Baby Led Weaning: Should You Skip The Mush? (And Why You’d Want To)

baby led weaning food

More and more parents are skipping the purees and starting their babies on finger foods. They’re doing away with the spoon feeding, the food processor, the jarred baby food, and the weird pureed fruit and veg combos. Instead, they’re practising baby led weaning, a new approach to starting solids that has infants feeding themselves at the dinner table alongside the family.

baby led weaning food

While plenty of parents and medical professionals have praised baby led weaning for its many benefits (more on this below), attempting it can be a little scary, especially for first time parents. If you’re considering going the baby led weaning route, here are some things you need to know before you start.

What is baby led weaning?

In a nutshell, baby led weaning (BLW) is a way of feeding solids that hands the control over to the baby. The baby sits with the family during mealtimes and feeds herself finger foods instead of being spoon fed the traditional rice cereal or vegetable puree.

The term ‘baby led weaning’ was made popular by Gill Rapley, a British midwife, nurse, and breastfeeding consultant. ‘Weaning,’ in this context, doesn’t mean that you stop breastfeeding or giving your baby formula when you introduce solids. In fact, Rapley says that solid foods shouldn’t be pushed ‘at the expense of breastmilk’ (or formula) and that children ‘will phase out breastfeeding when they’re ready.’

How it’s done

Babies are usually able to begin to self feed at 6 months old, although some will wait until 7 or 8 months. When baby shows signs that he’s ready for solids, you offer a range of finger foods of varying textures and tastes.

Babies will often start by licking or sucking on pieces of food before they learn to actually gnaw, chew, swallow, and eat. Initially, babies eat very little food. This may cause frustration on the part of the parent, but it’s all just part of the BLW approach. Eventually, baby will actually eat and digest what’s offered. In between meals, keep giving breastmilk or formula. As your baby eats more solid foods, he’ll naturally start drinking less milk.

One big advantage of BLW is that you’re just giving baby what everyone else is having. Great first foods include avocados, bananas, and cooked vegetables like sweet potatoes and carrots.  If you’re having spaghetti, let him have some of that. If you’re preparing a salad, set aside some chopped up cucumber for the littlest one. There’s no need for pureeing or mashing or straining.

Benefits of baby led weaning

According to Rapley and other BLW experts, there are lots of benefits from following this approach. These include:

  • Learning to like a variety of foods, which leads to less picky eating when baby is older
  • Learning to regulate food intake, which leads to less obesity in childhood
  • Developing fine motor skills, hand eye coordination, and chewing skills
  • Learning independence, confidence, and early decision making skills
  • Better eating habits for the whole family
  • Less expensive than buying processed baby food
  • Less time spent preparing pureed baby food
  • Stress free mealtimes
  • More quality bonding time with the whole family

Do’s and don’ts of baby led weaning

Look for signs that baby is ready for solids. You’ll know that he’s ready when he’s 6 months or older, shows interest in your food, starts grabbing food off other people’s plates, and shows a general understanding of what food is and what to do with it.

Offer solids when the rest of the family are also eating. This allows baby to mimic the adults’ behaviour and the adults to set an example.

Read up. It’s always best to do your research before attempting any child rearing practice you’re not completely familiar with. Rapley offers a step by step guide and answers to FAQs on her website.

Be vigilant. Observe your baby while she’s eating and make sure she’s in the correct sitting position.

Learn first aid. Before you attempt baby led weaning, you must be able to recognise the difference between choking and gagging. Your baby will often gag as he learns to chew and swallow. He may even vomit a little. You have to be able to recognise when he’s just gagging and when he’s choking and unable to breathe.

Stay calm. Don’t freak out when baby gags. If you do, you’ll just end up scaring him as well. Do your best to stay (or at least appear) calm and let your baby enjoy his meal.

Anticipate a mess. Especially at the beginning, most of the food you place on baby’s tray or plate will end up on the floor, the walls, her highchair, or her hair. Prepare for this by stocking up on silicone bibs and laying a tarp on the floor to catch spills.

Don’t expect too much. Keep in mind that while some mums and their babies may welcome BLW, it may not work well for you and your child.

Don’t give up. It may take up to 20 exposures to the same type of food before a child learns to like it. If your baby rejects a food, keep reintroducing it until he accepts.

Don’t stress. Don’t force or hurry or scold or get emotional. Just have fun with it!

*Important: Please consult your child’s doctor before attempting baby led weaning, especially if you have a family history of digestive problems or food allergies, your baby was born prematurely, or your baby has special needs.

Want more information on baby led weaning? You can also read up the whole series here at Hello Charlie.

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Baby Led Weaning Foods: What’s the Best Foods to Use When Starting?

Baby Led Weaning Foods

If you’ve heard about baby led weaning (BLW), you might be interested in this new (old) method of weaning baby onto solid food. (After all, our ancestors didn’t have blenders to create purees or refrigerators to keep them in!)

Baby Led Weaning Foods

Baby led weaning simply means that you let baby explore feeding himself while he still gets most of his nourishment from breast milk or formula. Start at around six months or so when he’s physically mature enough to sit up on his own and pick up bits of food. Ideally he would then put them in his mouth and eat them, but let’s be real here – most of the food will end up anywhere and everywhere else, especially in the beginning. That’s okay. It’s all part of the process.

What to feed baby

So baby led weaning sounds like a great idea – but what do you feed him? Depending on your baby’s age he can eat almost anything older children can. (Remember, baby led weaning should start at six months or older.) If you’re breast feeding, baby is introduced to the flavours of your favourite foods through your milk, so that will make things easier.

In general you should start with soft, easily gummable foods. Cut them into batons the right size for little hands to hold, lay out a selection on his high chair and let him figure it out. He’ll probably see them more as toys than actual nourishment, but if you let him eat with the family he’ll soon learn to copy what the big people are doing.

It’s a good idea to let him have his milk first so he’s not that hungry. Feeding himself will be difficult at first, and hunger will just make him frustrated and upset.

Here are some suggestions to get you started:

  • Soft fruits like banana, avocado and melon
  • Steamed hard fruit such as apples, pears and mangoes
  • Steamed vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower and broccoli
  • Boiled egg yolks
  • Chunks of soft pasteurised cheeses
  • Roasted sweet potato or pumpkin
  • Steamed asparagus
  • Pieces of cooked liver (lots of iron)
  • Soft cooked pieces of whatever you’re having for dinner (minus the salt)

If you can squish the food between your finger and thumb, it’s probably fine for baby.

And don’t be afraid to introduce baby to grown up food.

If you’re having pasta you can give him a few pasta shapes in sauce.

As baby gets older, give him thick cut cucumber chips and pieces of tender meat.

Baby led weaning foods to avoid

Baby’s digestive and immune systems are still developing, so wait until he’s older to introduce more difficult foods.

  • Foods that might lead to choking, such as grapes, cherry and grape tomatoes, nuts, and whole sausages
  • Foods that might cause allergic reactions, such as gluten, egg whites, peanuts, seafood and citrus fruits
  • Foods cooked with salt or sugar
  • Unhealthy and processed foods like lollies, chips, popcorn and soft drinks
  • Honey (wait until baby is 12 months)
  • Foods that have a stimulating effect, like chocolate

Helpful accessories

Baby led weaning is a messy process, but there are some tools that can make things easier for you.

Find this article helpful? Want to know more about BLW? Read our article on the pros and cons of Baby Led Weaning here

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The Pros and Cons of Baby Led Weaning: Should You Try It? Is It Safe?

baby led weaning

Baby led weaning (BLW) is a practice that involves sitting babies down with the family at mealtime and letting them have what everyone else is having. No cereals, purees, and mash, just real food cut up into portions that baby can feed himself. Letting a 6 month old feed himself sticks of fruits, veg, and meat seems downright dangerous, doesn’t it?

baby led weaning

Yet more and more parents are shifting from starting solids with pureed foods to baby led weaning.

But is baby led weaning safe? Is it worth the mess or the worry that bub could choke on a broccoli floret? Let’s go through some of the pros and cons of baby led weaning.

First, what is baby led weaning?

The basic premise of baby led weaning is that by the time babies are ready for solids (at 6 months or older), they are actually physically able to eat finger foods. This means there’s no need to go through the puree stage.

Instead of feeding your baby rice cereal from a spoon, you just give her what the rest of the family is having and let her get on with it. This will, of course, result in a catastrophic mess, especially at the beginning, but some parents report that the benefits are well worth the effort.

Baby led weaning pros and cons

The advantages

  • It’s a great way to introduce the different looks, flavours, smells, and textures of food. This helps children become more adventurous with their food choices later in life and may help decrease the risk of them becoming picky eaters.
  • It helps babies develop dexterity, hand eye coordination, and fine motor skills.
  • It can offer baby a more balanced meal. With BLW, the whole family shares a meal consisting of different dishes. With traditional spoon feeding, baby will sometimes consume just one specific food per meal.
  • It teaches appetite control. Baby feeds himself and therefore learns to recognise when he has had enough. Learning to eat according to his appetite could mean that he’ll be less likely to overeat when he’s older.
  • It’s cheaper. Because bub is eating the same food as the family, there’s no need to buy prepackaged baby foods or the equipment needed to make purees.
  • It gets parents to be more present at mealtime. Because everyone is eating at the same time and at the same table, parents are more involved and baby gets to be a part of family meals from the start. It also lets parents model mealtime behaviour and lets bub observe the table manners shown by the family.
  • It eliminates the mealtime power struggle. Baby led weaning is all about respecting bub’s decisions on what and how much to eat. This helps avoid the coercing, begging, and stress that often accompany family meals.

 

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The disadvantages

  • The worry that bub will choke on her food. Before starting BLW, you need to be able to recognise the difference between gagging (common when infants start solids) and choking (requires intervention).
  • The epic mess.
  • It can be a waste of food and money. In the beginning, much of the food will end up on the floor and the walls. The good news is that as soon as bub learns to pick up smaller pieces of food (at around 9 months), mealtime won’t be as messy.
  • It can be a waste of time. All that post meal cleanup! Tip: spread newspaper under the high chair and invest in good bibs. (Or you could do what I did, and just let the dog clean up!)

So there you go. If you want to learn more about baby led weaning, stay tuned for the rest of our BLW series. And for affordable, adorable, and eco friendly baby feeding tools, hop on to Hello Charlie.

Last but not least, before you attempt baby led weaning, please consult your health professional, especially if your child has digestive problems or special needs. Good luck and happy feeding!

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