What is Baby Led Weaning? Baby Led Weaning (BLW), quite simply, means letting your child feed themselves from the very start of weaning. The dictionary defines weaning as: the process of gradually introducing an infant to what it's adult diet will be. So when we say weaning, we are talking about the transition from straight breastmilk/formula to adding some solid foods into their diet.
According to the most recent research most babies reach for food at around six months, which is also the time that mothers are being encouraged to wean* by their Health Visitors, in accordance with the WHO guidelines. Why is six months the recommended age for starting solids? Babies digestive tracts are more mature and developed, their posture is better for swallowing foods and digesting, they are more interested in foods and the social aspect of meal times, and (most importantly for BLW babies) they are developmentally capable of chewing. In other words – no more mush!
So how do you feed your BLW baby? You of course want to make sure that you aren't giving them anything that isn't able to be mashed up by their gummy mouths. If you are feeding veggies, give them a good steam first and make sure they are fully cooked. Offer food to your little one in chip sized chunks that they can hold by themselves. The size will deter them from choking on anything too small. For banana, a favourite to start for babies, try cutting one in half and then cutting the peel off while leaving some peel on the bottom (it will look like an ice cream cone!). If they like it, they will eat it. If not, they won't… But that's okay, because food is FUN before one. It's all about the experience of textures, tastes, and smells. Don't put too much in front of them, just a few pieces, or they can become overwhelmed.
You can share your meal with baby! Having a sandwich for lunch? Rip off a piece of bread, and give a slice of tomato or meat for them. They get the social aspect of meal sharing, and also enjoy the same foods as you! But mind the bowls in the beginning, as they can go flying! It may be a safer bet to place the spaghetti straight on the tray rather than in a bowl. Don't be too hung on up a 3 times a day meal schedule. Timing ‘meals’ to between milk feeds seems to be best, and because it’s just finger food you aren’t limited to staying in.
We should probably talk about choking. Most parents when they see a BLW baby eating whole solid foods, especially when first starting, are concerned about the baby choking. But did you know that your baby has TWO reflexes for protecting them when eating? Baby has a gag reflex at the top of the throat, and a choking reflex at the middle of the throat. When you feed your baby in the beginning and they don't swallow properly (or get too excited and chew off more food than can swallow) they will trigger the gag reflex, and that's okay. If the baby gags, remember that it’s their way of moving food around in the mouth and don’t panic. Some parents have found that making exaggerated chewing faces and noises reminds the child to get back on track. And if that doesn't help, always lend them a hand of taking out the food. Never put food into a child’s mouth, let them put it in by themselves so that they can control it as it moves backwards. But don't let that scare you away from independent eating for your baby… Remember, when baby eats puree they can still gag. It's a natural reflex.
What do you need for BLW? As an experienced eater yourself, you already have all the ‘equipment’ you’ll need to feed your child. A highchair or baby seat where your little one can sit at the table with the family is a great idea. Bibs, to protect all the outfits… Or opt to have them in just a diaper! Some families like to have a wipeable tablecloth under the chair to make clean up on the floor easier. Plenty of washcloths. Your baby will be very messy when they start out their journey, and it's good for their little exploring hands. Besides, you can easily pop them into the tub at the end of the day.
That’s the essence of Baby Led Weaning. No purees, no ice cube trays, no food processor, no potato masher, no baby rice, no weird fruit and veg combos… just you and your child, eating food that you enjoy with you and your family. It's that simple! As your baby grows, you will introduce smaller bites, and you will see what their tastes and preferences are.
Here are some great ideas for first foods to try, non pureed of course: