Baby Led Weaning 101

Family meals CAN & SHOULD start from the very beginning, even with young babies who are just starting out on food. The way to do this is by following the method known as Baby Led Weaning (BLW). To be honest, we stumbled upon BLW kind of by accident. Joel was around 6 months old when we decided to introduce solids, but from day 1 he completely refused to be spoon-feed. When it came to eating (as with everything), he wanted to “do it himself” so we abandoned purees completely and embraced BLW. It turned out to be the best possible learning experience for all of us.

You might be thinking Baby-Led-WHAAAT!? Let’s start with a basic definition of BABY LED WEANING:

Baby led weaning literally means that the baby leads the way. From the very beginning your baby is offered REAL FOOD. Not pureed, mashed up or pulverized, just cut into pieces that the child can explore with their own two hands. No spoon-feeding means that the baby decides if / how much he / she eats. There are so many benefits to BLW it’s hard to pin down just a few, but here are some of the most celebrated:

  • Early exposure to more flavors & textures = less likely to be picky toddlers
  • Lots of chewing for little mouths, which is essential for language development
  • Self regulation. Even young babies can learn to listen to their body & stop eating when their belly is full
  • Builds confidence – feeding themselves is a BIG deal
  • Saves time and money not having to make or buy baby food

For more resources on BLW check out the BLW Ideas website.

Does this mean that your baby probably won’t eat as much in those first couple of months as a kid who is being spoon-fed.  Absolutely! In the beginning more food ends up on the floor than in their mouth. Remember from 6-12 months food is not so much about nutrition as it is about experimentation, learning and FUN. This is a time to expose your baby to lots of different flavors and textures and give them practice with all of the developmental challenges that are involved in eating. 

Common concerns / questions: 

  • How should I prepare / present / cut the food? 
    • The trick I learned when I was just starting out is to cut the food into pieces that are about the size of an adult’s thumb. Literally a good RULE OF THUMB! This makes it so that babies can grab the food easily. You’ll want the food to be soft so that a baby without many or any teeth can easily take a bite. We love roasting veggies for this reason. Roasted veg tastes delicious and makes food easy to chew / digest. Some great first foods are roasted carrots, roasted sweet potatoes. Fresh banana, avocado and mangoes are all great too. The idea is to make the food big enough to hold but too big for them to fit the whole thing in their mouth. Between 9-12 months when the pincer grasp skills are better developed smaller pieces become easier, but don’t hold back. Let your baby lead the way. Some of Joel’s first foods are still his favorites today. Let your imagination run wild! If you want more resources on how to prepare food check out Pinterest and Instagram with the hashtag #BLW
  • What about choking?
    • I can’t tell you how many times people people (including my husband) freaked out about Joel choking in the early days when he was actually just gagging. Although it can seem scary (imagine coughing, spluttering!), gagging is actually a good thing – it protects us from choking. Young babies have a much more sensitive gag reflex for that very reason. The main difference between gagging and choking is that gagging is vocal, while choking is silent. When something is blocking the airway it’s not possible to make any sound. Silent distress is a huge red flag and should be acted upon immediately. Whenever feeding young children always stay close by and watch them closely. You’ll quickly learn what they can and can’t handle. Attend a CPR class, read articles (like this one!) and watch videos so you can be confident.
    • Chewing is an essential skill for early childhood development that is often overlooked. “If a baby doesn’t get the chance to experiment with food that needs chewing soon after she reaches six months, the development of chewing skills can be delayed. Babies who aren’t introduced to pieces of food until they are almost a year old (or later) may never learn to manage lumps well. (It’s the equivalent of not giving a child the chance to walk until they’re, say, three years old.) Chewing skills are important for many reasons, including the development of speech, good digestion and safe eating”
  • When / where should I offer foods to my baby?
    • It can be helpful to try new foods when babies aren’t ravenous, nurse / milk feed first.
    • Minimize distractions when babies are young. If you can’t feed your kids at home, finding a calm quiet place can make a big difference.
  • Showing no interest. Try try again 
    • Remember it takes repeated exposure for a child to grow accustomed to new food, so lots of variety early on is important for developing a young palette. 
  • What about salt / spices / condiments? 
    • Try to keep salt levels low when babies are very small. Make food with little or no salt and set some aside for the baby. Spices are a great way to increase exposure to flavors especially ones you use often in the kitchen. We use a lot of paprika, cinnamon and cumin.
    • Just no honey before 12 months
  • When to start 
    • This is a big one. There are lots of opinions on this subject. We started introduced Joel to solids at 6 months Joel and stand by that decision. He refused to be spoon fed so it was BLW all the way. By 12 months he could feed himself with a spoon, was getting more skilled with a fork and could drink from an open cup. According to, Bethany at BLW Ideas: If you follow baby-led weaning – your baby will let you know when it’s time to begin solids. If he reaches for food at 5 ½ months, follow his cues and begin to introduce solids (I have an opinion on which solids matter most – namely, foods with iron). Most babies will reach for food between the ages of 4 – 7 months and will get used to feeding themselves at around 8 months. But every baby is different.

 

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