I have to admit, it was laziness that initially motivated me to explore Baby-Led Weaning (aka: Baby-Led Eating). But this lazy-parent method of introducing solids is also thought to be more beneficial to the child. Everyone wins!
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
The term Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) was coined in the UK where “weaning” refers to “introduction to solid foods”. While in the United States, the term “weaning” is used to describe weaning off the breast, with this term, it is meant to describe weaning into solid foods. This method of introducing solids skips the purées and allows babies to pick up the food and feed themselves.
How do you actually do this Baby-Led Weaning thing?
Well, there are a variety of approaches. Some people dive right in the deep end and hand the baby exactly what they are eating for dinner. That means, sometimes 8-month-old baby gets an entire whole chicken leg to grab and gnaw at. We didn’t dive in head first like that. I guess we did a slightly toned down version of BLW. I cut all foods into finger-like (or french fry sized) sticks, so my babies can easily grab on. This shape also helps to prevent choking. If it’s something denser, like chicken breast, I’ll cut pea-sized pieces.
We start with nutrient-dense whole foods that are unlikely to cause allergic reactions. My favorite first food is avocado. It is soft, yet can still be grabbed with baby fingers. Then I like to move on to carrots steamed to the point that they hold the shape but are easily smushed with baby hands. We first get through trying a lot of vegetables, proteins and then fruits before introducing grains and dairy. When introducing a food that is more likely to cause an allergic reaction, I don’t give it to the baby in the evening and I wait about three days before adding another new food. This way, if my baby has a reaction I am able to determine exactly which food is the cause. This is especially important if someone in your family has a history of food allergies. Some examples of high-allergenic food are: peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, milk, fish, shellfish, and soy.
Why might you consider this?
BLW encourages baby to be independent and feed themselves, rather than being spoon-fed. Experts say that the benefits of this method include a foundation for good eating habits and a strong development of fine motor skills. It’s thought to help them better understand the feeling of fullness, and to help them enjoy a wider variety of flavors and textures. As an added bonus, it keeps your hands free! You aren’t off the hook completely though; your baby still needs supervision while eating. A lot of the food ends up on the floor, in their hair, on their clothes, and pretty much everywhere except their mouth. It’s okay if they don’t actually eat much of it. They are exploring different flavors and textures while mastering that pincer grasp, chewing skills and self-regulation.
•We all have mealtime together.
•Our hands are free to eat our own food!
•No food processor or baby jars needed.
•Babies learn to chew then swallow.
•Babies experiment and learn to self-regulate.
•Great for developing fine motor skills.
•Very very messy!
•Baby may gag more than on purees, and that can seem scary. But gagging is okay and different from choking.*
Let’s say our family dinner one night is salmon with carrots and potatoes. If we are just introducing solids, I’ll steam the carrots without any seasoning and cut long thin pieces and put them directly on the high chair tray. The carrots should still maintain their shape so baby can grab onto them, but be soft enough to easily mash. If baby has already eaten carrots and not tried a new food in a few days, I’ll add some of the salmon (without oil or seasoning) to the tray. When something small like peas or black beans are a part of our meal, I’ll just throw some of those on the baby’s tray (without any salt).
Pay attention to this part again: I just put that food on the baby’s tray. That’s all! Then I sit down with my family and actually eat my meal. We keep an eye on the baby sitting next to us, but we all have our hands free to feed ourselves! It’s wonderful!
When should you start solids?
Similar to the sleep issue — and pretty much every other baby-related issue —there is conflicting advice and some people feel very strongly one way or another. My personal philosophy on introducing solids is: Wait until at least six-months-old. Start with nutritious whole foods that are unlikely to cause an allergic reaction. Set it up so my baby can eat as independently as possible.
Through my research and experience, I have come to believe that a baby’s digestive system is too immature for solid foods before 6 months. The expert advice seems to vary between 4 and 8 months for the acceptable time to begin. However, if you are following the BLW approach, don’t start before your child is six-months-old. Somewhere recently I heard someone say that your baby needs to have teeth in order to eat anything besides purees. This is not true. Your baby can “chew” soft foods with their gums. My daughter’s first tooth came in when she was 13.5-months-old, and we started with this approach to food just after she turned six-months-old.
Whatever you do, whenever you introduce solid foods, make sure these criteria have been met:
•your pediatrician gave you the “okay”
•baby can sit without support
•he or she has good head and neck control
•baby is showing curiosity about food (grabbing for food, opens mouth if you bring a spoon towards it)
•baby has lost the extrusion reflex where the tongue automatically pushes solids out of the mouth
What will you need?
All you need is a highchair with a tray that is easy to clean, or a clip- on counter chair. You don’t even need to waste money on plates. But, if you do want to buy some tableware, or tools to help you prepare the food, check out some of these items:
• This high chair is my personal favorite. It is easy to clean, has an adjustable seat and footrest, comes in a variety of colors, and it can grow with your child.
• These mats are great to bring when eating at restaurants, for easy cleanup and to catch food as it falls. If the pocket takes up too much room in the diaper bag, try this travel mat.
• This will help cut the food with ridges so it’s easy for baby to grab.
• This is my favorite bib! It doesn’t restrict movement like some thicker ones, and it has a pocket to collect all the food that will inevitably fall. However, in the early days of BLW, you may want more of an apron style bib with full coverage. Learning to self-feed is messy!
• When your baby is ready to hold his or her own spoon, try these. They are designed to fit toddler hands and is curved in a way to make self-feeding more successful. This is another good utensil for a baby starting solids. The short handles make it easier for them to feed themselves. Just hand it to your baby pre-loaded and watch them learn to self-feed!
What are the key takeaways here?
With baby-led eating / baby-led weaning, parents decide what the baby eats, when and where. But the baby gets to control the amount. Before they turn one, you don’t need to stress much about the quantity your baby actually ingests because during this time babies don’t need too much nutrition from solid food. After six-months-old babies still get most of what they need from breastmilk or formula, but they will gradually need additional sources of iron and zinc.
The bottom line really is that feeding your baby doesn’t have to be complicated! In my opinion, it is most important that you wait until your baby is ready for solids and that you start with nutritious whole foods. Go with purees if that is more your style. If you are intrigued by this lazy, but wonderfully effective method, take a look at “baby-led weaning”!
Other items that will be helpful when introducing solids: