Baby Led Weaning – All You Need To Know
Read this article if you want to know more about Baby Led Weaning – its importance and other pertinent facts.
In a nutshell, Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is all about independence. You try to skip the use of spoon and fork so basically; you’re not serving purees or mashed recipes to your child.
Instead, you provide them with age-appropriate ‘table foods’ which you need to cut into small and manageable pieces.
Some parents feel a bit scared or intimidated because it’s a learning process. Unlike pureeing where you’re confident that more than 90% of the serving will go to their mouths, it’s not the same thing with BLW.
More or less you will encounter babies playing with the food, throwing them at you or just exploring the various shapes and textures.
But, there’s a rationale behind this concept which I will elaborate later in this article. What you have to understand though, is that it’s not going to be easy and just like in using clothing diapers or potty training, you need to have commitment.
- When To Start Baby Led Weaning?
- 9 Benefits of Baby Led Weaning
- 1. It’s fun and much more enjoyable
- 2. It allows them to explore various shapes and textures
- 3. It saves you a lot of time
- 4. Some experts agree BLW is a healthier choice
- 5. The whole family can eat together
- 6. BLW babies don’t usually struggle with lumps
- 7. BLW children tend to be more adventurous in their food choices
- 8. It fosters independence and confidence
- 9. They develop healthy eating patterns and habits
- The Baseline Rules For BLW
- The Secret of Success
- Baby Led Weaning Recipes
- Baby Led Weaning Tips
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Baby Led Weaning Books
- Baby Led Weaning Chart
- Resources and Further Reading
When To Start Baby Led Weaning?
That’s perhaps everyone’s first question. And the answer is simple; it’s the same age when you’re introducing the babies to solid foods (which is around 6 to 8 months).
But of course, you have to assess if they’re developmentally ready. If they’re not yet showing any of the following signs, then you don’t need to push and just wait it out.
- Can hold their head up when you prop them up to sit down
- Can sit without support or assistance
- Willing to chew on foods (or at least makes chewing motions) and doesn’t push it out of his/her mouth on reflex
- Can pick up small items (mainly food) using thumb and forefinger – also known as the “pincer” grasp
- Shows interest during mealtimes like watching what you’re eating or trying to grab the food you’re holding
9 Benefits of Baby Led Weaning
To be honest, this is way tougher and more challenging that feeding your baby with puree. By using spoons and other utensils, you get some control over the environment.
So, why bother with Baby Led Weaning? Why go through all the trouble of letting a six-month-old infant feed themselves?
As you can see, there are numerous advantages to using the BLW method. We’ll go over them here one by one:
1. It’s fun and much more enjoyable
Some parents experience at one point the frustration of feeding kids – you need to have all the tricks in the book just to distract them or at least make them participate.
The aeroplane game is probably the most common method used. One meal could easily take an hour.
The thing is, when you get frustrated, the entire mealtime becomes miserable not just for you but your child as well. With BLW, they will start to look forward to eating.
For the most part, they become an active participant. Thus, it becomes less stressful for you.
2. It allows them to explore various shapes and textures
From baby carrots to broccoli, they will start to gain interest in the different foods you provide for them.
Their curiosity is piqued when they begin to realise the various types of taste too – sweet, bitter, or just right. This way, there’s less likelihood of being picky eaters in the future.
3. It saves you a lot of time
It goes without saying that as long as the ingredients in your family recipes are age-appropriate for the child, you can cook everything in one batch.
Unlike purees, you have to slice them up and steam until the vegetables soften (one time, it took me almost an hour for everything to be soft enough to blend). Then you need to use a durable food processor or blender to mix everything up.
Baby Led Weaning lets you skip the steaming and blending part. I was able to compare this because when I employed BLW, I just cooked the veggies in less than 15 minutes, let it cool then served it to my son.
Also, I broke two food processors because I would use it almost twice per day.
4. Some experts agree BLW is a healthier choice
Think about it since they have control over what they eat and how much, they’re less likely to end up overeating.
They will know when they’re full, and in the long run, it minimises the risk for childhood obesity mostly because you’re “training” them with healthy food preferences.
That’s perhaps the best way to start solids. Also, I’m not a huge fan of anything with preservatives – whether it’s puree or finger foods.
