Introducing solids is an exciting and fun time. You find pretty little jars all lined up on the shelf in the baby food aisle. They come in different mixtures, sizes, and textures. It feels like a right of passage for parents to fill up the cart with dozens of jars to give to their baby each week.
However, there is a different way to go about offering solids. Hundreds of parents are using a method called bay led weaning. This method involves no purees or jars of baby food. Instead, you give your baby food that you are eating, exactly as you do.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
The term baby led weaning was created by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett when they released a book called Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods. With this approach, babies are given access to solid food and encouraged to try to self-feed with finger foods. There are no solid purees or spoons necessary.
Despite the name, there is no weaning involved. Don’t worry that the method will involve you need to wean your child from breast milk or formula. Instead, you are weaning the child onto solid foods. However, it is important to remember that he introduction of solid foods is technically the start of the weaning process. Your baby’s desire for breast milk consumption will gradually decrease as he eats more solid foods.
BLW is the idea that babies are able to feed themselves. You can slowly introduce new foods into their diet. Parents to believe this method is superior and better for the child than spoon-feeding. It encourages healthy eating habits from the start.
Benefits of Baby Led Weaning
There are quite a few benefits and reasons why you may want to try BLW with your baby.
- Less Stressful: Baby led weaning is fun and exciting! It is more messy, so be prepared to clean your child frequently. You are letting your baby take the lead and watching them eat at their own pace. Instead of being worried that they aren’t eating enough, you let them decide how much they should eat.
- Healthy Eating Habits: From an early age, your child will be introduced to a variety of tastes and textures. When you give your child healthy food choices from the start, you are encouraging your baby to make those decisions as they get older. BLW also helps to encourage your child not to be a picky, which is a great thing as they grow.
- Reduces the Risk of Obesity: Feeding your baby with a spoon encourages them to ignore their natural feeling of being full. All they need is that one more bite at the bottom of the jar. Allowing them to as much as they wish discourages overeating, which avoids that bad habit.
- Encourages the Development of the Jaw and Chewing Skills: You want your baby to learn to chew from the beginning. Chewing is typically delayed when babies are spoon-fed because purees are simply swallowed.
- Develops Hand Eye Coordination: While learning to eat, your child has to use their hands to put the food into their mouth. These motions encourage hand eye coordination. Also, they have to learn to use silverware eventually, further encouraging the development of hand eye coordination.
- Baby led weaning is easier and cheaper. When you use purees, you have to purchase or make them. If you opt for the store bought varieties, they are expensive. Your child could eat up to five jars a day, equaling around five dollars per day. Or, you could spend hours each week preparing the right solids for your child. With baby led weaning, you give your baby whatever food the rest of your family consumes each day.
How Do You Know Your Baby is Ready for Solids?
The American Academy of Pediatrics advises parents to wait until their child is six months old before introducing solid foods. However, this age is just a suggestion as to when most children are ready. There are some that will not be ready at six months old, and some will be ready a month before this age.
Here are some signs to watch for to determine if your child is ready for solids.
- The baby can sit up on their own without support.
- The tongue-thrust reflex is gone, so the child no longer pushes out food automatically.
- Your baby shows a willingness to chew on food or imitates chewing.
- At dinnertime, your baby seems excited to try food. He may reach for your food.
- He starts to use his pincher grasp, trying to pick up food between his thumb and forefinger. You will notice he doesn’t try to scoop food with his palm anymore.
Items You Need to Practice Baby Led Weaning
- High Chair or Booster Seat: The first thing that you need is a high chair. One with a removable tray is ideal. The tray should be easy to clean. Some have a removable insert for the top of the tray, so you just stick it into the dishwasher.
- Bibs: Baby led weaning is messy. There is no way to get around this fact. It would be best if you purchased full sleeve bibs to reduce the stains on your child’s clothes. After he eats, you can put the bib right into the washer.
- Spoons and Forks: Eventually, your child is going to learn how to properly use a spoon and fork. In the beginning, it is just for play. Give your child their fork and spoon each meal. Soon, they will learn how to properly use them.
First Foods to Try for Baby Led Weaning
There are some foods that are better to try than others. Here are some of the best choices.
- Bananas are a guaranteed hit with most babies. They love the texture and taste. Bananas are a great first food. You may want to cut it into chunks because they are easier to chew and to hold.
