• Thu, Jan 30 - 3:00 pm ET

‘Baby Led Weaning’ Is Not For Me, Because Choking

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Baby-led weaning – have you heard of it? In this country, it generally means allowing a breastfed baby to decide when it’s time to wean off the boob. Apparently in Britain, it means something different, as explained by a NYT Motherlode blog I read a few days ago titled, Trusting A Baby To Know How To Eat. I’m not trusting my baby to know how to eat. I barely trust adults to know how to eat.

Search American parenting sites for “baby-led weaning” and most of what you’ll find is advice on ending breastfeeding when the child chooses. But here in Britain, the term commonly means letting babies feed themselves from their very first mouthful of solid food at six months. No runny rice cereal, no applesauce, no airplane spoon games. Instead they start exclusively on easy-to-grab finger foods like steamed carrot sticks, hunks of banana, and even skinless chicken drumsticks, then progress at their own pace to more complex dishes.

When I see someone shove a giant bite of steak in their mouth, I start mentally preparing myself to perform the heimlich. I’m not kidding. Is that normal? I don’t think it is. This is why baby-led weaning could never happen in my house – I generally just don’t trust others to know how to effectively swallow things without getting them stuck in their gullets.

I like the first stages of mushy foods; they comfort me. I become a total wreck when I have to start figuring out how big to cut things and how much to cook them. It makes me so nervous. I could never hand my six-month-old a banana without breaking out in a cold sweat. According to the comments on the NYT piece, I’m in the minority:

BLW is great — good for you. My 7-month old loves gnawing on drumsticks (with skin!), ribs and even lamb shanks. Great food, great fun.

There is a broader lesson here. Better than learning from some trendy feeding class, learn from Maria Montessori, who told parents to “follow the child” and said: “Never help a child with a task at which he feels he can succeed.”

I am a chef and both of my kids were allowed to try anything that they showed a curiosity for. Within a couple of weeks, they would refuse to eat store bought baby food. At 5 months, my son was sent into raptures at his first taste of Oaxocan black mole.

Oh my. I like to ease myself into being ready to feed my child larger chunks of food, instead of going right from boobs to ribs. Once we get to the stage when she’s ready for larger pieces, we won’t refer to it as “baby-led weaning” in my house. We’ll use this fancy term you may have heard before:

EATING.

(photo: Getty Images)

You can reach this post's author, Maria Guido, on twitter.
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  • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

    They call it baby led weaning in Canada too, the whole feed your baby normal food thing.
    And I can’t do it either. It’s damn hell ass messy. I’ve given my 9-month-old son finger foods like Baby Mum-Mums and Cheerios to eat as practice, but otherwise I really just want the calories in his body without having to discern how much got smeared everywhere and on the floor vs how much he actually ate.
    Plus, he has a sensitive gag reflex and is slow to warm to food generally. It’s just not flying my house. And choking concerns me too. It ain’t for everybody (But don’t tell the enthusiasts this).

    • Véronique Houde

      my sister sometimes did this and it was a lot of stress – especially for her husband!!! Seeing her gagging A LOT, and having a hard time without teeth… And there was that one time where my sister gave her a harder cookie, thinking maybe she was ready for it, and then my niece choked and my sister had to do the heimlich. Then, she kind of backed off from the BLW!

      I did a little bit of it with uber mushy foods, but only when my daughter was like 8 months old and had teeth.

    • Bethany Ramos

      Your whole story confirmed my NOPE.

    • Véronique Houde

      I love how someone downvoted a true story lol. What, do you think I’m lying about it? lolz

    • Bethany Ramos

      Hahaha

    • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

      To add onto my comment, this evening I fed my son some minced beef spaghetti sauce. Too lumpy. Vomit everywhere.
      Also, he learned to clap today, and while he was crying and covered in puke, that’s what he did. Sometimes you don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

    • Harriet Meadow

      So far my son has gagged until he puked on every piece of “normal” food I’ve tried to give him (scrambled eggs, really soft pieces of shredded chicken, etc.). So I’m with Bethany on the NOPE.

    • http://wtfihaveakid.blogspot.ca/ jendra_berri

      I’m not alone :D

  • Lilly

    I basically did this and didn’t have any chocking issues and the saving grace of it all is that I didn’t have to buy or make baby food.

  • Danielle Marie

    There’s a name for it here too, but I can’t remember it. I had a mommy tell me about it when I was her nanny. She asked my opinion. I was all for letting the baby learn to feed herself. Cheerios, peas, tiny things like that. But the baby was also almost a year old. Big difference. She could grab small things and eat them and didn’t need assistance. But there was never anything big or hard or chokeable on the table for her. Who gives their baby a chicken drumstick??? Insane.