They also begin to understand their hunger cues. It makes a lot of sense though.
When we feed them with pureed or mashed food, we measure our own serving – without any regards if they’re full or not. With BLW, they will just stop eating and most probably just play around with the food.
5. The whole family can eat together
This for me is a huge deal because, at a young age, they will already feel ‘part’ of something.
They don’t need to have their own meal times. Instead, they join everyone in the dining area.It also encourages them when they see other members (like big brother or sister) eating.
I cannot guarantee that they will eat everything on their plate, but there’s less playing if they can see what everyone else is doing – which is putting food on their mouths instead of throwing or playing with it.
6. BLW babies don’t usually struggle with lumps
Imagine if you’ve been feeding your child only smooth purees. When they encounter lumps in their foods, they might refuse or not like the consistency and texture. It might be harder to introduce non-BLW kids to other types of food.
But that’s not to say it’s bad not to practice BLW because it’s still a case-to-case basis. What I’m pointing at is how easier the transition will be from baby food to ‘big people meals’ if they’re not just used to smooth textures.
7. BLW children tend to be more adventurous in their food choices
It is in connection with number 2.
Because they’ve gotten used to a wide variety of taste, textures and consistencies, they’re less likely to become fussy eaters. They’re more open to trying out new and exotic dishes which are relatively new to their palette.
Also, this way, you can take them out with you to restaurants or diners without worrying if they will have something to eat based on the menu.
8. It fosters independence and confidence
It’s all about letting them do things on their own.
Slowly, they will appreciate being independent and how they wouldn’t need to rely on you when it comes to eating. It may be a small thing, but it can benefit them in the long run.
You can fully understand its importance once they start going to school and you see them not relying on other people even with small tasks.
9. They develop healthy eating patterns and habits
This is assuming that your entire family does the same thing.
You see, it’s not just about bonding with mum, dad and siblings during meal times. They also see what you eat and will most likely emulate it.
Remember, kids imitate adults quickly so don’t be surprised if they start munching on apples or eating salad just like you. It’s basically about being a good role model.
This way, you also tend to go for healthier options not just for the little one but everyone at home.
Although these are all attractive benefits, you might need to consult with your paediatrician if your baby was born with health conditions such as difficulty in swallowing or is suffering from any neurologic or respiratory disorder. Even if they’re not, you should at least let your physician know you’re starting off with the BLW method of feeding.
The Baseline Rules For BLW
One of the most important things to remember is to avoid adding salt and sugar. It may be tastier, but it’s still not good for their health.
Also, since there are no utensils like spoon and fork, you have to cut it up into manageable pieces before giving it to them.
Make it neither too big nor too small and consider your child’s little hands. It should be easy to grip, and they shouldn’t struggle in picking it up because they might end up frustrated.
For tougher foods like carrots, you can steam it but just enough for it to be edible. Never leave it too long that it becomes unappetizing.
Ultimately, it all boils down to this basic rule whenever considering what your baby should eat: it should be age-appropriate, safe and healthy. You can add variety, but you can never go wrong with grains, fruits and vegetables.
2. How To Eat
If you haven’t purchased a high chair yet, you probably don’t want the cheapest on the market. Consider it as an investment because there are models which your baby can use up until their toddlerhood.
You can skip putting bowls because they’ll probably just throw it away. High chairs often come with trays, or I also came across a cute little bowl with a suction base.
Instead of letting them wear a regular, small bib, you might want to purchase the waterproof long-sleeve bib. I swear, it was a real lifesaver for me.
3. Safety Principles
- Don’t serve foods which can be choking hazards. One example is grape.
- Introduce a new food every three or four days. That way, you can observe any allergic reaction.
- Continue giving them breastmilk or formula. Just because they’re starting to eat doesn’t mean they no longer need the nutrients from milk.
The Secret of Success
DON’T PANIC WHEN YOUR CHILD STARTS TO GAG
There’s such thing as a gagging reflex which is quite scary to witness especially for first-time parents.
While most would freak out to see their kid gag, it’s the body’s response to prevent choking. For babies at around six months old, whenever something stimulates the throat (food in particular), they automatically thrust their tongue forward to push it out.
