To puree or not to puree? Pt.1

Weaning was a big thing for me. I was really nervous, over whelmed and undecided about the whole thing. I heard and read so much conflicting advice I couldn’t decide which route to go down. Do I wait until Oscar’s corrected age is 6 months or go ahead when his actual age is 6 months? Do I wait until the exact day Oscar turns 6 months or whenever is convenient around the time? Do I choose baby led weaning and skip the purees, do I do a mixture of both or do I start with purees and only purees? 

The conflicting advice I had heard that worried me the most, was that ‘strict’ baby led weaning was to give your baby exactly what you were eating. What if I was eating a bowl of blueberries (choking hazard), cherries (choking hazard), pitted olives (choking hazard) a rare steak with blue cheese sauce and a runny egg. There HAD to be a limit and I was desperate for some ground rules instead of just ‘give your baby the same as you apart from honey’.

I went to a BLW (baby led weaning) class at my local Children’s centre which was really helpful and also read the ‘bible’ of BLW, the Baby Led Weaning book. At the class they gave us some great ground rules. Until the baby is 8-9 months avoid foods like blueberries that could get stuck in their throat. At the same age a baby develops the pincer grip at this age, their oesophagus size increases and blueberries are no longer a choking hazard. Thus, if they are able to pick up the blueberry they are able to eat the blueberry. Until then, smush the blueberry so that it is flat, cut it or bake with it.

The rules I have heard and follow are: No honey for under 1s, All food must be cooked well done until the age of 5 (eggs, meat) no whole nuts (choking hazard) under age 5.

I also follow the food rules I used when I was pregnant just because most of them I wouldn’t want to offer him anyway, but if they run risks while pregnant I’d rather avoid them. So - No mouldy cheese. No undercooked meat. No pate or cured meats (Parma ham/Chorizo). Eggs must have Red Lion Stamp. Not too much tuna in a week.

A lot of the BLW Facebook groups have really aggressive and angry admins. I remember reading someone comment their little one having veg and sweet potato mash and the admin went crazy saying the baby must have exactly what you are having so the fish/meat the adults were having the baby must have. Their reason for this was so that the baby can watch how you eat and learn. 

I think this is utter crap and through my experience can confirm it is utter crap, for a number of reasons. Reason number 1- I am eating my meal with a knife and fork therefore Oscar cannot mirror what I am doing as he is eating with his hands. It would make sense in the sense that if I was eating a carrot stick with hummus on the end, he could watch me hold it and eat it. But I rarely eat sit down meals with my hands.

Reason number 2 - It would be impossible for me to eat at the same pace as him and therefore be eating the same food as him throughout the meal, i.e. if I am chewing a piece of steak and am cutting it up into small slices and chewing, but then use my fork to eat mash potato and scoop it into my mouth. How would Oscar be able to exactly mirror this, he may take 5 minutes to chew the steak. What is the point in having exactly the same on my plate if he cannot keep up with me, I’m not going to show him how to chew steak until he chews and swallows his - and then we both move onto our mash - ridiculous. 

Another passive aggressive admin trait that I have found on the Baby Led Weaning Facebook groups is that if you do any form of puree it is not Baby Led Weaning - it is then just ‘traditional weaning’. I also think this is utter crap. A BLW baby can have yoghurt, apple sauce, soup, using a spoon, so long as the spoon is ‘preloaded’ and left on the tray. 

For me, I didn’t see the difference in yoghurt or a puree. Throughout our meal times I have given Oscar the spoon. But have put anything and everything on the end of that spoon. Whether it be an Ella’s kitchen puree or a teaspoon of Greek yoghurt. I got way too wrapped up in ‘how bad purees are’ and that they can apparently cause babies to be obese because they don’t learn to stop when they’re full as opposed to BLW when they decide when they’re full. I actually started to look down on purees and couldn't believe if someone I followed on YouTube were using them or a friend was telling me about using them, I just got so overwhelmed with people commenting on the BLW Facebook Groups at how ‘bad’ they were that I became really cynical of them. I hadn’t even weaned my child- or any child, how could I have such a strong opinion.

