As mum to a thriving one year old who has been BLW since five and a half months, I always relish the opportunity to explain the benefits to other parents. Thus I decided to write this quick and dirty guide to the basics of BLW.
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Babies, if allowed, will naturally teach themselves to eat. They carefully observe people around them and learn best by being given the opportunity to do the same things. This is no different with food.
Baby-Led Weaning allows your baby to decide when solids are introduced and to determine the pace of feeding for themselves. Typically, you offer your baby foods they can hold and eat themselves. If only some (or none!) of the food offered is eaten, that’s fine!
With BLW, your baby can experience the taste, texture and smell of real food, not the bland mushiness of purees.
Benefits of BLW
Unlike spoon-feeding your baby pureed food, BLW is an enjoyable experience for all involved. There’s no need to fight with your baby to get that last spoonful in. You can sit and enjoy eating your own dinner whilst baby feeds themselves. And baby gets to practice the all-important skill of self-feeding.
You’re also not bound to the baby food aisle of your local supermarket when deciding what’s on the menu. You can ignore the different age stages of baby food – it might say 12+ months on the packet, but if your little one can grip it, it’s suitable at any age! Even better still, your baby can eat exactly what you eat, no need to prepare anything different at dinner time.
Going out and about with a BLW baby makes snacking a piece of cake (no pun intended!). Pop some finger food in your handbag or changing bag and off you go! Eating out is also a breeze as baby can have whatever is on the restaurant menu too.
The average age to begin BLW is around 6 months. If your baby seems interested in food a little earlier, that’s OK – offer something simple and see how he/she reacts. A baby who is ready for solids will be able to move food to the back of the tongue without assistance, if your little one pushes the food out with the tongue, they are not ready yet. Give it another go in a week or so.
How do you determine that baby is interested in eating? We found our son would stare intently at us as we ate and try to reach for our food. Putting things in the mouth can also be a good sign, though babies commonly do this as part of the urge to explore their surroundings.
When starting with BLW, don’t be afraid to get creative. There’s pretty much no limit to what you can offer your baby, with the exception of potentially allergenic foods such as eggs and shellfish, or things they can choke on (peanuts and fruit stones, for example). That said, there are a few classic foods that are particularly good when introducing BLW – my son was (and still is) particularly fond of banana, avocado, cheese and mango – cut into strips these make great snack foods. For dinner, try some sweet potato, roasted carrot sticks and broccoli. Your baby may not be able to hold onto foods very easily early on, so feel free to help him/her. But don’t be disappointed if something is rejected, either move on to something else or call it a day if baby looks like they’ve had enough. Bear in mind that between 6 months and 1 year they are still getting much of what they need from your breastmilk or formula.
Obviously, it’s important to stick to healthy foods as much as possible. The odd chip here and there is fine, but don’t be tempted to give your baby crisps and chocolate bars. Though if you’re interested in BLW, you’re probably not the kind of parent to dish out junk food anyway.
You can still give the odd food by spoon – you can’t finger-feed yoghurt or fromage frais after all! Just be sure to let baby take the lead and if he/she isn’t interested, move on. Don’t force the spoon into the mouth, better yet, help baby hold it for themselves. Be prepared for a messy experience, but it’s all part of the fun!
Likewise, you can pop food in your baby’s mouth for them, if they prefer this. My son alternates between feeding himself and wanting me or daddy to do the hard work for him. As above, if baby is uninterested or has had enough, don’t pressure them to continue.
Not sure about whether baby has had enough or just doesn’t like that particular food? It can be difficult to tell in the early days, so try offering something else. Squirming around in the high chair and looking around at other things in the room are good signs that lunch is over.
With regards to drinks, you can offer your baby some cooled boiled water or expressed breastmilk in a cup with their food. To ensure a nursing relationship remains established though, be sure to offer the breast before solids if possible. Some babies can fill up on their dinner and be less interested in the breast afterwards.
Common Concerns with BLW
It can feel a little frustrating if you’ve gone to the effort of preparing a nice little meal for your baby and they instantly reject it. Don’t feel bad about this. Until baby can tell you what they fancy for breakfast, it will be a bit of a guessing game. Prepare a couple of different things at once as they are more likely to find something they fancy.
Don’t be surprised if your baby’s tastes change at the drop of a hat. One day that delicious tomato pasta may be met with less enthusiasm than a liver sandwich and brussels sprouts may suddenly be the yummiest food on the planet. Equally, there may be days your baby doesn’t want to eat anything at all. This is all perfectly normal, your baby is developing their own preferences and they will change many times. Be sure to regularly offer previously rejected foods for this reason.
Many parents cite the fear of choking as their biggest concern with BLW. In actual fact, this is far less likely than with spoon-feeding, as baby is in full control of what goes in. The gag reflex is extremely effective and baby will cough out any offending food long before it gets anywhere near the windpipe. Trust your little one, they really are very capable of feeding themselves. Of course, it is always wise to brush up on your first-aid skills so that in the unlikely event of your baby choking, you’d know how to help them.
Finally, many parents are uncertain when it comes to the nutritional value of BLW. If baby doesn’t eat much, aren’t they going to be missing out on vital vitamins and minerals? As I mentioned earlier, breastmilk or formula fulfils the majority of an infant’s nutritional needs for the first year of life. There’s a popular saying in the BLW community – “Food before one, is just for fun!”. Don’t worry, your baby won’t be under-nourished, in fact he or she will be on the path to developing healthy eating habits for life.
BLW is a wonderful, stress-free way to introduce your baby to solid food. Why not give it a try? You can find loads of great recipes and finger-food ideas by spending a few minutes on Google. Alternatively, check out Gill Rapley’s book “Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby To Love Good Food“, for the definitive guide on introducing solids the gentle way.
Becky is a first-time mum to one-year old Zachary. She writes about her parenting journey over at mummynotes.com