What you need to do is to avoid freaking out when it happens and let them do their thing. Of course, it goes without saying that you should also know how to deal with choking and implement first aid as necessary.
BE PATIENT AND NEVER RUSH THINGS
Compared to feeding them with purees; you will need an extra bucket load of patience for BLW.
They might spend a majority of the meal time throwing foods or playing with it but don’t fret if they don’t devour everything on their tray – that is uncommon and pretty much expected. If they’re having fun, that’s so much better than forcing them to eat.
Remember to make it a happy experience instead of making them feel frustrated and miserable. Let them eat at their own pace.
TRUST YOUR BABY
I know this is quite hard to do given that they’re only a few months old.
But when you try to be in control, it takes away one of the key things we hope to achieve in BLW which is for them to develop self-reliance and independence. If you’re worried that they’re not eating much, think of the milk as your back-up (regarding nutrition).
It is also why it’s imperative to choose foods packed with vitamins and nutrients because even if they consumed just a little, their body would still benefit from it. They’re still learning the feel of foods and discovering the consistencies and textures.
So step back and just observe.
Baby Led Weaning Recipes
Aside from steaming foods like carrots, asparagus or broccoli, you can also whip up a delicious meal for your little one. I compiled some of the easiest and yummiest recipes I could find.
I’m not a fan of too many ingredients, so I scoured for those with as little as possible.
1. Two Ingredient Pancakes
- One ripe medium-size banana, mashed
- 1 egg
- Butter for frying
Beat the egg and add the banana. Blend them well together using a food processor or blender.
Adjusting it to medium heat, melt the butter. Add in the mixture (it’s totally up to you how much you put in the pan) and fry for about two minutes on each side. Make sure you don't burn the sides.
Serve with fresh fruits – my personal favourite is adding strawberries.
2. Avocado Fries
- Two ripe avocados cut into strips
- Two eggs, beaten
- ¼ cup flour
- 1 cup breadcrumbs
- Olive oil
Pre-heat your oven to 200c. Dip the avocado into the flour, then the egg and lastly, coat it with the breadcrumbs.
Put the strips into the baking tray and spray with olive oil, making sure you don’t put too much.
Bake for around 15-20 minutes or until it’s golden brown.
3. Cinnamon Apples
- Two ripe apples, peeled, cored and sliced
- 2-3 tbsp of butter
Melt the butter in a heated pan. Toss the apples and coat with the butter.
Sprinkle it with cinnamon, as much as you like. Cook until soft then let cool before serving.
4. Sweet Potato Wedges
- Sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
- Olive oil
Pre-heat the oven to 200c. Put the wedges on a foil-lined tray and drizzle with olive oil.
Roast for around 35 minutes.
5. Baked Beef
- Beef, cut into bite-size pieces
- Olive Oil
Pre-heat the oven to 375F. Grease the baking sheet with olive oil or to minimise the mess, you can just spray lightly.
Place the beef on the sheet and separate them to make sure everything's cooked evenly. I don’t encourage seasoning it that much because like I said, salt is a big NO-NO.
Cooking time depends on the meat’s size (20 minutes per pound).
6. Scrambled Eggs
- One egg, beaten
Do the usual but don’t add salt. You can serve it with slices of avocado and black beans – it’s colourful and looks appetising too.
7. Sugar-Free Flapjacks
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 tbsp desiccated coconut
- ½ cup butter
- 1 ½ ripe bananas
- 3 dates
- 4 tbsp apple juice
Pre-heat the oven to 170c and line the baking tray with parchment. Pulse the oats in the food processor until roughly chopped.
Blend the desiccated coconut. In a blender, mix the butter, bananas, dates and apple juice.
Pour this concoction on top of the oat mixture and blend well. Scoop some into the tray and flatten using the back of the spoon.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until sides are golden brown. Remove the parchment paper and left it to cool for a few minutes.Cut into pieces and serve.
Baby Led Weaning Tips
Don’t overfill the high chair tray. A maximum of three varieties is more than enough.
Too much may overwhelm them, and they will most likely just play with EVERYTHING. Also, they’ll appreciate the various textures more if they have few on their plate.
