This is going to be messy.

Let me be clear from the start that I LOVE baby-led weaning and would urge anyone to give it a try. It is fantastically satisfying when your child eats with you and loves something you’ve made. It is also easy in many ways. Mostly I’ve been able to eat with Mini Mck and can even catch up on the odd blog while lunch is happening. However it isn’t always as easy as you might think and certainly doesn’t solve all the challenges that you may  face when weaning your baby. 

Forget baby purées, ice cube trays and weaning spoons and simply let your baby feed himself. Baby-led Weaning is a common sense, easy and enjoyable approach to feeding your child.

That’s what I read on the back of the Baby-Led Weaning book as I excitedly imagined fantastic meals shared with Mini Mck and presented him with some delicious roasted vegetables at around six months. 

It is what I kept in mind as I cleaned the floor and walls for the 5734th time. It is the thing that I muttered under my breath as yet another balanced and nutritious meal was rejected in favour of pork pie and biscuits

I have been amazed at the strong opinions Mini Mck has about food at such a young age and part of me admires his strong will and ability to discriminate between different foods. He has never been a fan of vegetables, except peas and the odd bit of spinach hidden in a quiche or an omelette. Fruit has not been high on his agenda either and chicken is a no-no, however I try to cook it. 

It is only over the past few weeks, at 13 months that we seem to be making progress in some of these areas. Apples, aubergines with tomato sauce, melon, nectarine and radishes have all been accepted recently, much to my relief. 

His capacity for strong or unusual flavours has been a surprise. This is the boy that will reject a tomato or cucumber but will gorge himself on olives, artichokes and chilli con carne.

It can be so disheartening and worrying when he doesn’t eat much at all and we have had days and weeks when this has been the case. It can be frustrating too. For example we went through a stage of having to cut everything into bite size pieces and give them to him gradually. Too fast and it would be dropped straight on the floor, too slow and his familiar “I need more food” noise would be shrieked. Not exactly the relaxing family meal we expected. 

We are going through a bit of a slow patch this week and so as much for me as anyone else I give you my top tips to make Baby-Led Weaning work. 

1) If at first you don’t succeed… Keep trying things every few weeks. Something that is rejected at nine months may be accepted at twelve. We have found this with aubergine topped in tomato sauce, melon, omelette and strawberries. If it is a food that you’ve had no success with before keep your expectations low but just give them another go. Babies taste buds are changing and they are constantly getting used to new tastes and textures which may mean that they are happy to eat stuff that they’ve previously turned down. 

2) Keep things varied but remember your old favourites… When you do find food they love, don’t worry about them eating it too often but do try to keep things varied. We made this mistake with omelettes, which at one point became our saviour, as he would eat little else. I wasn’t too worried as they contained lots of things he needed and I could add cheese and spinach. They were quick to make and easy to take out once cut up. However, we relied on them too much and eventually Mini Mck started to turn his nose up at them. Whilst still a brilliant fall back I try save them for when nothing else is working. 

3) Safety in numbers…I have been really lucky that two friends have done Baby-Led Weaning at the same time as me. So, I’ve had people around who understand what we are doing and are happy to share war stories. If you don’t have that there are some great forums around to help and support you whilst you pick up half eaten grapes off the floor. When Mini Mck was going through his awkward bite size phase My Daddy Cooks’ forum was fantastic simply because others were able to reassure me that they had “been there, done that”.

4) Things are going to get messy… Try to relax about the amount of mess there is going to be. You will feel as if you spend a large part of your life sweeping and washing the floor/wall/highchair but take a deep breath and go with it. As Mini Mck approached 12 months and I still felt we weren’t making progress, I gave him a half empty dish of porridge  to play with while I cleared away, the next thing I knew he was picking porridge out of it with his fingers and helping himself. It was then I realised I was being far to sterile about the whole thing and that he wasn’t going to learn if I didn’t let him get it wrong and make a  mess. I hadn’t given him bowls for fear it would be tipped on the floor and we were making no progress with spoons and forks. I can now give him his food in a bowl and he feeds himself, either with fingers, a spoon or a fork. 

5) And breathe… The most important piece of advice I can give anyone trying Baby-Led Weaning is to RELAAAAAAAX. I love how it has made me relax about Mini Mck’s eating and his relationship with food. I can’t tell exactly how much he’s eaten and can’t make him eat what he doesn’t want. I’ve also seen that he is changing his mind about foods all the time so I’m confident he won’t be a fussy eater. There are lots of things that throw them off track; teething, illness, heat, just not being very hungry and some days they won’t eat much but that seems the same for friends who have weaned in the conventional way.

Baby-led weaning isn’t just about how much or what they eat. It’s about having a meal together, giving them choice about what they eat, making meals a social event. I can confidently take Mini Mck out for a meal and he will happily eat and drink while we order and eat our food. MckDaddy and I can have a conversation at dinner time and Mini Mck will be content to listen and get on with his meal. He can make clear to us what he wants and certainly what he doesn’t want. He is becoming increasingly interested in what we are eating and is keen to try new things. All great things for him to be learning. 

It seems that, as with most parenting challenges, the best way to approach weaning, baby-led or otherwise, is to celebrate the good days and not pay too much attention to the bad days, because there are bound to be some more good days around the corner. 

Mini Mck demonstrating that ‘solo’ yoghurt eating can be messy but extremely fun.

6 thoughts on “This is going to be messy.

  1. You've done so well to be patient and see it through.As you know, we started at six months with purees (I think I felt I needed some level of control when trying to feed two at once). The babies have done really well, and we always gave them finger foods after their purees. My main frustration is that both babies get really really fussy when teething and are a nightmare to feed. They unhelpfully seem to take it in turns to teeth so I've always got one fussy, miserable baby!This last week I've switched to giving them more finger foods as their main food, and I feed them some puree when they want it. I think we all try to find a way that works for us and, most importantly, our babies. I hope I'm getting closer to finding that way, so that mealtimes can start to be less stressful.Sorry for the HUGE comment. I've been planning a blog post on this very subject for while now so have lots to say!

  2. Teething is just the worst thing for food. I think it has been the biggest challenge. As soon as we start making progress it all grinds to a halt and I'm sure it teeth related. We have had a few stressful meals too and still do. In fact they always seem to be when Mckdaddy is out!!If finger foods start to work for you it could be better with two to feed as they can just get on with it. I think I found 9-13 months the most frustrating but I wonder if that about expectations more than anything. Would love that link. Thanks.

  3. I too am taking a baby led weaning approach with my daughter, now 8 months. I found the puree route with my son terribly stressful and totally unsuccessful, he is an incredibly picky 3yo. We are just a few months into Baby led weaning with Baby G and as a family it is one of the best parenting decisions we have made without a doubt. Messy it is but mess cleans up! Always good to find other parents adopting a BLW approach.

  4. Just trying to get my head around what BLW us all about and whether to try it with my little bub. He's nearly five months so not quite there yet. Thanks for these tips and the forum recommendations. Also the teething comments – worth being aware of.

  5. I'm finally, finally commenting on this post that you sent me ages ago and that Kelly at A Place of My Own just also recently re-sent me. I'm doing my own variation of BLW since I am giving LLC some purees but I love your tips in this post, which has really encouraged me to make sure LLC has plenty of her own "hands on" time with food.

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