Baby Led Weaning 101
When I first heard about “baby led weaning," as a pediatric dietitian I was naturally intrigued. The name is a little misleading - in the US we typically think of “weaning” in terms of breastfeeding cessation, but in the UK it’s generally used to indicate the introduction of foods for infants in addition to breast milk or formula. Baby led weaning (or BLW) involves allowing an infant to self feed from the start, with modified family foods rather than purees.
But won’t my baby choke?? This is the main concern I hear from clients regarding BLW. My family members also expressed the same fear early on (until they realized what a great eater Siena became!). If you wait until your baby is developmentally ready to self-feed and follow a few simple guidelines, BLW is a safe alternative to starting with traditional purees.
Before we dive into how to do BLW, let’s explore the benefits:
It’s less work - you can still serve your baby homemade food without having to spend extra time making purees
It saves money - you don’t need special tools like a Baby Bullet or freezer trays, you won’t be purchasing jarred baby foods, and you don’t need baby spoons or bowls
You can enjoy your own food at meal time! - this was one of my top reasons for trying BLW...I’m just plain lazy and wanted to be able to eat my food without having to let my plate get cold while I spoonfed purees into Siena’s mouth
It encourages healthy eating habits early on - BLW exposes your baby to a variety of textures and flavors early on, which encourages less picky eating behavior as a toddler. It also allows a baby to self regulate, which may lead to a healthier body-mass index later in life.
When is my baby ready to start BLW? (HINT: it’s not about age, it’s about developmental readiness):
Baby must be at least 6 months old (and some still aren’t ready at 6 months - that’s ok! Siena didn’t really show an interest in foods until 7 months)
Baby must have good head and neck control, and can sit unassisted in a high chair
Baby must have outgrown the tongue thrust reflex (when baby pushes tongue forward as you try to feed her)
How do I start BLW?
Serve foods directly on baby’s highchair tray
It sounds counterintuitive, but it’s easier to start with long, thin strips of soft cooked food (think the size and shape of your finger), since babies at 6 months can only palm food and will suck and gnaw on the tip
As baby approaches 9 months, she will develop the pincer grasp and be able to pick up smaller cut pieces (think the size of a green pea)
Be prepared for some mess in the beginning! This is a normal part of baby’s exploration. Consider bibs with pockets, smocks, and keep a damp cloth on hand to wipe down baby, highchair, and floor afterwards.
So back to the main concern I hear about BLW: Will my baby choke?:
Since baby is going from fluids alone (breastmilk/formula) to solids for the first time, you can expect some coughing and spitting
A baby’s gag response is triggered more forward on the tongue compared to adults - this is a natural protective mechanism against choking!
The American Academy of Pediatrics has determined that BLW is no riskier than spoon-feeding purees when done safely
Remember, feeding your infant shouldn’t be black or white (just like any other decisions in parenting!) - it’s totally ok to combine BLW with purees, or to stick with purees only for awhile until you and baby feel comfortable! Most importantly, be patient and have fun watching your little one explore food for the first time!
Here are some of my favorite BLW resources and supplies:
Silicon Bibs (a little heavy for 6 months, but great as Siena got older to catch dropped food)
Munchkin Miracle 360 Trainer Cup (encourages proper oral development - took Siena a few weeks to get the hang of it)
Grabease Training Utensils (we let her start feeding with hands, but introduced utensils as she developed better hand dexterity)
Silicone Toddler Plates (we put food directly on the tray initially, and started using plates when she was a toddler)