So you’ve decided to start
But then comes time for you to start... and you see your baby totally disinterested or tossing food left and right. And the only one who's super excited is your dog.
Yup. That was us. And I'm here to remind you that what you see on the internet and social media does not paint the whole picture. It is with much passion that I write this post in order to help set realistic expectations when first starting out with
Most importantly, I want to encourage you to be patient and most of all commit to and trust the process!
What is Weaning?
I wanted to briefly talk about this before we dive in because there seems to be a lot of confusion around this term. Understandably so as it's a bit of a misnomer. So if it helps you, rather than
Why is this distinction important? Weaning does not mean you're decreasing your baby's milk intake from the start. Rather, you're ADDING solid foods to your feeding schedule and GRADUALLY replacing breastfeeding and/or formula with these foods.
Not only will breastmilk or formula continue to be your baby's main source of nutrition during the first year, weaning involves a HUGE shift physically, emotionally, and hormonally for both you and your baby. So please do take the gentle, slow approach.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends feeding infants only breastmilk or formula for the first 6 months of life. Furthermore, AAP recommends continuing to offer breastmilk/formula in combination with solids foods until the infant is at least 1 year old. The World Health Organization recommends breast milk until at least the age of two.
Once complementary foods are introduced, you may notice that your baby wants to breastfeed less, that is if you have a baby who’s very eager to eat from the start. In this case, you should actively encourage breastfeeding to sustain breastmilk intake as well as your supply.
Once your baby starts to have solid foods consistently, the milk feeds will naturally become shorter and less frequent over time. By the end of the first year, it’s likely that the feeds will drop to 2-3 feeds per day.
At this point, don’t feel pressured to stop breastfeeding. It is your personal choice so do what feels right for you and your child.
To briefly share my personal weaning journey, my fertility doctor suggested that I stop nursing after 12 months. So I worked REALLY hard for several months to build up my milk freezer stash.
And I gradually replaced my nursing sessions with breastmilk smoothies. Why smoothies? My son absolutely refused to drink milk from a cup, and it was absolutely devastating to see liquid gold go down the drain. But through experimentation, I found that he'd drink it as a smoothie! Hallelujah!
Once he got accustomed to it, I gradually offered the milk plain. After about 4 months is when I ran out of my freezer stash. Perhaps this may be an option for you if you find yourself in the same boat as I was!
To summarize all this, what is the ultimate goal of weaning? That by one year of age your baby will be eating what the rest of the family is eating with slight modifications.
Keep your expectations in check
I get so many messages from parents telling me that they tried
Your baby may love self-feeding right from the start (lucky you!) or may find playing with and throwing food around more enjoyable (yup, that was us). And I remember feeling so discouraged and confused. I immediately thought, "what am I doing wrong?"
Before you start being hard on yourself, let's take a step back and consider the situation through the lens of your baby who has solely been drinking milk up to this point.
They have absolutely NO idea what to do with the food that’s presented to them not to mention it requires much hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.
Grabbing the food, bringing it to the mouth, opening and closing the mouth, sucking, gumming, swallowing...whew! That's a lot of work for these little guys. I’m chuckling right now as I clearly recall how I used to get super frustrated and would scream inside “just pick up the darn food!”
Also, expect lots of throwing. It's what they do best at this age because of the lack of control of their arms and hands. It doesn't necessarily mean that they don't like the food.
Despite all these challenges that your baby has to overcome, the food actually made it into their mouth! Hooray.....oh wait....your baby starts to shudder, gag, or even cry! This also doesn't mean that they don't like it. It's because solid food feels so new and unfamiliar.
Again, let’s not forget that self-feeding is a new skill that they NEED to learn, and it’s our job to provide them with PLENTY of opportunities to practice. So don't stop offering food. Keep marching forward!
For us, it wasn’t until about 2-3 weeks into starting our journey that food actually started making its way into his tummy. I feel you. It’s discouraging and makes you question everything that you’re doing.
But please please, stick with it! Be consistent and persistent. And remember. Breastmilk or formula will continue to be their primary nutrition during this transition time.
All this to say - Whatever you do, don’t give up too early!
Choking vs. Gagging
Choking...this is probably one of our greatest fears when it comes to introducing solid food, right? It IS downright frightening to think about!
And I believe what I’m about to share with you will really help put your mind at ease. First, it’s important to know that there’s a great distinction between choking and gagging.
Gagging is quite a common occurrence due to the gag reflex being far forward in younger babies. It is a good thing as it serves as a safety mechanism to prevent choking. Again, gagging is a normal and expected part of learning to chew and swallow. Here's a video of C gagging.
When a baby is gagging, they may cough, make audible noises, go red in the face, have watery eyes, or have a look of discomfort. Although frightening for the parents to watch, the babies aren’t actually bothered much by this.
You can lean your baby slightly forward but don’t try to fish out the food from the baby’s mouth with your finger. You may actually end up pushing the food further back!
The biggest piece of advice I want to give you is this - Whatever you do, don't let your child sense your fear. This is the time to put your best face forward and fake it till you make it! Stay as cool as a cucumber, smile, and encourage them to work through it.
On the other hand, choking occurs when food obstructs the airway and will look drastically different from gagging. It’s unlikely the baby will make audible sounds, but you will see it.
Your baby may gasp for breath,
If all the safe self-feeding practices are in place, including making sure
Regardless, it’s highly advised for the parents to take the infant CPR course.
How to start Baby Led Weaning
What to do
- Make sure your baby is developmentally READY to start solids! As with all milestones, this involves watching our baby, not the calendar. If you're confused by all the conflicting information out there, grab this FREE handout! It includes everything you need to ensure you start introducing food at the most optimal time.
- Pick a day that best suits you and your baby and a time of day when you are both relaxed and not on a time crunch.
- Make sure your baby is sitting upright before you begin.
- Make sure your baby is comfortable. Full diapers, pain due to teething or other illnesses (e.g. sore throat or ear pain, constipation, etc.) can all hinder your child from eating.
- Sit on your hands! This is what I had to do to stop myself from trying to clean up or prevent the mess from happening.
- Start with just one meal a day. You can decide the time of the day depending on when your baby seems most interested in food.
- Offer foods that are the appropriate size and texture.
- Eat with your baby! They learn primarily by example so show them how eating is done 😉
- Practice responsive feeding!
- Let your child get messy! Playing, smearing, smushing...they are a HUGE part of learning to self-feed. More on this below.
Oh the mess!
There’s just no way around it. Things are going to get messy. Re~~ally messy. While it’s not so fun to witness, handling pieces of food is an important part of this whole process.
It helps babies understand size and texture, which helps them to learn how it’s going to feel inside their mouths.
Oftentimes, it may just look like sensory play, but rest assured that every exposure counts! And exposure is important. So important!
The earlier you can expose your baby to as many colorful, nutritious, and full-flavored foods and textures as possible, the greater the likelihood that they’ll try and accept new foods later in life.
The good news is, this messy stage won’t last forever. As your child develops her motor skills and dexterity, things will start to look up! The temptation is SO great to wipe their face at every second. Don’t. "Let it go let it go” (humming along to the Frozen soundtrack)
For your sanity, here are some baby led weaning must-haves!
Keep in mind, every child is different. Some may walk at 10 months, some at 18 months (yup, this was us!). Some will start talking at 12 months, some at 25 months (this was us too!).
For us, it turned out that starting solids was as much of
But just as he was gaining confidence in his self-feeding abilities and
Don't give up!
I've mentioned this throughout the post, but it deserves its own section because so many parents throw in the towel too soon. While it may seem like no progress is being made, your baby is processing and learning with EACH and EVERY exposure to food!
Also, expect your baby to make a lot of funny faces. Totally normal and to be expected.
In an experiment, the researchers recorded the facial expressions of babies tasting green beans for the first time, and here's what they found:
- 95% of the babies squinted
- 82% wiggled their brows
- 76% raised their upper lips
- 42% wrinkled their noses
These are all expressions of dislike/disgust. BUT the study also showed that they overcame their initial dislike for green beans through constant EXPOSURE!
There's strong evidence that it may take up to 8-10 days of repeated, daily exposure for babies to start accepting
Again, I want to encourage you to stay the course! Keep offering and keep playing the exposure game hard!
Listen to your gut
There will be babies who just won't eat because of actual feeding issues. There may be swallowing issues, oral-motor or sensory problems, food allergies, or digestive difficulties.
If you suspect that something just isn't right, act on your intuition. It never hurts to seek professional help!
In need of soft-textured, finger-friendly, veggie-forward recipes that are easy to prepare and freezer-friendly? Check out my first 1st
Baby Led Feeding Journey Program
Do you want to minimize picky eating and set a solid foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits?
Check out this 3 month mastering self-feeding program! It’s the closest thing to me being in your kitchen
After thinking long and hard about how I can make your weaning journey as easy, safe, and enjoyable as possible, I’ve decided to create the ULTIMATE resource for your baby’s eating journey for the first 3 months.
This program is complete with cooking videos, pics and videos of baby’s plate, and videos of my baby eating to help give you the confidence and reassurance that YES! your baby is capable of handling everything you’re about to serve. In this resource I’m walking you through everything you need to know about feeding for the first three months.
It's exactly what I used to wean my daughter! OH I can not WAIT for you to get in the kitchen with me and have fun learning and exploring this incredible world of food with your baby!