    • Natasha B

      We did, at 6/7 mos. They gnawed on it quiet happily :)

    • Jenna Nieves

      I could see a baby choking on peas before they would choke from gnawing on a chicken drumstick.

    • Danielle Marie

      The peas are tiny and slide right down. I wouldn’t worry about a baby choking on a chicken bone. They’re too big to fit entirely in heir mouth. It’s just, it’s a baby gnawing on a drumstick. Why would a baby ever need a drumstick? That’s way too much food. Maybe just sucking on it for the flavor but a whole drumstick is a bit much for such a tiny tummy.

    • Rachel Sea

      Nah, drumstick meat comes apart really nicely, and isn’t dry so it doesn’t catch in their throats. You should never leave a baby unattended with one, and you should pry off the cartilage caps before they get to them, but as long as you are mindful it’s fine.

    • Harriet Meadow

      I’ve always heard it called “baby led weaning” in America. I didn’t realize it was a British thing. Oh, and as far as actually implementing it goes, i would love to, but my (9-month-old) son gags himself until he pukes if he tries to eat something that’s not a puree. He’s just now getting the hang of those easy-melt puffs. So I think I’ll wait a little longer before I start giving him drumsticks… But hey, whatever works!

  • GG

    Baby-led weaning seems to be sort a status symbol for some people. As in, “I can afford to let my baby throw multiple handfuls of organic kale on the floor!” It is a HUGE waste of food – so, so much of it ends up on the floor. I just can’t justify it.

    • etbmm

      lol I don’t know… I always thought it was a way to be cheap – baby eats what we eat, instead of buying jars or special kidlet-versions of food. Then again, I never fed my baby organic kale. It was mostly banana, cheese and toast.

    • Danielle Marie

      My son never are baby food. He ate my food. I would purée chicken breasts or veggies or pasta or whatever I was eating and that’s what he ate. But I never let him just chuck it on the floor. That was something I wasn’t ever going to enjoy watching and, thankfully, he wasn’t a big thrower cuz he was a big eater.

    • Guest

      My experience so far has been that stuff doesn’t end up on the floor, at worst he drops it on the way from tray to mouth and it’s in his lap, He tends now to pick it back up. Giving him only a little at a time helps – he’s hungry, and he wants to eat it (for now, I’m sure this will change in future!)

      I started making the purees myself but quickly got lazy. Then we were buying purees then we were like “this is dumb, just give him food.”

      (Not saying dumb for others, was just our reaction to/for our family.)

    • Danielle Marie

      I felt the same way about jars of baby food. I just couldn’t justify it. When I was a nanny I had 3 babies eating baby food from jars so I get why some ppl do it, but it just wasn’t for me. Too broke and too frazzled to do it! I get the point of the self weaning thing here, but it’s just not for everybody. Certain things you give your kid to eat. Others, you do it yourself. I lived in Alaska and got moose and deer jerky regularly so I have sticks of it to my son when he was teething. My friends thought I was crazy. But he cut his teeth in no time and was happy and drooling all over.

    • Andy

      Jerky for teething actually sounds good-I live in Texas so I have access to good jerky. I remember using frozen celery and banana for my daughter when she was teething.

    • Guest

      ….. putting some really good high quality jerky on the grocery list. Husband and baby will both enjoy that! Thanks for the idea!!!

    • Toaster

      My baby does get organic kale but only because he’s bogarting my smoothies :(

    • Guest

      I hear how it could seem that way. We don’t give the baby really anything we wouldn’t otherwise be buying (so cheaper, since we don’t have to buy $1 per tablespoon baby foods), and I give him a few pieces at a time and more if he eats them. Also believe you me, five second rule if anything ends up on the floor!

    • GG

      That makes sense! I am only going off of my friends doing it who think it is hilarious to post pics of their kid with a pound of shredded cheese all over and gnawing on giant strips of sweet potato that, if I mashed up, would feed my kid for a couple meals. I get what you’re saying though. Five-second rule is wonderful, isn’t it?

  • Guest

    Cool, do feeding the way works best for you!

    We do “baby led weaning” because then I can do the dishes while kiddo feeds himself and he seems really happy about that so it works! And we have two dogs who are more than happy to volunteer as post-feeding mess cleaner uppers. We didn’t set out to do it but we gave it a try and it has turned out easier for us.

    Like with BF and formula, I’m not really into debating “this is better because statistically ….” blah blah. What is better for a family is what works well FOR THAT FAMILY.

