What is Baby Led Weaning (BLW)?
Simply put, baby led weaning is skipping the purees, mashes and spoon feeding and starting with solid foods that your baby eats independently. At around six months old you can begin offering appropriately sized foods and let your baby lead the way in deciding which foods to eat, how much to eat, and when to stop eating.
Baby led weaning simplifies meal time for busy parents by allowing us to share from our meal (provided we are eating something healthy) and save time by not preparing, freezing and storing dozens of purees each week. However, it's not just the convenience that is leading so many parents away from spoon feeding. Baby led weaning offers many other benefits, as well.
Benefits of Baby Led Weaning
- Teaches appetite control and prevents overeating. When your baby is in charge she determines how much to eat and lets her intuition guide her when to stop eating.
- Establishes family meal time. When your baby feeds herself, the entire family can sit and eat together. Babies also learn by watching and imitating so as you eat together you are showing her mealtime behaviors, routines, and manners.
- Allows your baby to experience different tastes and textures which may influence later food choices and reduce the chances of having a picky eater.
- Provides an opportunity to practice fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Baby led weaning also gives your child the opportunity to learn to chew and through the process develop better strength, coordination and the ability to eat more complex foods.
Six months is a general guideline, but not all babies are ready to start eating solid foods at this age. Before getting started, make sure your baby has also reached these milestones.
- Can sit upright without help
- No longer has the tongue thrust reflex (does not automatically push food out with tongue)
- Has developed the fine motor skills to pick up pieces of food
- Shows interest in eating solid foods. Baby will start to pay attention to what others are doing at meal times and may begin reaching for food.
Once your baby is ready, getting started is simple. All you need is a safe place for baby to sit and a good bib. Another great tool are these food scissors that make cutting up all those tiny bites so easy!. One drawback of baby led weaning is that it can be messy so an under highchair mat comes in handy to protect your floors and makes clean up much easier.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you begin adding solid food to your baby's diet:
Keep your current nursing schedule. The majority of your baby's calories and nutrition will still come from nursing or bottle feeding. Do not make any adjustments to your current nursing schedule and continue to breast or bottle feed as usual.
Start small. In the beginning, offer a few bites to your baby at meal times. More than that can be overwhelming.
Don't expect too much. At first, your baby most likely won't eat much, and that's ok since most nutrition and calories are still coming from breast milk or formula. Allow your baby time to explore, learn, and even play with food, and soon enough, your baby will be eating plenty at each meal.
Avoid making assumptions about your baby's food preferences. As long as it is unprocessed, easily chewable (or easily smashed with toothless gums) and cut appropriately offer it to your baby. Offer a variety of colors and textures and give your baby at least three exposures for each food offered so it can be fully explored. You may be surprised what foods become favorites!!
There may be some gagging. Gagging is part of the process as your baby learns to chew, swallow, and manipulate food. Gagging can be scary, but it is different from choking. At six months baby's gag reflex is farther forward in their mouth than adults and is the body’s defense against choking. Gagging involves lots of coughing and does not require intervention, which can force food further down the throat. Choking occurs when a piece of food has moved farther back and is blocking the airway. Choking is often silent or accompanied by high pitched sounds and requires immediate intervention. As with all new milestones, supervision is key to maintaining safety.
Cut food into thin strips. At 6 months old it can be frustrating to try and pick up small bits of food. Cut food into thin strips that your baby can hold with a fist instead. Choose foods that are soft but hold their shape. If you can smash foods between your fingers, then they are appropriate for your baby. Often you can simply slice up something from the meal you are already making.
Wondering which foods to try first? Check out the chart below for some easy to make, easy to eat food options. Pinterest is also a great resource for BLW recipes, tips and more!
Let's Talk About Food Allergies
Some professionals will say to avoid foods that account for the majority of food allergies (dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat, and soy) for the first 2-3 years of life and many parents still choose to follow these recommendations. However, things have changed a lot in the last few years, and it is now believed that introducing these foods early and often might prevent food allergies. The key is to offer these potential allergens as early as six months, one at a time and wait at least 2-3 days before giving your baby another serving. During that time, watch for signs of an allergic reaction such as diarrhea, rashes, facial swelling, or vomiting. If you notice any of these and suspect your child has a food allergy, speak with your pediatrician about diagnosis and treatment.
Starting solids can be overwhelming but it is such an exciting step in your baby's life. It sets off a lifelong relationship with food and giving control to your little one starts it off on a positive and fun note!! So relax and enjoy the ride - you've got this one mama.
Have you tried baby led weaning? Let us know your favorite tips, tricks and recipes in the comments.