of her. She contemplated them and, when she finally reached for one, I whisked them our of her reach. “Let me just throw that in the blender sweetie!” I told her, and voila! Carrot purée.
Another day I set aside some of our rotisserie chicken. I cut it up into small pieces and the meat was juicy and tender—perfect for mashing with her tiny gums. And yet, as she picked up the first piece and brought it to her lips, I ripped it from her hands and popped all of it in the blender—just to be sure.
So, long story short: I completely chickened out.
Then, like the first-time mom that I am, I started to worry.
I worried about the potential effects of not doing baby-led weaning. She’ll never learn to chew, I thought. I’ll be spoon-feeding her for the rest of her life, I worried. I’ve ruined our baby, I confessed to my boyfriend.
My friend’s babies had mastered the art of eating with BLW and had moved on to cutting their filet mignon with knives and forks, while Skyler and I remained slaves to the spoon.
But a funny thing happened when she turned one.
She was sitting on my lap during a meal and she reached for a strawberry. My boyfriend, who is considerably more chill than I am, gave it to her.
At first she carefully took a few small bites and then, without hesitation, she stuffed the entire thing in her mouth. I sat there, frozen in a silent panic to see what would happen. Should I call 911 now? Am I going to have to perform the Heimlich maneuver? I held my breath as her little cheeks puffed out to accommodate the giant piece of fruit.
But she simply chewed and swallowed, and then reached for another one.
Now she eats all kinds of foods by herself: scrambled eggs, blueberries, fish—you name it. Turns out I didn’t ruin her. Maybe I overreacted, maybe I didn’t. Or maybe baby-led weaning just isn’t for everyone.