What is baby-led weaning (BLW)? When we hear the word “weaning,” most of us think weaning off of breastfeeding completely. In actuality, the term “weaning” is more of a “gradual change that a baby makes from having breast milk or formula as his/her only food to having no breast milk or formula at all” (Rapley & Murkett-book: see below). In the UK, ‘weaning’ means ‘adding complementary foods,’ whereas in the States it means ‘giving up breastfeeding,’ so keep that in mind as you continue to read on. We’re talking about adding complementary foods.
Both my boys were fed solid food in this non-traditional (at least in America) way. And they both did wonderfully with it! For the first few months not much food actually made it down to the stomach, but I had to remind myself that until 12 months, solid food is only a complement to breast milk, and it is not meant to be the main source of food until well after 12 months.
Here are some common questions and concerns about baby-led weaning:
1. When should a baby start solids?
The World Health Organization recommends that the best time to start is around six months, but we need to also watch baby for signs of readiness: baby should be able to sit up by themselves and grab things to take it to their mouths. Starting solids before six months can increase your baby’s chance of having more infections and developing more allergies later in life because their immune systems are immature.
2. How is this method of feeding different:
BLW is letting your child feed him or herself. It is feeding larger pieces of food a child can gnaw on, instead of spoon-feeding purees.
3. What are some main advantages to BLW:
* It is more enjoyable for babies, as they are playing an active part in mealtimes and are in control of how much they eat and how fast to eat it.
* It is natural – as we know babies are made to explore; it is how they learn. “With BLW a baby can explore food at her own pace and follow her instincts to eat when she is ready” (Rapley & Murkett).
*Babies learn to eat safely by being allowed to explore food before it gets into their mouth and learn about different textures.
*Babies get to practice hand-eye coordination and how to grip different foods
*It can help a baby gain confidence, as he/she is doing it completely by themselves
*Baby eats with the family, instead of at a separate time when mom or dad spoon-feeds the baby
*Baby controls his or her own appetite and learns to stop eating when he or she is full, leading to a lesser chance of overeating when they are older. Some studies show this may help prevent obesity in adulthood
*It can help with long-term health, as these babies reduce their milk feedings very gradually, so they are breastfed/given breast milk for a longer time than those who start purees at 4-6 months.
*It is easier. This was a big one for me! Pureeing foods can be very time consuming and tedious. With BLW, you may take a carrot or apple slice that you already prepared for yourself, and you hand it on over to your baby – so much easier and cleaner! This helps too when going out to eat – no purees to bring along!
* It is also cheaper! No need to buy all those prepared purees, or devices to chop or blend food to make purees at home.
4. Are there any disadvantages?
The main disadvantage I found was other people’s opinions. It can be tough to hear from a trusted friend or family member that they think the way you’re doing something with your baby isn’t safe. The biggest thing I heard: “won’t he choke?” Provided the baby “is in control of any food that goes into his mouth and he is sitting upright, BLW doesn’t make choking any more likely than spoon-feeding—and may even make it less likely” (Rapley & Murkett). Sometimes you may see a baby gag (also can happen with spoon-feeding), but this is different than choking. “In an adult, the gag response is triggered near the back of the tongue,” as we know; but in a baby, it is “triggered much farther forward on the tongue,” so this is why babies gag more often than adults (Rapley & Murkett). And it actually can help babies learn how to manage food safely and not put too much in at once.
5. What are some easy first foods to try?
We had the best luck with apple slices and carrot sticks. Other easy first finger foods include: steamed whole vegetables (such as green beans), steamed florets of broccoli, raw sticks of cucumber, thin slices of avocado, pears, bananas, peaches, nectarines, sticks of firm cheese, breadsticks, and rice cakes.
BLW was the perfect way for our children to start eating solid foods, and I have to say they are NOT picky eaters (they both eat nearly anything!), and they always know when they are full and understand it’s not always necessary to “clean their plate.” Both my boys actually eat their vegetables prior to pasta or meat, including my 3-year-old!
I hope you will give baby-led weaning a try!!
For more information, please check out:
Book: 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 – available on Amazon.com for only $10 for kindle version, $12 for the paperback. There are also two copies of this book available to borrow from the Brown County Libraries, and two ebooks as well!
Disclaimer: The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. I’m just a mom sharing what worked for us and resources. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have.