I had no idea what baby led was with my first born child in 2009. I thought I was pretty “hippie” with my breastfeeding on demand, cloth diapers, and probably completely wrong babywearing tactics. (I learned how to properly babywear after meeting wonderful babywearing mamas who sent me tutorials and information.) I knew enough to steer clear from rice cereal and the whole “cereal” experience, as our birth classes covered it a touch and I researched it further on my own. But for some reason, when people said, “You can skip the baby food.” I felt like they were crazy. I mean you HAVE to do baby food, right? It’s like a right of passage.
I was incredibly wrong!
I made some awesome homemade purees for Scarlett at 6 months old, but then became quite lazy and sick of cleaning the food processor and ice trays. (It seriously lasted maybe 3 weeks.) I decided to look into skipping the gross looking goop and learn about this thing called “Baby Led Weaning.” My eyes were opened and suddenly it all made sense: Your baby will eat when she is ready. She will work her fine motor skills by holding foods and feeding herself. Food before one is only for fun anyway, so playing with, holding, and gumming pieces of real food at this age is all for learning and fun!
Let me start with the word “weaning” in this sense. In our society, weaning means to lessen or remove breastmilk from the child’s diet. However, the term “baby led weaning” comes from the British definition of weaning – to add in complementary foods in addition to breastfeeding on demand. It means allowing your child to determine when she is ready to eat, and what she is ready to eat. True BLW begins with their first bite of solid food – fed to themselves. That being said, you can switch over to this feeding style at any point of solid food feeding.
No need for baby spoons, but you may want a “splat mat” for the floor surrounding your child’s eating area! (I’m not kidding – things may get messy!) Simply choose baby-friendly foods in front of your little one and let them feed themselves. Baby Led Weaning is said to set your child up to have a good relationship with food. You are allowing her to touch, smell, and decide for herself what foods and how much to eat.
You can still start with one food at a time, watching for allergens. But you may also allow baby to eat directly from your plate at the dinner table. There’s no hourly-timed schedule for BLW, and starting slow is your best (and cleanest) bet. Cut one slice, large enough to grasp, and place it in front of baby. More pieces may be overwhelming at first. If baby is ready, she’ll grab the food. Do not force the issue though. You are meeting all of her nutritional needs through breastmilk or formula, so let her take her time learning to love food.
Make sure to stay near baby as she experiments with BLW. This is not a hands-off parenting approach by any means. You can help guide and encourage her. Expect lots of squishing, throwing, and smacking paired with squeals and giggles!
Do not cut down on your breastfeeding or formula feeding. Let baby spend a few months tasting, playing, and eating more foods. She will lessen her nursing amount on her own.
Benefits of Baby Led Weaning:
- Research shows that babies who start solids through baby led weaning are:
- Less likely to develop food allergies (believed to be because BLW introduces more flavors and food combinations)
- Familiar with different textures and flavors, developing a more well-rounded palate
- Less likely to become overweight due to the child meeting her hunger cues and not having a parent control the amount being eaten. (Similar to breastfeeding, baby led weaning allows child to self-regulate her eating.)
- Increases hand-eye coordination skills
- Confident babies due to the independence they feel at meal time
- Learning to chew and developing the muscles of the mouth correctly: aiding in digestion
- Making life a little easier: no baby food stored in the house, slightly smaller grocery bills, meal prep is simplified
Great Baby Led Weaning Tips:
- Don’t pull out the cute plates and bowls just yet. They will become mess-making projectiles.
- Make eating fun! Eating = Playtime. Textures, colors, smells, tastes, let your baby have fun.
- Introduce new and fun foods. Let her eat from your plate.
- Eat together. Don’t worry about preparing separate meals or feeding baby before you eat. Allow her to eat with you. Socialize, laugh, and talk together.
Common Fear: Choking. By presenting food to your baby in appropriate-sized pieces, teeth or not, they will learn how to manipulate food in their mouth, chew and swallow, without choking. When first foods are presented as cereal, spooned mush and purees, babies learn to swallow and don’t learn to chew until later. When they do first encounter lumps, they try to swallow them whole, leading to choking. With Baby Led Weaning, babies learn to chew first. At first, they might chew and spit most of it out as they grow accustomed to textures and moving food in their mouth with their tongues. Don’t worry about how much they are eating; think of each meal as a sensory experience to expose them to new foods, textures, all while teaching them how to eat: chew, swallow, handle food, and feed themselves.
Is Baby Led Weaning for Me? Only you can decide this. If you have a developmentally delayed infant, then BLW is not for you. If your child is developing normally, then the decision is yours. I’ll tell you from personal experience, the more children you have, the easier the decision is to make! Ha! Baby Led Weaning is the way in our home.
Whatever choice you make, enjoy this stage. It ends entirely too fast.