At the BLW group at my local children’s centre, it was a week before Oscar turned 6 months. I was pretty confident in my choice to do only BLW and no purees. One of the Mums sat next to me had started her baby before 6 months and was feeding him from a pouch and was telling me how its fine to do both. At the time, I couldn’t believe was I was hearing and was taking no notice (lol). The ladies who were doing the course were an array of nurses and health visitors from the NHS so I felt really confident with them there and asked about a thousand questions. 

I told the ladies that we were waiting till next week to give Oscar solids and that it was going to be Father’s day so we were going to have either a healthy cooked breakfast and eat with him or have a roast dinner in the afternoon and eat with him, but that I was really anxious to do so. 

So, they told me that nothing happens over night when your baby turns 6 months, so if he’s able to sit sturdily in a highchair and is around 6 months he will be fine. I told them about him being 5 weeks early and they explained that the stomach starts to mature the second it begins digesting breastmilk and so that his stomach was 6 months old and ready for solids and that there was no need to wait till he ought to have been 6 months old, five weeks later.

They had put out about 20 low level highchairs and we were all sat on the carpet and then came round with trays of sliced peppers, slices of orange, celery sticks and cucumber sticks.

I decided therefore, that even though it was going to be really special trying foods together that with all these nurses around and me being terrified of gagging and choking, that I would start him on solids there and then. I felt way more safe and able to ask any questions, plus, have someone who knew first aid nearby, as opposed to it just being me and Luke in our kitchen having no idea what we’re doing! 

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With what I know now, after having weaned Oscar for a good few months, is that those types of foods are more foods that they would just gum and use to get used to holding at that age. I definitely wouldn’t expect them to bite, chew and digest any of it at 6 months with no teeth. But at the time, I didn’t know that. I then felt really underwhelmed at how it wasn’t really a meal time, as nothing was going in or down. I got home and tried some more food with him while Luke was with me, and again he just bit the food and wasn’t really interested. I then started to get into a real panic that he wasn’t going to eat anything for months and that he needed all the extra nutrients he could get because he was premature. 

From being the most uptight, stick up my arse, BLW advocate, I had turned into a panic pants and went out and bought purees. How hypocritical! I must’ve looked like such an arsehole. What I didn’t realise, was that the foods I was offering him, in my head I thought would be good because they were sturdy and easy to hold, but that meant they were really hard and difficult to chew. Had I started with toast, or avocado, banana… something a little softer, although more difficult to hold, I would’ve seen him actually chew and eat a lot more.

For the first few weeks we did a mixture of purees and finger foods (This is actually what the NHS recommends). I told myself it was still BLW as I was putting puree on the spoon and holding it in front of his face for him to grab and feed himself. I know a lot of people wouldn’t have persevered with this as it made so much mess, but I knew it was a learning curve and that for him to learn we had to practice, so was fully on board with all the mess. 

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The mess - oh boy, the mess - I have to say, at the start of weaning your child I wouldn't recommend spending much time cooking beautiful meals, as they all end up on the floor more or less. (Pictured below is Oscar after having had an Ella's kitchen Spag Bol)

It’s so disheartening when you feel like they’ve eaten quite a lot and then you’re able to fill an entire dustpan with food on the floor. But don’t worry, it slowly (very slowly) gets better and when they have a meal they really like (cottage pie/fish pie are some of Oscar’s favourites he would lick the plate clean if he could) they won’t waste a drop. With BLW you have to sit with your baby at all times so that you can make sure they aren't choking, which is a good way of also trying to minimise what’s about to be dropped. I have since weaning, become a ninja at grabbing food he drops before it hits the ground. For me personally, we have laminate flooring so anything that does get dropped I wont put back on the tray, but if you have carpet or just have OCD and put a mat or shower curtain down every time they eat I guess you could put back up whatever gets dropped but its personal preference, I have two dogs so I just know my floors are filthy. 

