Is your little one almost ready to start solids? You might be imagining heaps of bland rice cereal and puréed peas, plus lots of turning the spoon into a flying airplane to open that tiny mouth.
But while many mamas choose to introduce solids in the form of purées, baby-led weaning is an alternate approach worth considering. Many of my LNM mamas inside our private mama membership are choosing to try BLW, and so we decided to look into it as well.
Why I am here and who I am:
Hey mama, I am Trish— AKA Labor Nurse Mama, a labor and delivery nurse with over 15 years of high-risk OB experience. I am also a mama to 7 kids and have given birth to 6 and have labored thousands of mamas and delivered many, many babies. I am the online birth class educator for Calm Labor Confident Birth and The VBAC Lab birth classes. and the mama expert inside our Calm Mama Society Mama Membership Community! You can find me over on IG teaching over 240k mamas daily.
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What does Baby-Led Weaning mean?
So, what is this weaning business all about? Baby-led weaning or BLW for short is a method of introducing solid foods to babies that allows them to self-feed and explore food textures and flavors at their own pace. To minimize any choking hazard, the food is usually cut into thick, finger-sized pieces that are soft and can be easily mashed between fingers, while still being manageable for the baby to hold.
I could say that it’s more than just a feeding method – it's a celebration of our little one's innate curiosity, autonomy, and natural ability to explore the world of food.
What are the Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning?
And here comes the question: Why turn your little sunshine into a BLW baby?
Well, aside from the fact that this style of feeding is easier for some mamas (more on that below), advocates and researchers have also found potential benefits to the babies, such as:
- It gives baby control over what goes in their mouth. This approach may help toddlers develop better appetite regulation skills. In fact, a study showed that families who adopted baby-led weaning were more likely to have toddlers who were less responsive to food cues and more responsive to feelings of fullness at 18-24 months of age.
- Baby is introduced to a diverse range of tastes and textures early on. By doing this, babies have the opportunity to experience a wide variety of flavors. Studies have found that infants who started solids between 6-9 months of age had a higher intake of fruits and vegetables than those who started solids later.
- Baby gets to enjoy the whole experience of eating. Babies learn about the world through their senses, and eating is no exception. By allowing your little one to grasp, hold, squish, pinch, and mash, starting from their hands all the way to their mouth, you’re giving them a chance to become familiar with what they’re consuming.
- Helps improve manual dexterity and develop motor skills. It may be tempting when you see your sweet angels struggle, but you have to remind yourself that they are developing their skills and must learn on their own. As they pick up food and bring it to their mouth, you are helping them to develop their hand-eye coordination and work on their developing motor skills.
- Baby becomes a part of family mealtimes. Typically, during spoon-feeding, one parent feeds the baby while the other parent eats. While with baby-led weaning, the baby eats while you eat so it’s a great time to sit together and catch up at the end of the day. In that way, you can also teach them the value of having family meals together at a young age.
- Baby is encouraged to have healthy appetite control. “Just one more bite” is a very common phrase in the world of spoon-feeding, which kind of takes away the power of your baby to control how much they consume at each feeding. A study found that of those who were weaned via baby-led weaning, 86.5% maintained a healthy weight, with only 8.1% being classified as overweight, much less than the 19.2% who were spoon-fed.
Are there Challenges to Baby-Led Weaning?
While baby-led weaning seems to be an effective approach, it definitely won’t come without bumps. Let’s take a look at the challenges you may encounter with BLW:
- Skipping pureed foods. If you adopt a “strict” baby-led approach, your baby may miss out on purees. Providing various textures, including purees, can offer a rich sensory experience for your baby. (We like a more hybrid experience for this reason)
- Consumption of salt, sugar, and unhealthy fats. If you serve family meals without making appropriate adjustments, your baby might consume more sodium, saturated fat, and sugar than necessary.
- Possibility of choking and excessive gagging. Although some gagging is normal as babies learn to eat, some babies may experience more gagging and struggle more with early solid foods than others. This may lead to a negative self-feeding experience and aggravate babies with gastroesophageal reflux.
- Difficulty in gauging actual food intake. While complementary to formula or breast milk, solid foods still matter, especially for babies with slow growth. However, it can be challenging to determine how much your baby has eaten, which may be a concern if your pediatrician and/or parents are monitoring food and milk intake.
- Feeding can be messier. Baby-led weaning can be messier than spoon-feeding. But whether you’re spoon-feeding or baby-led weaning, you’re bound to have some mess at this age!
- Moms like me who lean towards OCD-ness may have a hard time with the messy aspects of BLW, and may need some help navigating the side of it that needs a laidback attitude.
Why do some Mamas still do Traditional Weaning/Spoon-Feeding?
Baby-led weaning has been gaining popularity around the world. However, some mamas still opt for traditional weaning or spoon-feeding for various reasons, including:
- Comfort: Spoon-feeding may feel more comfortable and familiar for some mamas and may offer more control over what and how much their baby eats.
