Baby Led Weaning (BLW) means simply letting your baby feed themselves. Traditionally, babies have been spoon fed purees, however with baby led weaning a selection of finger foods is offered instead and the baby is able to choose what to eat and attempt to feed themselves. The term was originally given by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett in their book Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods. Like traditional weaning, it's suitable from six months for most babies.
Why do Baby led weaning?
One of the main benefits of BLW is that these babies tend to be a little more advanced and adventurous with their eating habits. Another main reason is the convenience of serving the same meal to the whole family. Most babies need to start off by practicing the skills of reaching and picking up their food and getting into their mouth. This can be messy and take quite a few attempts to actually connect the food with where it needs to go. But in the process of trying, they are learning lifelong skills in feeding themselves. They don’t always consume a huge amount of food, however it’s important to remember that in baby’s first year, their main source of nutrition continues to be milk, whether that be breast milk or formula. Although there's plenty of anecdotal evidence about the benefits of BLW, not much formal research has been done. According to Babycenter, one study found that babies who are allowed to feed themselves from the beginning of weaning are more likely to join in with family mealtimes and eat a wide range of family foods early on.
How to do Baby led weaning?
If you'd like to try BLW, offer your baby a range of nutritious age appropriate finger foods. Many parents choose to do this at shared meal times as babies love to copy those at the table around them. Parents, older siblings and friends all make great role models. Baby led weaning is usually messy, as bowls and spoons are skipped and food is placed on the table/tray in front of baby. It is important to remember that with BLW, babies choose what, how much, and how quickly to eat.
What are finger foods?
When introducing food for the first time with baby led weaning, many people begin by feeding baby steamed carrots and broccoli or cut up pieces of avocado or banana. Basically, food that babies can grip in their hands. According to Babycenter, the easiest finger foods for young babies are those that are chip-shaped, or have a natural handle, such as cooked broccoli spears. This is because when your baby first tries solids, they won't yet have developed a pincer grip. The pincer grip enables them to pick up food between their thumb and forefinger, and they'll develop it in the next few months. But for now, they can only clasp foods in their fists.
Between 6 and 12 months, a baby’s own iron and zinc stores from birth start to diminish. It is therefore suggested to offer foods that contain iron, such as red meat, as one of your baby’s first foods whether doing BLW or traditional weaning.
Some great first finger foods for baby are:
- Steamed apple and pear
- Steamed carrots, zucchini, sweet potato, pumpkin and green beans
- Ripe peaches, pears and plums (or else these can be steamed)
- Raw Avocado, Banana
- Our Finger Food Babycook Recipes including beef croquettes, pork meaty bites, pastas and savoury muffins
- Cooked meat or poultry (usually just to suck on)
- Slices of sprouted bread, wholemeal pasta, brown rice
Some things to avoid:
- Any added sugar or salt
- Caffeinated foods such as chocolate, tea, coffee
- Processed foods
- Foods that are high risk for choking – whole nuts, grapes, cherry tomatoes
What about choking?
This is the primary concern of most people when considering or beginning BLW. There are some steps you can take to minimise the chances of your baby choking, and these should be followed irrespective of BLW or traditional weaning. These include ensuring baby is sitting upright (baby should not begin solid foods until they are able to do this unsupported) and always supervising your baby while they are eating. Avoid offering your baby foods that are a choking hazard. Learn first-aid treatments to know what to do if your baby is choking. Lastly, learn the difference between gagging and choking. Gagging is not dangerous and doesn’t seem to bother babies. If they gag on a piece of finger food, they simply spit it out and try again. It becomes more dangerous if an adult panics, as this may make the baby also panic and so increase the risk of her choking on the piece of food.
What are the downsides to BLW?
Any parent who has followed Baby led weaning would agree that although there are many positives, it is a very messy and often wasteful exercise. As baby learns, they often throw food around with only a small amount going in their mouth. This also means that they may not get as much nutrition as babies that are fed pureed food with a spoon.
As mentioned above, between 6 and 12 months, a baby’s own iron and zinc stores from birth start to diminish. As red meat and other high iron containing foods are therefore recommended to be introduced early in your baby’s weaning journey, with BLW they may consume only limited amounts of these much needed nutrients. One study showed that babies who start solids with BLW have lower levels of iron, zinc and B12 than spoon-fed babies.
So what is the best option for weaning my baby?
That is difficult for someone else to decide. Ultimately it will be a decision for your family and what you personally feel comfortable with. The Australian Department of Health state that ‘smooth foods should be offered in the beginning. Foods of various textures and thickness can be gradually introduced after babies have taken well to eating.’ Most dietitians also tend to think it's important to give your baby a variety of textures, including smooth/mashed foods as well as finger foods.
Remember that with all approaches, it does not have to be completely either/or. Many families feed their children a range of finger foods at shared mealtimes, while also ‘topping up’ with purees or mash and spoon feeding baby with a soft plastic spoon such as our First Age Ergonomic Spoon, not a metal teaspoon. And remember that no matter how you decide to introduce solid food to your baby, that at around 8 months many babies like to begin feeding themselves, and it is therefore recommended that they are offered finger foods and more ‘chunky’ foods so that they are exposed to a range of different textures.
With the Beaba Babycook, you can control the level that food is chopped. You may choose to steam and serve as finger food, gently chop into chunks, mix into a mash or puree into a smooth texture. The choice is yours.