We’ve talked about baby led weaning here before but I find it so interesting seeing how different people tackle the whole weaning process. I was firmly in the puree camp but could completely get on board with the whole BLW thing nowadays. It seems much simpler but then I didn’t have to deal with the added stress of baby allergies. I cannot even begin to imagine how hard that must be. I’m happy that today we have Amy here to share her experiences with her son Henry.

When my son, Henry, was five months old he was diagnosed with a dairy and wheat allergy. He had terribly bad eczema and struggled to put on weight. At that point I was exclusively breastfeeding and my own diet was heavily based on toast, pasta, cake and cheese! To keep breastfeeding I needed to completely change my diet, not easy when I was still in the early days of parenthood and struggling to keep on top of the most basic day to day tasks.

When we got started on weaning then his existing symptoms flared up and he experienced lots of tummy problems. More allergies became apparent, expanding to all gluten, eggs and soy, as well as dairy.

At that point I felt knocked for six. I had been so excited about weaning; I’d been told by many friends how brilliant baby-led weaning (BLW) was, I’d read all the books and attended the courses. But now it seemed that it just wouldn’t work for us. BLW is all about skipping the purees, being relaxed and letting babies explore different foods that the rest of the family is eating – how could we adopt that approach when we were constantly battling symptoms and anxious about Henry’s weight gain?

We were advised to stop weaning completely at that point and have a break. I found this bit so hard. Although Henry had been getting lots of symptoms, he had been loving the eating side of things! For the first time I felt left behind the mum friends I’d made, who were all seemingly steaming ahead with increasingly varied and exciting finger foods.

Having a pause turned out to be the best thing we could have done. When we started again at 7 and a half months, with support from a wonderful dietitian, I began to realise I just needed to be patient and introduce food slowly. Henry might not be able to share our meals in the exact BLW tradition, but he could still explore food and have fun with it, even if it was only a steamed stick of butternut squash! I started to realise how the principles of BLW could really help allergy babies, many of whom can develop more general food aversions.

Once we began to build up a list of safe foods, I became determined that Henry would have a varied and interesting diet. It was really difficult at first to think of what meals he could have, but I started becoming more confident in adapting ‘traditional’ BLW favourites like muffins and fritters, and did loads of research to find recipes he could enjoy. Now, at 2 years old, he still has all the allergies he started out with (although his reactions have thankfully become less severe), but he absolutely loves to eat and is really adventurous.

Whether your child has a suspected intolerance or multiple confirmed allergies, here are my top tips for how to make BLW work:

1. Get professional advice, as soon as possible. You can only be confident in weaning your little one if you know what to do if your baby has a reaction. This will vary based on the severity of the allergy and whether it’s an immediate or delayed reaction. Ideally, get a referral from your GP to see a paediatric dietitian. If allergies are suspected but not confirmed then get advice on how and when to safely introduce those foods.

2. Start slow. You don’t need to jump straight into breakfast, lunch and dinner. Start by introducing one new food every 3 days; this is how long a delayed reaction can take to appear. When you know a food is safe you can tick it off your list and then start combining.

3. Avoid processed foods to begin with. When you see a long list of ingredients, warning bells should ring! If your baby reacts, it will be very hard to know what has caused it. This is unfortunately especially true for free-from products which often need a lot of additions to taste good. Henry couldn’t eat free-from bread until he was 1, but I never worked out which ingredient had been disagreeing with him.

4. Protect sensitive skin. All babies can get sore skin when acidic foods like fruit and tomatoes are smeared around their mouths, but allergy babies tend to have especially sensitive skin. Our paediatrician suggested spreading some Bepanthen nappy cream around Henry’s mouth before meals to form a protective barrier, and I found this really helped.

5. Get informed. Read BLW books (my favourites were Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food and The River Cottage Baby & Toddler Cookbook), look at national guidelines on what food is safe, and do a first aid course. This all arms you with the tools you need to be confident in what you are doing and what your baby can cope with.

6. Don’t compare. It might seem that your child is being left behind on the exciting meals front, but try to remember that everyone struggles when feeding their babies and toddlers. Even kids who can eat anything in theory might end up with a restricted diet as babies and toddlers can be so picky (and fickle!).

7. Make life easy. Especially early on, do whatever you can to be kind to yourself. Buy your veg pre-chopped to save time and don’t feel bad about it! When you move onto meals, choose things you can bulk cook and freeze to make the most of your effort.

8. Be flexible. I got into thinking that if you couldn’t wholeheartedly do BLW then you wouldn’t get all the benefits. Needless to say, I was wrong! Many people do a combination and it’s fine. If you are advised for example that your baby needs to have some purees to know much they are getting, then simply combine the two approaches, or wait and add BLW later. You could start off playing with carrot sticks and then follow with a bit of carrot puree.

9. Keep a food diary. Each day make a brief note of what food your child has had and any symptoms. This really is invaluable for looking back at what might have caused a reaction, given that this can happen up to 3 days after eating the food.

10. Take a deep breath and enjoy it. I know from experience that having a baby with allergies means that there are so many difficult emotions mixed up with feeding your baby, especially if they have struggled to gain weight. It’s difficult not to hover over them and try to cajole them into eating one more bite. This will come with time, the most important thing is to give them a chance to explore and play with the food. Remember that your baby will pick up on your emotions, so try to relax. Or do what I did and fake it, until one day you find it’s coming naturally!

I started up my website beyond-broccoli.com to share all the research I did to find suitable recipes and to support other people who are struggling, like we did at the start. All the recipes are free from dairy, gluten, egg and soy. Follow @beyond_broccoli on Instagram for new recipes added each week.