Baby-Led Weaning, or BLW for short, is a somewhat new approach to feeding infants, that has risen in popularity, especially in the U.S., over the last few years. It means almost exactly what the name implies, letting babies take the lead when it comes to eating food at the start of weaning. This means no purees, no baby foods, no mushing, or mashing, just giving baby the same sort of foods you and your family are already eating(with a few exceptions).
To begin BLW, its very important that your child is showing all signs of readiness. The following questions can help you determine if your baby may be ready to try eating food:
-Is baby AT LEAST 6 months old?
-Can baby sit up without support?
-Has baby lost the tongue thrust reflex?
-Is baby ready and willing to chew?
-Has baby developed pincer grasp?
-Does baby act interested in mealtime and eager to participate?
If baby meets all, or most of these, it might be a good time to start offering your baby solid foods! Some good foods to start BLW are: Avocado (sliced into finger sized wedges), Roasted Pumpkin/Squash (cut into “fries” or bigger squares), Bananas, Sweet Potatoes (cut into fries or large cubes), Strawberries (sliced), and Spinach. I would advise avoiding the following: Honey (due to risk of botulism), Undercooked foods, Animal milks (the different forms of protein can give babies really bad tummy aches), Mold-Ripened Cheeses (like brie, stilton or bleu cheese), Salty foods (Shoot for less than 1 gram/ day for babies under one year), Caffeine (there are several hidden sources of caffeine out there- for example, cocoa and chocolate).
There are numerous advantages to BLW. Its less stress for you and your baby, saves time and money, is more developmentally stimulating for baby, builds brave taste buds, puts more focus on family meal time, and helps your child build a healthy relationship with food from a young age.
The most common fear with Baby-Led weaning is that babies may choke- however, a study completed by the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that, at 6 months babies following a modified version of baby-led weaning did NOT choke any more than those following traditional feeding practices. At 8 months, however, BLW infants were LESS likely to choke on food than the infants who had been weaned with purees and traditional baby foods.
It is critical, when participating in BLW to remember a few rules about safety.
-Remove Choking Hazards: Cut grapes, cherry tomatoes, or anything similarly shaped into quarters. Avoid tough skins and always check for shells, pits, and bones.
-Be Present: Always pay close attention to your baby while they learn to eat. While choking IS rare, it does happen, and seconds matter.
-Cup Drinking: If you are breastfeeding, weaning is a great time to teach baby to drink from a sippy cup, or even a real cup, if you’re brave! Using bottles can cause nipple confusion or frustration at the breast.
-Get a Splash Mat: And a Swiffer. And be prepared for the most ridiculous messes you’ve ever seen. Bring a good sense of humor.
-First Aid: Spend some time reviewing the difference between gagging and choking in babies, and know what to do if your baby IS choking. This article is a great place to start.
-Keep Breastfeeding/Giving Formula: Especially at first, babies will not be able to consume enough calories and nutrients from the food they eat to quit nursing cold turkey. It is usually a gradual transition that takes several months.
As always, should you have any questions, about baby-led weaning, parenting, or birth support, feel free to reach out!