Just like in purees, introduce one food at a time (every three or four days). Some babies will have an allergic reaction to eggs or even some fruits, and it will be easier for you to identify and pinpoint the culprit if you don’t give them new foods to try all at once.
There are so many bib options out there, and I suggest you don’t settle for the small one made of cloth. I did mention the waterproof long-sleeve type, but your child may not like it because it sure doesn’t look like the most comfortable one.
There’s another favourite which is the soft silicon bib with pocket. You don’t have to worry about having too much mess because anything that doesn’t go to their mouth will likely fall in that little pocket.
You still need to guide them. Under no circumstance should you even go out of the room while they’re eating.
You’re trying to help them gain independence, yes, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be there teaching them how to do it. The only thing to keep in mind is to avoid feeding them – meaning, you shouldn’t be the one putting the food in their mouth.
But you can encourage them to mimic you by eating alongside. Remember, kids love to copy adults especially mothers.
If you’re still starting out with BLW and are confused what to give your child first, consider these factors: nutritious, soft and easy to swallow. They will just eat a portion of the serving, make sure everything contains lots of nutrients.
You can never go wrong with fresh fruits and vegetables.
Don’t rush your baby. There’s what I like to call the pre-eating phase where they will look and touch the foods on their tray.
If they haven’t seen it before, they‘re probably still trying to familiarise themselves with something new. They will touch them or play with them before they start putting them in their mouths.
You need to provide ample time for them during meals – say, about 10-15 minutes. My tip is to enjoy and savor this moment.
You should know the difference between gagging and choking. When they gag, there’s little noise, and they will cough mildly.
On the other hand, you’ll know when they’re choking when there’s no noise, and they look like they cannot breathe. Also, there’s a panic expression on their face.
For safety purposes, you should know how to conduct basic CPR and also the Heimlich manoeuvre.
Pasta is always a good idea. While they cannot yet master how to work with spaghetti, you can use fusilli, penne or rigatoni pasta because these are all easy to grasp.
And the bonus here is, the rest of the family can have it too.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. Can you start baby led weaning at five months?
One of the most basic considerations is to wait until your child is ready. It is also the reason why some parents opt to delay solids.
The baby has to be developmentally ready, and his or a digestive system needs to be mature enough to take the food. While it’s true that some babies are showing signs of readiness as early as 5 ½ months, some also have to wait until eight months.
What does this tell you? Don’t rush it and check for the signs I have mentioned earlier.
2. What are the BLW foods to avoid?
This one’s easy. I already wrote about avoiding salt when cooking.
Another thing you should skip is going overboard with sugar. My paediatrician advised us against it until my little one reaches a year old.
Also, junk food is a huge no. And yes, when I said ‘junk’, I’d like to include fast food menu items too.
So if you’re thinking of giving them McDonald’s French Fries, then think again. You can cook it yourself instead, minus the preservatives and deep-frying.
3. How often should you offer food?
There’s no absolute rule here. If the child joins your family for breakfast, lunch and dinner then, that’s fine.
But don’t be too strict on the “three meals a day” thing because they’re still learning the ropes of eating and their hunger cues. You can let them eat between milk feeding or just let them munch on BLW foods in no particular time of the day.
Do whatever’s convenient. Just like in other kinds of training, you don’t have to be too strict or rigid. Again, make it an enjoyable and pleasant experience for them.
4. How does Baby Led Weaning work?
In a nutshell, BLW is all about letting your child feed themselves. The moment they’re ready for solids, they skip purees and mashed preparations and instead, eat finger foods.
It further develops their grasp and also allows them to recognise hunger and satiety cues. They are in control of how much goes into their mouths.
Although the use of spoon isn’t that common in this type of practice, it’s not exactly banned. In fact, if the baby can already hold it, they can start practising how to use it.
While others prefer a spoon, I always opt for spork or one that’s spoon-shaped but with fork-like tips.
5. How much water for BLW?
According to a paediatrician, babies at 6-12 months usually need around 2 to 4 ounces per day. Take note, they’re still drinking milk, and this is just letting them get used to the water’s taste.
If, for example, it’s way too hot or if the child is constipated, you can increase the water intake to 6 to 8 ounces. Serve it in a sippy cup with holder, so they will learn to drink on their own too.