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The most difficult thing for me when I started to wean Oscar was the timings. I felt like I had just got to grips with a schedule of breastfeeding, naps and playtime. Which then all got turned upside down by trying to fit in a meal. Even one meal felt challenging. 

Until a baby is one, milk (whether it be formula, or breastmilk) must be their main source of nutrition so as much as possible you have to feed your baby milk, and then wait 30-45 minutes before you feed them any food. This way, they’re filling up on milk (the best goodness for them) and topping themselves up with food. It would be no good, and no surprise, to feed a baby a burger and chips first and then say, oh, they wont drink their bottle. It just doesn’t work that way. But this was a tricky window for a six month old, you basically had a two hour window where they would be happy and any longer they need a nap again. Which meant you fed them when they wake up from a nap, wait 30-45 minutes and then have to cook or prepare whatever you’re going to give them, wait for it to cool, and then feed it to them, which leaves about ten minutes spare until they have a meltdown because they’re over tired. In the beginning there were a few meal times where he was just not playing ball and I knew there was no point trying to cheer him up or distract him to get him to eat, I just had to pack up and get him to bed. Which most of the time meant I had to pick up a crying baby covered in tomato sauce and yoghurt and cover myself in exactly the same. Oscar has had a few naps covered in whatever he was eating because I simply couldn’t bare to put him through being wiped and changed because he was so miserable. 

The gagging was very scary to begin with. “Loud and Red - let them go ahead, Silent and Blue, they need you” basically means if your baby is coughing and going red in the face, because they are able to cough it means their airway isn’t blocked as they are getting enough oxygen to speak effectively and enough blood to go red in the face, so the only time you need to worry is when they are silent, unable to cough and blue in the face. Statistically, there is the same chance of gagging with purees as there is solid foods, which I can totally vouch for as Oscar gagged with both. I won’t go into detail as I’m not a scientist but from what I’ve read, it totally makes sense… the gag reflex is higher up and far more sensitive at 6 months, so its better for a 6 month old to learn to move solids round their mouth while their body has a really low threshold for what can get past their gag reflex. For example, if a baby takes a bite of food that is too big or their body isn't used to the consistency (bananas and avocado always made him gag more so than other foods as they were quite lumpy) they will gag (which looks terribly scary) and spit the food out. Sometimes they gag so ferociously it can cause them to vomit their previous milk feed up, which can be really really scary and has happened a couple of times, but it’s just Oscar’s body’s way of protecting him. I would say for anyone starting weaning, to watch videos of babies gagging on YouTube (there are hundreds) just to familiarise yourself with what it looks like. If a baby is gagging (which is totally normal and they should be left to it) and you intervene by either patting them on the back or sticking your finger in their mouth to hook the food out, through your actions you could turn gagging into choking, so its really important to know the difference so you can know when to help and when not to. Another point to mention is when your baby is gagging, which will inevitably happen, is to stay calm, this means lots of smiling and encouraging words. This in itself can stop you from getting too worried but is also really important for the baby to have a positive experience while eating. Have you ever had a baby bump their head and look to you for what to do next? If your face crumbles and you rush to them saying, “its ok!” they’re more likely to cry, but if you smile and say ‘ut oh!’ in a happy voice and then distract them, its more likely they’ll forget about it. Same thing with eating, if your face while they're gagging is total panic, they’ll panic too, which could then lead to choking if they’re distracted from ‘working it out’ as they say. 

In terms of foods, cutting foods up and what foods to have, I’m happy to post in another thread my meal ideas, what products I bought that helped (cooking tools, bibs, spoons etc) and general pointers about our journey so far but feel a little worried about giving specific advice on exactly what to give your child, so please do your own research and decide yourself! Am happy to answer any questions but again, can only repeat what I’ve been told or experienced myself which doesn’t make it right. What may be right for my baby, may not be right for yours.