If you had asked me a few months ago what our plan was for feeding our baby solids, I would have answered without hesitation that we’d be doing baby led weaning. I had no plans to buy purées, we just didn’t need to because he would be eating what we eat. You see, I loved the benefits that can come with this approach. For example, helping to prevent picky eating, and learning to be an independent and confident eater, making life simple with everyone eating the same things etc. Why wouldn’t we go that route?
Now, let’s fast forward to my baby boy being just shy of 6 months and showing all signs of readiness to begin solids. We were ready to start and I was so excited for this new phase. He ate hummus like a champ, scarfing it down. He gummed a piece of steak much to my husband’s delight and also tried several other classic first foods as we got started. And then he took too big of a bite and gagged (pretty significantly) on a piece of zucchini. I wasn’t loving the BLW journey so much anymore.
I knew gagging was normal. You bet I had done all the research! I even knew that gagging was actually GOOD. It meant that his body was protecting his airway while he dealt with that bite. But even knowing this, seeing it made me so anxious. And mealtime became so stressful for me. I could hardly eat my own food because I spent all of mealtime just staring at my son, ready to unlatch the tray and grab him if he began choking. It didn’t seem to matter how much I told myself that he was safe. Or that the gagging was not indicative he was about to choke, that the more he practiced the better he would get. I was simply in a constant state of heightened anxiety every time we sat down to eat.
So what did I do? I knew I couldn’t manage every single meal like this. But I also knew I wanted to keep feeding him solids and that quitting or relying solely on purées at this point didn’t feel right for me either. So I needed to address the anxiety and figure out a way to move through it. Here’s what I did (and am still doing)…
Switched My Approach
First things first, I did the thing I said I wouldn’t and bought some purées. I decided a combo feeding approach might be more for me. So I shrugged my shoulders at my former self that said no way will I need purées and bought a few. While I was settling my nerves I would focus more on the BABY LED aspect of BLW. That even with purées I could let him self feed by scooping or using a preloaded spoon. He’d still be eating independently but I’d feel a bit better. **NOTE: a baby can still gag and even choke on purées so this isn’t a solution in and of itself but it was good for my nerves.
Relied on What Worked
I leaned heavily on foods I knew he tolerated well. By the point that my anxiety became so high, he had enjoyed several foods already. The zucchini incident was about two weeks and at least 10-15 foods into our journey. These foods were mostly softer in texture naturally, and so he had done a good job with them. I put these in a regular rotation so we could keep up with our solids but in a way that felt safer. Some of these foods were avocado, banana, yogurt, oatmeal, hummus and steamed broccoli.
Used the Buddy System
I tried new foods (that were more challenging) only when my husband was home with me. In no way does my husband being there prevent my son from choking. But! Part of my anxiety came from the fact that I was worried I wouldn’t respond well or correctly if my son did choke and needed rescue maneuvers. I do know the rescue maneuvers but I was concerned my anxiety would make me ineffective. Having my husband present when we served new foods allowed me to be calmer and therefore more confident in my baby as well as in my ability to act appropriately if necessary.
Keep Moving…Slow and Steady
I continued trying new foods, working my way up in terms of difficulty/risk. There are still foods I haven’t offered my son because they feel too scary for me as a choking risk. This is still an ongoing journey for me! But there are so many foods I have offered- he’s tried 64 foods total! And as I see him doing well with new foods, it gives me the confidence to let him try something else.
For example, meat has always been a scary food for me to offer because it feels difficult to chew (you know, without any molars to help you out). So I started by giving him salmon- a very soft protein that is easily mashed in the mouth, not to mention so healthy! He absolutely loves salmon and does great taking bites and chewing. So I felt confident in moving to some very tender slow cooked chicken next, and then to ground beef. In this way, I’m trying to view the foods like a ladder, working our way up in the challenge.
Ask the Experts
Next, I used my resources. I mentioned I had done a lot of research before getting started. Well, lucky for me that meant I had a long list of resources to reference. My favorite is the Solid Starts app where I can look up any food I want to serve and get all the details. I can see the safest way to prepare and cut it for my son. It also explains if it’s a choking risk. Anyone could, in theory, choke on any food, at any age BUT there are obviously some higher risk foods. I also joined a couple of facebook groups with other moms on this feeding journey. Reading about and seeing so many kiddos doing well and eating safely has been hugely encouraging.
Am I doing Baby Led Weaning perfectly or exactly by the book? No, definitely not. But, I am letting my son explore lots of new foods and textures at his own pace like I had hoped. I am listening to my mama gut and doing what feels best for my family. I am simply doing my best, which is all any of us can do as mamas. If you’re starting to feed your child solids and it’s scarier than you expected, I want to encourage you! Keep trying, and keep going even if it’s slowly. Figure out what tricks you can try, like the ones I’ve shared, to feel more comfortable on your journey.