- Cultural or family traditions: From your mom, grandmother, great-grandmother, or mother-in-law, this weaning method is probably what they are most familiar with and what they may choose to follow.
- Medical or developmental issues: Some babies may have medical or developmental issues that make self-feeding through baby-led weaning more challenging or unsuitable.
- Personal preference: Ultimately, some mamas may prefer one method over the other and feel more comfortable and confident with it.
What are the Challenges that Come with Traditional Weaning/Spoon Feeding?
Just like BLW, traditional weaning also has its disadvantages that you may want to consider:
- Limited exposure to different textures and flavors: Pureed or spoon-fed foods may limit a baby's exposure to different textures and flavors, impacting their willingness to try new foods later on.
- Overfeeding: Spoon-feeding can sometimes lead to overfeeding, as parents may push their baby to eat more than they need or want. This can contribute to childhood obesity and other health issues.
- Difficulty transitioning to self-feeding: Babies who are spoon-fed may have difficulty transitioning to self-feeding later on, as they may be less familiar with different textures and may not have developed their motor skills as much.
- Increased risk of choking: Spoon-feeding may increase the risk of choking if parents do not pay close attention to their baby's cues and readiness for different textures and consistencies.
- Inconvenience and cost: Spoon-feeding can be more time-consuming and costly, as it often requires more preparation and purchasing of baby food products.
How do You know that your baby is ready for BLW?
Isn’t it so exciting to start feeding your little one solids? It’s a new chapter, and (sadly) it’s a sign that your baby is growing. However, it is important to be patient and only start when your precious one is ready.
But how do you know she/he’s ready? Luckily your little one will give you clues when s/he is ready for the big step. Here are the signs that you should be looking out for:
- Your baby can sit up unsupported or with minimal support for a few seconds.
- Your baby has good head control and can turn their head to clear their airway if needed.
- Your baby shows an interest in food and is reaching out to grab it when they see you eating.
- Your baby can bring objects to their mouth and is able to grasp food and bring it to their mouth.
- Your baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex, which means they are able to move food to the back of their mouth and swallow it instead of pushing it out with their tongue.
But hey, mama, it's important to note that every baby develops at their own pace, and some babies may be ready for BLW earlier or later than others. So, it's always a good idea to consult with your pediatrician before starting any new feeding method to ensure that your baby is developmentally ready and to discuss any concerns or questions you may have.
Are you ready for BLW?
Now that you know your baby is ready for BLW, how do you know you’re up for the challenge? Here are some things that are important to know before you get started.
- Learn infant CPR: Knowing what to do if your baby chokes on something is crucial, no matter your feeding approach. I highly recommend taking a live class so you can do the hands-on portion and be checked off for accuracy; it is not a skill you will need often, hopefully so you need to see how it is done.
- Understand choking vs. gagging: Know the difference between these two and how to respond appropriately.
- Educate yourself on high-risk choking foods: Some foods are more likely to cause choking in babies, so it's essential to be aware of them.
- Be aware of changes in your diet: Adult foods may not be suitable for babies, so adjust your ingredients and read labels carefully.
- Expect mess: Baby-led weaning can be a messy experience, so have a cleanup plan.
- Be present: Eating with your baby is good for safety and modeling good eating habits.
- Discuss your goals with your pediatrician: Let your pediatrician know about your approach and seek advice if necessary. Baby-led weaning may not be appropriate for all babies, so it's essential to consult with a medical professional.
How to begin the Journey into Baby-Led Weaning
I got you, mama! Changes are hard. I know it can sound scary, and feeling anxious about starting weaning your precious one is entirely normal.
But baby-led weaning is so much fun, so take a deep breath, grab your camera for those messy face photos, and get ready to turn your baby into a little foodie! Here are some steps to begin the journey into baby-led weaning:
- Start with soft, easy-to-grasp foods: Foods that are easy to grasp and have a soft texture are good choices for baby-led weaning. Examples include ripe avocado, cooked sweet potato or carrot sticks, banana slices, or steamed broccoli florets.
- Offer a variety of healthy foods: Fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and protein sources such as eggs, cheese, or tofu are always good options.
- Cut food into manageable pieces: Say no to choking! Avoid small and round foods, such as grapes or cherry tomatoes. You can also cut food into strips or pieces that are easy for your baby to hold and explore.
- Sit with your baby during mealtime: Always supervise your baby to ensure their safety while allowing them to explore the food at their own pace.
- Offer water in a cup: Just make sure it has a lid and a straw. This will help them practice drinking from a cup and develop their fine motor skills.
- Be patient: Flash news: baby-led weaning can be messy (just like how feeding a toddler is supposed to be) and your baby may not eat much in the beginning. So mama, be extra patient and let your baby explore and learn at their own pace.
BLW’S goal is to allow your baby to explore and learn about food safely and enjoyably. So your role as a mama is to trust your baby's instincts and let them guide their own feeding journey.
10 Amazing Foods to Start Baby-Led Weaning
Not sure which foods to offer first? These 10 foods are nutrient-dense, easy to make, and tasty first food for babies.
