Baby led weaning is growing in popularity across the world – but is it right for your family? In this post, we’ll talk all about what the heck is BLW, the benefits and downsides to this method, and how to start it. If you’ve ever had a question about this method of introducing solid food, this article will answer each and every one.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning, often shortened to BLW, is a method of introducing solid foods to your baby. Rather than following the traditional way by giving baby a series of purees, this way gives baby whole, solid foods that are soft enough to gum safely.
The Method was founded by Gill Rapley and over the years has grown in popularity in the UK and the US. Using BLW, baby is encouraged to self feed soft foods finger foods, rather than being spoon fed by mom and dad.
When should I start Baby Led Weaning with my baby?
First and foremost, before introducing any kind of solids to your child, always check with your pediatrician.
Experts agree that you should wait until baby is about 6 months old before introducing any kind of food. Generally speaking, baby is just not ready (see signs of readiness below) to eat solid foods before then.
Recent studies have show a link between obesity, eczema, allergies, diabetes, and celiac disease in children who were fed solid food before 6 months.
What are signs of readiness?
Every baby is different – some babies may be ready for solid food right at 6 months, while others may not be ready until 8-9 months or later. Here are some signs or readiness to note and talk about with your pediatrician.
- Showing interest in food. (grabbing for your food, reaching for food, etc)
- Can sit unassisted.
- Has ability to support neck.
- Is showing interest in putting things in their mouth and sucking – hands, feet, toys, etc.
Most new parents look into this method of introducing solids because they hear of the benefits or potential benefits with them method. If you’re still deciding, these benefits may tip the scales for you.
- Reduced risk of Obesity. Because the baby is feeding himself, he learns his body’s cues for when he is full. Studies have shown to result in lower BMIs and less risk of obesity in children who were weaned to solids using baby led weaning.
- Better ability to decide when they are full. It’s easy for parents or caregivers to give a spoonful or two of food that baby isn’t hungry for. When babies are self-feeding, they are better equipped to listen to their bodies for hunger cues, a skill that will continue to with them throughout life.
- Improved palate. Baby led weaning babies are, generally speaking, exposed to more textures and tastes. By exposing children extensively as young as possible, we are helping them to build more diverse palates, which studies show may result in less picky children.
- Improved fine motor. Studies have shown that an increase in allowing a baby to practice fine motor skills repeatedly shows a marked increase in these skills. In this case, the repeated, encouraged “practice” of eating allows for an increase in these pincer grip skills.
- Potentially lower risk of allergies. With the increased and early exposure to common allergens, studies are showing that a potential decrease in these allergies in baby led weaning cases. Always check with your pediatrician before exposing to common allergens, especially if you know of any risk factors.
Concerns regarding Baby Led Weaning:
On the same hand, as new parents we want to make sure we know all the facts. There are some common, justifiable concerns regaring Baby Led Weaning. Here are some of the most common worries.
With an emphasis on getting babies increased iron after 6 months (about the time their body depletes its reserves from birth) some worry that BLW will result in a lack of nutrients in the child’s diets.
This is because most baby led weaning children are not given iron rich baby cereal and most “first foods” lack iron. Studies have shown that the nutrient intake and levels of BLW and traditionally fed babies show no difference.
Yes, baby led weaning can be a mess process, as you’re basically trusting a baby to smear food all over his face. But in the grand scheme of things, traditionally fed babies are just as messy, with parents spooning purees into their mouth and missing, babies spitting it out, etc.
There are ways to encourage less mess with BLW, like finding a high chair that’s easy to clean, getting some kind of drop cloth for the floor, etc. But my biggest suggestion is get a dog! (mostly kidding, but also, our dog Cooper is a huge help with cleaning up after meals!)
The obvious concern for new parents is the choking risk of baby led weaning. Since you’re not supplying baby with spoonfed foods that are more liquid than solid, the concern is valid. Thankfully, studies have shown that BLW babies have no more (and sometimes, less) of a choking concern than traditionally fed babies.
