The concept of Baby Led Weaning (often referred to as BLW) is a method of gradually weaning a baby from a milk diet onto solid food. It allows a baby to control their solid food intake by self-feeding from the very beginning of the weaning process.
BLW means forgetting baby food purées and simply letting your baby learn how to feed themselves. The main difference between BLW and traditional weaning, is the order in which children learn to eat. With purées they learn to swallow first and then chew, while gradually changing the consistency of their food. With BLW, babies will learn to chew first and swallowing might come some time later. Baby led weaning places an emphasis on exploring taste, texture, colour and smell as the baby sets their own pace for the meal, choosing which foods to concentrate on. Instead of the traditional method of spooning puréed food into the baby’s mouth, the baby is presented with a plate of a variety of finger foods from which to choose.
Key points of the BLW approach
- Babies feed themselves – there is no spoon feeding involved.
- Offer your baby a variety of foods – instead of a single food or pureed version of that food.
- Trust your baby to eat what they need and how much – they have great instincts.
- Allow your baby to experience a wide range of food textures – mushy, chewy, crunchy, etc.
- Let your baby get messy.
- Include your baby in family mealtime from an early age.
Benefits of BLW
Some experts believe that babies who are allowed to feed themselves by being offered a selection of nutritious finger foods are less likely to refuse foods or become picky eaters as they get older. BLW allows babies to learn appetite control naturally and that this may help reduce the risk of obesity later in life.
When/how to start
Before beginning BLW, your baby should be able to sit upright, either on your lap, in a highchair or unsupported. Their hand-eye coordination should have developed to the extent that they can grip food it in their palms and bring it to their mouth successfully. These are some examples of signs of readiness you should look for, as opposed to simply looking at age alone.
Initially, soft fruits and vegetables are given. Harder foods are lightly cooked to make them soft enough to chew on even with bare gums. Foods which pose a clear danger are not offered. Don’t be alarmed if your baby spits out their food. Being allowed to spit out foods they do not like is important and helps babies build trust in their relationship with food. Gagging on food is a fairly common occurrence in BLW, and this can worry some parents (although this is simply a baby’s natural reflex to stop themselves from choking on food which they cannot swallow).
Is BLW for you?
New parents often become concerned when their child does not follow a particular solid food schedule. Baby Led Weaning is a great reminder that first solid foods are about exploration and discovery and babies can better achieve this when given control of their feeding. What I like most about BLW is how the progression of introducing solids coincides well with your baby’s development and it lets their appetite and ability guide you. If you are not completely comfortable with the idea of BLW, however, then I would not recommend it. Mealtime should never be filled with stress or worry, for you or your baby. Even if you decide to start with purées, your baby does not need to be in that stage for very long. Within a few months you should be giving your baby opportunities to self-feed.
Aviva Allen, RHN, is a Toronto nutritionist specializing in prenatal, infant and child nutrition. Aviva teaches new moms about introducing solids to their babies, through small group workshops around the GTA, as well as private sessions for individuals.