- Melon is a fantastic choice. Many babies love cantaloupe and watermelon. They are soft, easy to chew, and are delicious.
- Avocados are picked by many parents as the first food. It is soft by nature, full of healthy fats, and requires no cooking. The only downfall is that it is hard to grip.
- Carrots are full of vitamins and nutrients for your baby. Clearly, you need to steam them first before giving them to your baby. The shape of carrots are easy to hold and easy to chew.
- Broccoli is full of flavor and vitamins. This vegetable is a great first food as long as the parents steam it first.
What Foods Should You Avoid?
Clearly, there are some foods that you should avoid giving to your baby for the time being.
- Don’t give your child processed, unhealthy, junk foods. You want to encourage healthy eating habits in your child.
- Don’t give your child any food with added sugar and salt. It is important to strictly limit your child’s salt intake. Salt is damaging to your child’s kidney.
- Don’t give your baby food that causes allergies. Avoid the foods that are most commonly known for causing allergic reactions.
- Don’t give your child any food that is a choking hazard, such as nuts, candy or peanut butter.
The Process of Baby Led Weaning
It all probably seems slightly overwhelming to you. How are you supposed to feed your baby if you aren’t supposed to use spoons? More importantly, how in the world are you supposed to feel comfortable giving your baby a chunky of banana when he is so little? Here are some things to consider when you start baby led weaning for the first time.
- Pick the Right Time. Most parents know that babies are hard to handle when they are cranky or hungry. To start the baby led weaning process, you should pick a time when your baby isn’t hungry, but he also isn’t totally full. A baby who is full won’t be open to the idea of eating, but a cranky baby will want just his mama’s milk.
- Bring Your Baby to Meal Time. You want your baby to feel like a part of the family. Meals are the best time for this. Place your baby in a high chair or a booster seat at the table with everyone.
- Get the Area Ready. Some parents like to put a towel, sheet, or protective mat on the floor. If you have a dog, you might want to get him ready for all of the food that is going to fall his way. A lot of parents strip their baby to his diaper. BLW is messy, so don’t let your child eat in his Sunday best and expect it to stay clean.
- Offer Food to Baby. Ideally, you want to offer your baby the same food that your family is eating that day. It should be easy for them to pick up and eat, and it should be large enough for your child not to choke. Giving your baby varying foods with different textures and tastes are important to get your child used to a range of food.
- Let them Eat! Now, the most important part of baby led weaning is letting your child eat as much as they want for as long as they want. With spoon-feeding, the parent decides how much the child should eat at each meal. With baby led weaning, you are letting your child take the reins. Only they can feel their fullness level. Let your child try all of the different textures and take as long as they want to eat, or as short! In the beginning, your baby will probably spend more time playing with the food than eating it.
- Give Water in a Cup. At this time, it is a great idea to offer some water in a cup. He may not drink it at first, but it’s a great opportunity to get him used to the idea.
But, What if My Baby Chokes?
The biggest concern most parents have about giving their baby finger food early on is that their baby is going to choke. Luckily, if you offer only safe foods, your baby should be fine chewing on them.
Chances are you baby will gag a few times as he learns to manage the food. He will either put too much into his mouth or he will push the food back too far. Gagging might scare you, but you should think of it like a safety feature. Your baby’s gag reflex is in the middle of his tongue rather than all the way back, like adults.
Your baby is going to gag himself as he learns how to properly move the food around in his mouth. One of the most important skills is learning how to move the food from the back of his mouth to the front. At the same time, your baby is realizing what he shouldn’t do at next meal time!
Here is the difference between gagging and choking.
- A baby who is gagging will cough mildly and will make some noise.
- A baby who is choking will have a petrified look on his face. He won’t be able to breathe and makes no noise.
Understanding the difference is important. Before you start baby led weaning, parents should refresh their minds on what to do if their baby is choking. The Heimlich maneuver is different for infants. Luckily, most babies won’t choke on safe foods.
Is Baby Led Weaning for Your Baby?
Some parents prefer to use spoon-feeding. Maybe they like to offer purees. The reason most parents don’t try BLW Is because they are afraid to see their baby choke. If you learn and understand the differences, you will see that BLW is actually quite safe. The benefits are impressive; who doesn’t want their baby starting with healthy food habits and learning to read their own hunger cues? Plus, BLW makes for some of the best photo opportunities!