When I thought about feeding my daughter solids, I always envisioned offering her lovingly prepared homemade purees, served on an adorable baby spoon.

Although I’d heard of baby led weaning, I found the idea of starting my then six-month old (who had no teeth at the time) on finger foods quite intimidating. After all, what if she choked?

However, my plans went awry (as parenting plans often do) when my daughter refused to take purees. And by refused, I mean that if I managed to get a bit of food in her mouth, she would grimace as if I’d fed her something vile and then clamp her mouth firmly shut against any further attempts. Although she was six months old and showing developmental signs of readiness for solids, I thought the timing might be off, so I waited for a few weeks before trying again. But when I resumed, I experienced the same results with every puree we tried—warm, cold, or room temperature, fruits and veggies alike.

In true first-time mom fashion, I began to wonder if she would ever eat solid food or if I would find myself breastfeeding her forever! So I went to a local moms’ group on Facebook to hear the personal experiences of other mothers in the community. And alongside many good tips, several moms shared their positive experiences with baby led weaning. In case you’ve yet to encounter the term, baby led weaning simply means serving baby age appropriate finger foods/table food and allowing baby to feed herself, rather than undergo a parent-led process of feeding baby purees. The term is British, so it does not carry the connotation of weaning away from breastmilk, but simply adding complimentary foods. Common first foods might be wedges of avocado or banana fingers, for example. The baby led weaning site has some great recommendations, and one of the lovely moms in our community allowed me to borrow the Baby Led Weaning Cookbook, which has some excellent guidelines and recipes.

Talking with other moms coupled with my own research assured me that although baby may occasionally gag (an entirely different matter from choking) as he or she learns to control how much food goes in, choking is uncommon.  Armed with this knowledge, but still slightly intimidated, I introduced some soft finger foods to my daughter. Initially, she simply enjoyed playing with them, exploring textures, squishing, and pressing the food to her mouth for little “tastes.” It took a few weeks before she began to eat in earnest, but then she took off. Even without teeth, she could chew surprisingly well and managed her food with a skill that surprised me. We did have one or two gagging incidents, which were terrifying in the moment, but she cleared everything out with ease and though I was poised to intervene, it wasn’t necessary.

Now, at fourteen months old, my daughter eats a wide variety of healthy foods. She still has her strong likes and dislikes, but she’s an adventurous eater, and it has been so much easier to share our meals with her these last eight months rather than prepare separate food. She’s enjoyed the process, and so have we. All in all, baby led weaning has been a delightful journey for us, and one that I’d encourage others to try!

Finally, here are a few things I learned along the way:

  • Supervise eating and use common sense, but don’t be afraid. Learn what to do if baby chokes (which could happen no matter your feeding approach), but know that gagging is actually baby keeping herself from choking. Your baby will most likely surprise you with his or her skills.
  • Be prepared for mess. Baby led weaning will result in food everywhere.
  • Use lots of flavors. Of course, you know your baby best, but I’ve found that my daughter loves food that’s well-seasoned. We omit salt of course, and anything super spicy, but in general, the more flavor, the better!
  • Relax and have fun! Babies under one are getting the nutrition they need from breastmilk (or formula), so the food is just a bonus. Let them enjoy exploring without worrying about how much they are taking in.

Have you considered or done baby led weaning with your children? What did you like/dislike about the process?

This post was graciously contributed by Sarah Nasal.