    • Natasha B

      I thank my lucky stars every breakfast/lunch/snack time for our dog. I never have to clean the floor.

    • StarHopper

      My dog has been very iffy about the baby, up until he started finger foods. Now she is all about him.

    • ted3553

      I did this mostly I suppose. For me it was a way for me to eat while my little one did. We both sat down and ate at the same time-his was just cut or torn up. I didn’t realize that had an official name, like you said, it just worked for us.

    • Toaster

      Yeah, my 9-month old has been feeding himself since he started solids because a) he really really really likes to and b) I wouldn’t get to eat my own food otherwise, the kid’s a bottomless pit.

  • Shannon

    I did this as well. My son started solids at about 5 months old, he quickly got tired of the baby purees, so I started giving him bits of regular food, (avocado, bananas, rice, shredded cheese etc). He loved it!
    I still watch him very contently as he is eating, but it is a lot easier at dinner time when we can all eat together and I don’t have to fuss about getting food into his mouth.

  • Elisa Probert

    I was flipping though some photo albums a while back. There is one picture in there of my baby sister (10 months at the time, she just turned 28 this week, WHAAAAAT???) gnawing on a t-bone steak. She wasn’t weaned for another year and a half, but apparently that steak smelled too darn good to pass up.

    She didn’t want to give up her bottles though, until she was about 2 1/2 when our landlord’s goat had triplets and died, and the babies needed bottle-raised and they had no bottles. So she graciously gave up her bottles for the baby goats and started drinking from regular cups, since sippy cups are “for babies.” (and bottles weren’t? She was a weird kid)

    • MerlePerle

      That’s so sweet! My daughter gave up her pacifier at that age because her baby cousin would need it now :)

  • Natasha B

    Hey, whatever works. My kids, as babies, always hated jarred baby food/cereal and refused to eat it, so we just started giving them whatever we were eating. It worked pretty well. The youngest especially, she would sit with us at dinner and she KNEW everyone else was having good stuff and was all ‘hand me that rib! Now!’ We obvs watched them very closely, and shredded any meats for them, but they did fine. I didn’t know there was an official term for ‘I am to lazy to prepare my babies/toddlers separate food so eat this BBQ rib you’ll be fine’. I just thought I was taking the easy way out…..

  • Andy

    I don’t think I could do this. My daughter started soft finger foods (scrambled eggs, baby mum mums, yogurt melts) when she was about nine-ten months old, but I made her purees before then. I did start making them chunkier so she could have practice with chewing, but choking scares the hell out of me-probably why I still cut up her grapes and hot dogs, despite the fact that she’s almost four and wants to do everything herself, including chew :p And yes, I think BLW is a status thing with some people-as a second time mom I’m much less active in my local breastfeeding support group (simply put, I don’t have the time!), and a number of moms in it pride themselves on the fact that their babies a. didn’t even start solids until close to a year, and b. fling mass amounts of food on the floor. Not for me, thanks-I’m looking forward to the day that a. I’m not my son’s primary food source, and b. well, my dogs are probably looking forward to the food-flinging stage!

  • Rachel Sea

    I really liked the mesh feeder things when my cousin was first starting solids, but he got whole pieces of food pretty soon after, including chunks of chicken breast, and whole bananas. He was almost 3 before he choked on food (a potato chip), because he was trying to eat and play at the same time. I don’t bother with cutting most food into bite sized pieces until the fork stage, only the major choking hazards like grapes, and sausages.

    • Natasha B

      Those mesh feeder things are lifesavers during teething! Strip baby down, stick in high chair, stuff the feeder with frozen fruit (mine liked blueberries) and relief. Plus at least a solid 30/45 min of quiet. Gold.

  • G.E. Phillips

    I had never heard of BLW when Face was a baby. I did the homemade purees thing for months–A, because I had a ton of guilt over how badly I had failed at breastfeeding him, and B, because I rather enjoyed doing it. I feel like I may have tried the BLW thing if I had known about it, though. Although chicken legs? Yeah, that’s a no.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ilikeswears Dusty

    I’m no expert by any stretch (my baby isn’t even born yet, yo!), but
    I’ve read that choking is less of an issue in babies weened this way
    because they pick up the natural inclination to chew much sooner than
    spoon-fed babies do. My understanding was the learning to chew part is the primary purpose/benefit of blw.

  • Véronique Houde

    You just have to wonder – like with breastfeeding vs. formula, etc… 10 years from now, are you going to be able to tell the BLW kids from the purée kids? I can totally imagine mothers standing around the table watching all the kids eat at a bday party, saying “look at little Jimmy eating his hotdog. I BET you Jimmy’s mom let him eat solids at 6 months – just look at his technique!!”

