What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning (BLW) is a way of introducing food to your baby which puts them in charge and leaves them free to explore different foods themselves. This is in contrast to a more traditional way of weaning which is spoon-feeding purées, although it doesn't have to be one or the other.
What are the benefits of baby-led weaning?
- Babies are more likely to eat slowly and be able to judge when they've had enough
- Eating becomes a more enriching sensory experience with a greater variety of textures
- Helps babies learn to chew and deal with foods in their mouth
- Promotes fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination by picking up foods
- BLW might help them become less fussy eaters later on
- Cheaper than pre-prepared baby food
Why might BLW not be for you?
BLW is definitely messier! You're inviting your baby to smear, smush, spit and throw things on the floor. A floor mat may be advised!
When babies are attempting to chew their own food they will commonly gag which is a natural reflex to make sure the food doesn't go too far back in their mouths. This can be quite alarming but is very different to choking. If your baby is choking they won't make any noise but when gagging they will usually cough a bit and won't look too alarmed. If you're worried, taking a basic first aid course might set your mind at rest that you do know how to deal with a baby choking. Also there's no evidence that babies who do BLW are more likely to choke. Of course you should always supervise your baby when they are eating.
Your baby is definitely likely to eat less with BLW than with spoon-feeding. It can also be really hard to work out exactly how much they've eaten (especially when most of it ends up on the floor!). This is not necessarily a problem as they will be getting most of their calories from milk, but it might be concerning for some parents.
How to get started with baby-led weaning
As with any type of weaning, vegetables are a great place to start. With BLW, offer any vegetable with a soft texture - anything crunchy is not advised as your baby needs to be able to gum it down into a mush.
Cut vegetables into finger sizes that will be easy for your baby to hold. To make them soft while keeping the nutrients, steam them rather than boiling them. You don't need a fancy steamer for this - just put the vegetable in a bowl with a small amount of water in (just enough to cover the bottom of the bowl), then cover with a plate and microwave it until it's soft. Remember to let it cool down enough before you serve it.
Remember to keep breast/bottle feeding the same amount. They say that 'under 1 food is just for fun' and babies will still be getting most of their nutrition and calories from their milk.
Try eating together with your baby - offer your baby food from your plate at dinner. This helps them get used to the social experience of sitting at the table and sharing a meal.
Best foods for baby-led weaning
Start with vegetables, then fruit, then move on to carbs, protein and dairy later on. Try to offer a variety of flavours, colours and textures. Some great food to start with:
- Avocado (watch out - this stains!)
- Sweet potato (high in iron so great for breastfeeding babies)
- Broccoli (high in iron)
- Mushed blueberries
- Orange wedges
If you're trying to shop local and in season it can be really challenging to offer your baby the variety of foods you want to. If you buy frozen (blueberries and strawberries for example) then these are likely to be picked in season and so will be cheaper and more eco-friendly. There's the added benefit that they go a bit mushy when defrosted which is perfect for your baby.
Combination of both
You don't have to pick either BLW or purées, it's likely that sometimes purées will be more convenient (when out and about for example) and you can certainly mix the two. You might decide to spoon-feed something like porridge for breakfast, but then have a BLW lunch of a few vegetable finger foods. Likewise if you're spoon-feeding purées, you can still encourage your baby's independence by allowing them to spoon feed themselves and responding to their cues. Whichever you choose, good luck and enjoy seeing your baby explore new foods!