Choking and Safety Tips for BLW
Choking is a huge concern for any parent or caregiver introducing solids. Here are a few tips for avoiding choking, as well as distinguishing between choking and gagging.
- Start with extremely soft foods that can be grasped in your baby’s hand. I’ll give more suggestions below, but thing things like steamed sweet potato sticks, ripe avocado, banana, and very well steamed carrots.
- Choose shape wisely. Never offer anything circle-shaped, such as grapes. Always cut them into quarters to avoid choking.
- NEVER leave a baby unattended with food. While Baby led weaning may be appealing since you don’t have to actively feed the child, you need to be aware and present at all times.
- Brush up on infant CPR and choking first aid. This is a great resource to print out and have on hand from the Red Cross. I’ve also linked a video training above that is super helpful.
- Know the difference between choking and gagging. Gagging is a natural reflex babies battle when they first start to eat solids. The younger they are the more sensitive the reflex. This is good! It helps them learn how to eat safely without choking.
- A choking child will look scared, make no noise, and be unable to breath.
- A gagging child will be making some noise and may be coughing mildly. They may turn red, which is fine.
Where to start with Baby Led Weaning?
When I have friends and readers asking me about BLW, they almost always ask where to start. It seems like such a daunting experience! If you’re interested in trying this method of weaning from solids, here are a few “first steps” I recommend.
- Talk to your child’s pediatrician to make sure they’re on board with you introducing solids.
- Have an understanding of infant first aid and choking. Like stated above, we want to make sure you’re as prepared as humanly possible.
- Get the right “things”. While baby-led weaning is a simple process, things like a large bib and a washable high chair will make life much easier!
- Start with super soft foods and introduce 1 new item every 3-4 days to pinpoint any allergies if they arise.
What are some good first foods for Baby Led Weaning?
Our pediatrician recommended starting with vegetables since fruit is sweet and can deter babies from wanting to start veggies. Here are some ideas for what to try first
- Sweet potato. Baked, cooled and cut into sticks or simple steamed until very soft.
- Carrot. Peel a whole carrot and steam until super soft!
- Avocado. A ripe avocado cut into long, thick wedges is perfect for little hands. If you find it to be too slippery, try rolling in baby cereal or crushed Cheerios. I’ve also had success mashing the avocado and letting baby smash it into their face!
Click here for my full list of first fruits and vegetables.
What to avoid when BLW:
While baby led weaning is pretty flexible, there are a few things you should avoid.
- Honey. Honey is not safe for babies before 1 year. We went a bit longer with my boys because our pediatrician told us it was more based on weight than age, and we have tiny babies. The reasoning is that there are trace amounts of botulism in honey that does NOT cook out.
- Salt and sodium. Keep an eye on the salt intake of your little. Babies need VERY LITTLE salt (this source says 400mg, much of which will come in formula and breastmilk) in their diet and too much can make them incredibly sick. Whenever possible, avoid processed foods so that you can know how much salt your baby is getting.
- Processed Foods. I’m a fan and advocate for balance, but processed foods can make it hard to pinpoint any allergens that might arise since very rarely can you find processed food with 1-2 ingredients. Stick to whole foods as much as possible. They’re also generally packed with sodium as a preservative.
- Any known allergies until you speak with your pediatrician. If your family had a history of specific allergies, avoid them until you talk to your pediatrician about a plan for introducing.
- Choking hazards. Cut any round foods to reduce likelihood choking and avoid things like nuts and popcorn.
Final notes on Baby Led Weaning
All in all, baby led weaning is a great way to introduce solids to baby. There are definitely some things to keep in mind, like nutrients and choking. But studies are beginning to imply that the benefits of BLW are worth the diligence.
I also want to let other parents know – in my opinion, baby led weaning does not have to be all or nothing.
Using BLW doesn’t mean you can’t throw a baby food puree pouch in your bag to feed baby. It doesn’t mean you can’t do a mix of traditional purees and self feeding.
Some groups will be very adament about one way or another and I believe that’s just NOT the way parenting and kids work. Do what works for you and your family at the end of the day, period.