    I’m not sure it’s worth as much discussion to decide whether it’s “better” that your child chew right away or not. Ultimately, I can imagine that all children end up chewing just as good as each other, no?

    After my niece choked on some food when my sister was doing BLW, I decided it wasn’t for me.

    • http://www.twitter.com/ilikeswears Dusty

      This reminds me of something an older lady friend of mine likes to say: “Call me when you spot a grown man crawling on all fours and crapping his pants because he never learned to walk or use a toilet.” Her motto was something along the lines of “kids figure it out sooner or later, so everybody just relax.”

    • MerlePerle

      A commenter on here a while ago (sarcastically) mentioned that although her kid was an early walker his high school friends all seemed to be just as good at walking! Bummer! ;)

    • Spiderpigmom

      Totally agreed as long as it’s a matter of parenting bragging about who did what earlier. But when something stops being in the realm of normal it should be addressed earlier rather than later. Too many parents of kids showing red flags are advised to “wait it out” (particularly in my home country, where there are no early intervention services).

  • carmar

    I wanted to try BLW but my kid has no interest in it. Zero. He will put everything else he finds in his mouth and chew on it, but the steamed carrots, bananas or avacodos I put in front of him- no way. He stares at me like I’m crazy. Then I give up after 5 minutes and purée it for him and he will eat everything in site.

    • ChickenKira

      Mine plays with it, can get a bit in her mouth, then starts crying with her mouth open, like “put the food in here please”.

  • Ro

    I guess I did this because I was lazy. Basically my reason for most of my parenting choices. It worked well enough.

  • Jayamama

    BLW is supposed to be about less stress, not more. If it would stress you out, it’s not for you. The idea is just to let babies try things that you’re eating, like animals in the wild do. No cow shoves mushy grass into her calf’s mouth. If a baby is not ready to eat a certain food, chances are he doesn’t yet have the coordination to get it there, either. Because babies only eat the foods they’re ready for, there’s statistically LESS choking than babies who were spoon-fed. And big chunks of food are better, like an entire drumstick or half a banana, because the baby can bite off the right amounts themselves. It worked wonderfully for my daughter, and until recently (she just turned two) she was a great eater. It seems she’s hit her picky stage, but she still loves to eat even if it’s the same foods over and over.

    • Véronique Houde

      Well, birds regurgitate in their children’s mouths, so really, we’re just a step more evolved than that ;)

    • Jayamama

      Touche.

    • pineapplegrasss

      I was totally picturing penguins :)

    • KarenMS

      I wish my daughter had the wherewithal to bite off just the right amounts! Give her a banana and she opens her mouth alllll the way, shoves in banana, bites down, then has no room to chew.

      I like that, “If it would stress you out, it’s not for you.” That could go for so many parenting choices. My child’s year of purée only would probably stress other people out the way solids give me heart palpitations.

  • Leash

    Yeah,I never liked the idea of BLW. I just made my own purées until he was about 8-9 months (most of the time I just puréed whatever we were eating) then when I felt he was old enough to feed himself, I started giving him toast and banana. Even then it took him awhile to get the hang of eating toast and cheese without gagging. I was still using a spoon for cereal and yoghurt etc. Just because you start with purées and a spoon doesn’t mean the kid will never feed itself. I haven’t fed my son myself since he was 12 months because he became too independent and it was easier to let him do it himself. I don’t regret using a spoon at all, I didn’t have to worry about choking and he eats pretty much anything now at 2 years old. I’ll do the same if I have any more kids.

  • footnotegirl

    We kind of had to do baby led feeding because my daughter flat out refused baby foods. Cereals, pureed or mashed anything? No dice. But she was reaching for our food, so at 9 months, we shrugged and just started putting small bits of whatever food we were eating in front of her, as well as plain cheerios. She never gagged or choked on anything. Once she got teeth (she started teething late, didn’t have her first tooth until 11 months) we let the pieces get bigger until she was a pro at chomping them into smaller bits. Our doctor was of the opinion that until 1 year, food other than breast milk or formula is just supplemental at any rate, so we didn’t see a need to force foods she didn’t want to eat on her.

  • phoenix81

    I love Baby Led Weaning. It worked for us, and my guy eats like a champ.

    • phoenix81

      Downvoted because…?

  • KarenMS

    I’m more terrified of the choking than I’ve ever been of anything in my life which is why my 13 month old is only just starting to eat real meals with us now. I had no freaking clue how scary solids were going to be.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Yeah, I don’t imagine these “let the five-month-old eat ALL the foods” people ever consulted, say, a paediatrician. I can’t wait to hear the bitching and moaning when one of these loons kills their kid because they “trust the babby to know how to eat” and don’t realise the poor thing is choking on the gorram rib.

    • Karen Milton

      We did a sort of modified version of this. Shredded cheese, noodles, various (safe sized) chunks of fruit/cooked veggie, soft little meatloafs – all things that were safe but also made of ‘real’ chewable food. She had yogurt and apple sauce in her hair on the regular, but she got some into her own face and that was really the point. I should clarify though, my daughter is one hell of an eater, so we had options. My husband is vegan, so we chose those sorts of protein (lentils, chick peas, stuff like that) while she was still on “in between” foods and she liked that. So, so much easier than making two meals every time.

      We did keep everything in a safe size and I wouldn’t have given her a giant hunk of meat to gnaw on (my parent alarm goes off with that), but the in-between area got her trying lots of things and feeling independent. Sometimes it feels like a parent has to declare parts of their parenting style like it’s a job title. You just make things safe and then let the kid try it out. If they hate it, try it another time. It worked well, but at no point would I have 100% trusted an infant to make her own parameters. It’s just so risky.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Yeah, but you made sure the food was safe for her to eat, instead of just handing it over and walking away. That was pretty much my point — babies need constant supervision, and it didn’t sound (to me) like there was a whole lot of that going on with the Motherlode OP.

    • Karen Milton

      I seriously can’t fathom handing my kid a giant hunk of meat and calling it a day. Meat’s hard to chew for people with molars.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      *snrk* What’s the baby supposed to do, gum it into submission?

    • Karen Milton

      Give it a stern talking-to?

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      Oh, I know — stare at it until it mashes itself up!

  • MerlePerle

    My little guy gets his pureed baby stuff, but also feeds himself with bananas, blueberries, bread, pasta. He loves trying out new stuff and I love us eating together as a family. I don’t really follow any parenting technique and so I just wing it with the food, too.

  • Teleute

    You know, basic human judgement plays a part in this as well. You can’t judge the merit of BLW (nor of anything for that matter), by the comments left on an Internet article. Sure, someone could feed their baby lamb shanks and marshmallows or even some of those liqueur-filled chocolate bottles and call it BLW, but the merits of BLW wouldn’t be called into question — just their friggin parenting.

  • Lindsey

    Baby food wasn’t introduced until the 1940s. Before then, it was all baby led weaning and then Gerber was like, we could totes make a ton of money by making these purees. And so they did.

    • ChickenKira

      People still mashed up food and gave it to babies though, or gave them things like broths.
      My Nanna still has a little book of first foods she ate, filled out by her Grandmother, dating back to 1931. Mashed brains, anyone?

  • pineapplegrasss

    First (and only) time in my life I ever had to actually use a true Heimlich maneuver was when my 1st daughter choked at 1yo on something too big that her grandma gave her. Fuck that shit. Even before Gerber started pureeing baby food and packaging it for us, moms just mashed it up.

  • SA

    It is another thing that just boils down to your kid. BLW will work fine for some and not at all for others. I made my own purees and she ate those until she was well over a year old. Some ‘real’ food worked, but it had to be very soft. She is a choker. Still chokes although is handling it much better. I swear I have a cousin that ate steak at 6 months old.

    The thought of baby-led anything scares me a bit. Too many people follow trends without much research or insight into how their particular child will handle it. The whole point of being a parent is to lead your child and teach them things. I’d definitely spend some time watching your child attempt some smaller foods before handing over a chicken leg.

  • http://www.twitter.com/ohladyjayne allisonjayne

    We did it very half-assed. The kid still got purees (sometimes homemade, sometimes from a jar) but we did do some of the BLW stuff too. She (accidentally) got her first taste of real food at 4 months when I was eating curried noodles while wearing her in an ergo carrier and dropped some noodles on her, near her mouth, which she happily slurped up. oops.
    It’s just so funny how this stuff changes all the time. I look at my old baby photos…I was formula-fed because my mom thought breastfeeding caused colic, I had pablum (I think that’s like rice cereal?) at 3 weeks old, and got my first chocolate bar at like 5 months old.

  • ewitatutie

    My baby lost too much weight (not actual loss, but zero gain) doing BLW. I had to start feeding him 3X a day in addition to nursing 6X a day (now down to 4X a day at almost 11 months). It’s good for some, but bad for others. I didn’t want to buy baby food, but he loves nothing more than oatmeal and fruit in the morning – and it’s impossible for a baby to feed themselves that. Give themselves an oatmeal facial, yes. Get enough in their stomachs to constitute a full meal, no.