- Avocado: High in healthy fats and easy to mash or cut into small pieces.
- Sweet potato: Soft and naturally sweet, this can be baked or steamed and cut into strips or cubes.
- Banana: Easy to hold and mash, bananas are also a good source of potassium.
- Cooked carrots: Cut into sticks or rounds, cooked carrots are a great source of vitamin A
- Oatmeal: Cooked and cooled oatmeal can be formed into small balls or cut into strips.
- Soft-boiled eggs: Rich in protein and healthy fats, soft-boiled eggs are easy to cut into small pieces.
- Steamed broccoli: Cut into small florets, broccoli is packed with vitamins and minerals.
- Whole-grain toast: Cut into strips or small squares, whole-grain toast is a good source of fiber.
- Cooked pasta: Cut into small pieces or formed into spirals, cooked pasta is great finger food.
- Roasted or steamed apples: Cut into thin slices or small pieces, apples are a good source of fiber and vitamins.
What are the Foods to Avoid in BLW?
When starting baby-led weaning, there are certain foods that should be avoided due to the risk of choking or other potential health hazards. These foods include:
- Small, hard-finger foods that can’t be easily mashed or chewed, such as popcorn, nuts, seeds, and hard candy.
- Sticky, gooey foods that can get stuck in your baby’s throat, such as nut butter, peanut butter, caramel, and marshmallows.
- Large chunks of food that are difficult to swallow, such as raw apples or carrots.
- Foods with sharp edges or skins, such as grapes, cherries, and hot dogs.
- Foods that are high in salt or sugar and processed foods that contain preservatives, additives, or artificial sweeteners.
- Honey and cow’s milk can cause botulism and other health problems in babies under one year old.
It’s also important to be cautious with certain foods that can be potential allergens, such as eggs, nuts, shellfish, and soy. It’s recommended to introduce these foods one at a time and wait a few days before introducing a new one to observe any potential allergic reactions. If you have a family history of food allergies, talk to your pediatrician before introducing these foods.
What to do if your baby chokes
Composure is key! I know how scary it can be to see your baby choking, but it's important to act quickly but calmly. Here are the steps to follow:
- Stay calm and assess the situation. If your baby is coughing, encourage them to keep coughing to try and dislodge the food.
- Hold your baby face-down on your forearm or lap, supporting their head and neck with your hand.
- Use the heel of your other hand to deliver firm, upward blows between the baby’s shoulder blades. The goal is to dislodge the food.
- If the back blows don’t work, try giving your baby chest thrusts. Hold your baby face-up on your forearm or lap, supporting their head and neck with your hand. Place two fingers on your baby’s breastbone and give five firm downward chest thrusts.
- If the back blows and chest thrusts don’t work, call for emergency medical help immediately.
PRO MAMA TIP: Take an infant CPR class before starting baby-led weaning so you are prepared for any choking emergencies.
Our Favorite Baby-Led Weaning Products
A variety of products can help you, mamas, when starting baby-led weaning. Here are some options for you:
- Highchair: Safety first. Hence a sturdy highchair with a secure harness is a must. The one that is easy to clean and has a removable tray, would be fun too!
- Bibs: We have to minimize the mess as much as possible. Look for ones that are waterproof and easy to clean.
- Silicone suction plates/bowls: These can help keep food in one place and prevent spills. Again, the less mess, the better!
- Utensils: The ones with soft, flexible tips and easy-to-grip handles are baby-friendly utensils that can be helpful for exploring different textures and practicing self-feeding.
- Mesh feeders: A useful tool in lessening the risk of choking, while also introducing new flavors and textures to your little one.
- Teething toys: Sore gums mean a cranky baby, and these toys can be a great help. Plus, they are useful in providing sensory exploration.
Grab my free Baby-Led Weaning Feeding Schedule!
Confused about when what and how much to offer? I thought it might be helpful to share this sample baby-led weaning feeding schedule beginning at 6 months of age.
Of course, every child is different, so remember that exact times may vary based on napping schedules and appetite.
7:00 am – Breastfeed or formula
8:30 am – Offer small pieces of ripe fruit such as banana, mango, or avocado
10:30 am – Breastfeed or formula
12:00 pm – Offer soft-cooked vegetables such as sweet potato, carrot, cauliflower, or broccoli
2:00 pm – Breastfeed or formula
4:00 pm – Offer small pieces of cooked chicken, fish, or tofu
6:00 pm – Offer a mixture of grains and vegetables such as quinoa with mixed veggies or brown rice with green beans
7:30 pm – Breastfeed or formula
Remember mama, breastmilk or formula should still be the primary source of nutrition for your baby until they are around 12 months old. The solid foods offered during baby-led weaning are complementary and meant for exploration and learning. And…always offer food in a safe and supervised environment, and never force your baby to eat if they are uninterested.
I hope this blog helped you decide whether to go for baby-led weaning. Got any experiences to share? Send us a message! We'd love to hear your story. Don't forget to follow us on Instagram for more mama tips!