6. How big should BLW foods be?
It has to be small and manageable. If you want something more specific, it has to be close to your baby’s fist size or bigger, not smaller.
What’s important to remember is avoid those which can lodge in their throat and cause choking. A few examples of their first foods are strips of avocado, fusilli pasta, steamed broccoli (the ‘handles’ work best to help the child quickly grasp it), or sweet potato fries.
If you’re serving a banana, you might want to peel in just halfway so they have something to hold because it can get slippery.
7. Who invented Baby Led Weaning?
There is not one person who can claim the honour of being the ‘inventor’ of BLW. But the person responsible for coining the term is Gill Rapley who is also the co-author of Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater.
It was during her research about babies development while starting solids. She also worked as a midwife and health visitor where she found how successful and effective the BLW method is.
8. Is Baby-Led Weaning safe?
The simple answer is “yes if you do it right.” I have already included tips and safety reminders to make sure nothing untoward or undesirable happens.
I totally understand how mothers feel – that the babies might be too young to handle finger foods or there’s the possibility of not eating enough. Those are legitimate worries.
The thing is, there’s nothing to worry about if the child is ready and if you prepared the right foods. In fact, there’s a study in Australia where they observed 200 babies following the BLW method.
And they found out that after eliminating the not-so-safe foods, BLW kids weren’t at risk for choking.
9. How much milk with BLW?
Just because they’re starting solids doesn’t necessarily mean you will give them less milk. On the contrary, the whole process of ‘eating’ is mostly about learning and experimentation.
Up until 12 months old, the baby’s primary source of nutrition is still milk whether it’s formula or breastmilk. In fact, I did mention about scheduling the ‘meal times’ in between feeding.
Besides, you can’t expect the child to consume plenty of solids at this stage. So basically, continue with the milk feeding and consider the BLW as the supplementary and also as a form of transition to more solids after one-year-old.
Baby Led Weaning Books
Here’s a list of important reading materials you can use:
- Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods-and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett
- Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby To Love Good Food by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett
Baby Led Weaning Chart
Here’s what BLW does to your child and his/her development. As you can see, there are a plethora of benefits with this method.
If you’re at a loss what to serve your BLW baby for the next few weeks, here’s a guide to creating fun and easy meals.
Resources and Further Reading
Wholesome Babyfood’s Baby Led Weaning – Starting solids with foods straight from the dinner table! Kelly Mom’s Is baby ready for solid foods? (Developmental signs of readiness) BabyCenter’s How can I tell if my baby is ready for solids? Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett’s The Benefits of Baby-led Weaning BabyCenter’s Baby Led Weaning Sabrina Rogers-Anderson’s No more purees: The pros and cons of baby-led weaning Huggies’ Baby Led Weaning Catherine Phipps’ Baby Led Weaning Bounty’s Baby Led Weaning Jennifer Carlson’s The Benefits Of Baby-Led Weaning Are Worth The Effort Rachel Reiff Ellis’ Baby-Led Weaning: Is It Right for Your Child? Baby Led Weaning’s Getting Started Parents’ The Do's and Don'ts of Baby-Led Weaning BabyCenter’s Gagging in Babies Mother & Baby’s 16 tips for successful baby-led weaning Ciara Attwell’s Two Ingredient Pancakes for Baby Led Weaning Amy’s Avocado Fries Emily Chapelle’s Cinnamon Apples Recipe for Babies Cow and Gate’s Sweet Potato Wedges Wholesome Babyfood’s Easy & Tasty Beef Baby Food Recipes Wholefully’s Baby Bites: Baby Led Weaning Breakfast Ideas Ciara Attwell’s Sugar-Free Flapjacks for Baby Led Weaning Baby Led Weaning’s Bibs Mama Natural’s How To Do Baby Led Weaning What To Expect’s Baby Led Weaning Baby Led Weaning Ideas’ Easy Homemade French Fries Dr Jennifer Shu’s How Much Water Do Babies Drink? Essential Baby’s Baby Led Weaning: What It Is and How It Worked For Us Laura Sanders’ Baby Led Weaning is Safe, If Done Right Baby Accessories Blog's - Baby Led Weaning - The New Approach to Weaning