A quick search for baby led weaning brings up over 8 million results on google, has over 1 million tagged posts on Instagram, and a huge number of Pinterest boards filled with delicious and exciting looking foods. 10 years ago, the phrase was relatively unheard of, but baby led weaning is big business and is very much here to stay.
What is baby-led weaning?
In short, baby-led weaning (or BLW) involves letting your baby feed themselves with pieces of food that have been appropriately prepared. Think batons of cooked carrot rather than a spoon of carrot puree; a whole floret of broccoli instead of some green smush. BLW skips that traditional weaning approach of cooking vegetables until soft, pureeing them and spoon feeding to your little one. Instead parents offer the food to their baby and leave it up to them to decide if, and how much, they want to eat.
Sounds great, when can I start baby-led weaning?
BLW requires your baby to be able to sit and hold their head steady, have good hand-eye-mouth coordination, and to swallow food. Because of this, most babies will not be ready for baby-led weaning until 6 months of age, when these developmental skills are consistently present. Sound familiar? These are the key signs to look for when any baby is ready for solids, whether it’s purees of finger foods. You can read more about the signs in this blog post.
Is there any reason I shouldn’t do baby-led weaning?
For some parents, it can be really nerve-wracking to introduce food for the first time, and so they may feel more comfortable starting with purees. If you have been advised by a paediatrician or health professional to introduce your baby to solid foods early, then baby led weaning might not be suitable.
If you’re unsure about whether to take the plunge and go ahead with baby led weaning here are 5 things to know before you start.
1. There will be mess!
This is true of any type of weaning, but BLW involves letting babies pick soft food up with their hands, so inevitably they will get messy. It’s a huge part of the experience of learning how to eat and what foods do, so embrace it. Trying to keep them clean will stress you, and your baby out, and can actually be detrimental in the long run. Take a deep breath, have wipes ready for the end of the meal, and maybe lay down a mat first. Have a look at my post here for some more tips on managing mess.
2. Choking isn’t common
It’s something many parents worry about, whether doing baby-led weaning or not, but by offering appropriately sized foods and letting your baby be in control of feeding themselves, they aren’t more likely to choke. Some advocates of BLW would even suggest the opposite, and that by letting your baby have that control, they will learn how to safely manage food more effectively than if they were solely given purees. If you are worried, take a baby first aid course to reassure yourself - or if there isn't one near you, St. John's Ambulance have really clear information on their website.
3. It’s not only vegetable sticks
Deciding what foods are suitable for baby-led weaning can put some people off - piece of cooked vegetables are obvious starting points, as are soft fruits, but where do you go from there? How on earth do you give a baby porridge without a spoon, and what about a family dinner? Babies aren’t at all concerned with table etiquette and will find a way to eat anything with their hands, including yoghurt. If the thought of porridge or yoghurt squashed between your babies fingers makes you squeamish, you can try pre-loading spoons to let your baby explore, or using toast as a tool for spreading dips like hummus.
4. You don’t have to be a chef
Instagram and pinterest can make feeding a baby look like you need to be a cordon bleu chef, but the truth is babies really don’t care if their dinner is in the shape of a dinosaur or you use a beautiful bamboo bowl. Offer foods that you are eating as a family, and don’t spend hours in the kitchen making picture perfect meals because….
5. It can take some time
At the start of weaning, babies generally eat very little. They are just learning what food is and whether it is safe to put in their mouths, so we can’t expect them to polish off a whole portion of your famous fish pie the first time they are offered it. Have realistic (ie LOW) expectations of how much your baby will eat for the first few meals, and this way you can avoid too much food going to waste. If you’re after more tips on minimising food waste during weaning, check out this blog post.
I am a huge fan of baby led weaning, but you don’t have to take an all-or-nothing approach. Weaning should be enjoyable and exciting for both you and your baby. If you spend some time reading and researching before hand, when it comes down to starting, you’ll be able to choose an approach that suits you.
Still need some help choosing or have some unanswered questions? I run a monthly online weaning workshop, open to any parents (and their babies) who are thinking about introducing solid foods. We cover everything from the signs your baby is ready for weaning, which foods to start with, how to introduce allergens, and which ‘essential’ weaning items you don’t actually need! You can sign up to the next course here or send me a message on my Instagram or Facebook pages if you have questions!