Baby Led Weaning

What does Wean mean?

This is from the UK, not American. In the UK, ‘weaning’ means ‘adding complementary foods’, whereas in the States it means ‘giving up breastfeeding’.

What is Baby Led Weaning?

Baby-led weaning (BLW) or Baby-led feeding (BLF) is about respect for your baby, trusting your bub knows what and how much their body needs, rather than anyone else deciding how much bub needs by spoon-feeding (the alternative and more conventional approach to introducing solids). BLW allows bub (from approx 6mo – when bub is showing all readiness signs of introducing solids) to take control of his/her food by using her hands to self-feed on family foods i.e. ‘real solids’ not purees or mush. Picking up family foods or healthy natural foods in their original form i.e. steamed broccoli, carrots, bananas, watermelon, cooked chicken, eggs etc whilst they discover different textures (cold, warm, hard, soft, rough, squishy etc) and shapes, dealing with a wide range of foods, develop and master skills i.e. hand/eye coordination, aid the development of the jaw and facial muscles, whilst learning how to chew, eat, move food around the mouth and swallow, less fuss at meal times and ‘hands down’ creating a non-fussy eater/toddler (which was a huge and the main plus/positive for us!)

BLW makes mealtimes more enjoyable for the whole family and less stress about ‘how much’ food bub has eaten or not eaten, no pressure on parents or bub. It also allows babies to make food choices and decisions from the very starts of their solids journey at approx 6mo as to what their body needs by picking up foods and placing it in their mouth (or plays with it).

BLW is about providing bub with a healthy, balanced mix of finger foods and family foods but allowing your baby to control how much she eats. Offering these ‘real solids’ when bub is showing readiness signs (see below) around 6mo.

“We found in the first few weeks to months there was very little food making it to bub’s tummy and was just about discovery and play! But I tried not to worry at all about how much or how little bub was eating, as my breast milk (or formula) remained the primary nutrition within the first year of bub’s life. Truth to say we now have a great little eater! Fuss-free and loves her food!”

Why Spoon Feeding is Unnecessary?

Spoon feeding is left over from the days when ‘our parents’ were advised to begin feeding their babies solids around 3 or 4 months of age (when their baby is too young to self-feed). (ref: Gill Rapley) Now days, health authorities including the world health organisation (WHO) recommend to begin a babies solids journey around 6 months old. Research now indicates babies prior to 6 months old babies do not need solid foods, their bodies aren’t really ready for them, especially when breast milk (or formula) is the primary nutrition for babies within the first year of life. So if you wait to your baby is 6 months old, this means you have skipped the spoon-feeding stage. At 6 months old babies are clever enough to feed themselves and they do not need to be spoon fed.  (ref: Gill Rapley) Babies at 6mo want to handle their food themselves and love to discover new textures with their hands and mouth – it is a natural instinct! That is why Baby Led Weaning is the PERFECT way for your baby to discover food and textures naturally.

When to start BLW?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and majority of all health authorities around the world recommends waiting until your child is around six months old before introducing solid foods. “Before this, digesting anything other than milk feeds is difficult for babies and is not good for babies.” <ref: Gill Rapley, page 19> The old belief is 4 months old, but this is no longer advised. A substantial number of families ‘use to’ introduce complementary solid foods around 3-4 months, especially if the infant is perceived as fussy, however this is not the case these days after much research by world authorities. Introduction to solids prior to 4 months is associated with increased weight gain and adiposity, both in infancy and early childhood. Research also indicates that it is important to expose children to a wide variety of flavors and textures, which can be offered from 6months old when bub is showing all readiness signs.

Readiness signs: Your baby is probably ready to try solid foods by the time she can do all of the following which happens around 6mo:

  • Sit up unsupported
  • Hold his head steady
  • Pick food up and put it in his own mouth
  • Swallow food (babies who are not yet ready have a tongue reflex that pushes food out of their mouths)

The benefits of BLW?

  • It is enjoyable! Playing an active part in family mealtimes and being in control what, how much and how slow to eat. Babies learn to eat themselves just like crawling, walking and playing.
  • It is Natural! babies love to explore with their hands and mouth. With BLW a baby can explore family food at his own pace, in his own time. It is human instincts.
  • Learns how to chew different shapes and food textures (looks, smells and tastes) from the very start of a babies food journey. Where with spoon-feeding everything is blended into one. Babies can then practice chewing and moving food around in their mouth skills, rather than suck and swallow (spoon-feeding). This is a very important and key benefit of BLW babies. Babies who start of spoon-feeding can find it harder to transition to ‘real solid’ foods as they get used to one texture. Learning to chew also helps with digestion and speech.
  • Appetite control. Eating habits developed during infant/childhood can last a life-time. If babies eat at their own pace (deciding when they have had enough ore wanting more), choosing from a variety of healthy food options at meals times, “learn appetite control and how much their body simply needs at that point in time. This may be important part of preventing obesity.”
  • No meal time battles or tricking baby. The philosophy of BLW is also about Mum and Dad NOT pressuring baby to eat. No airplanes, no games, no tricking baby or hiding food within food to make their baby eat a balanced diet or just to eat! Trusting your baby can make her own decisions and picking up/ playing and discovering foods from the very beginning (6mo+), no pressure to eat how much or how little, then there is no opportunity for mealtimes to become a battle. Stress-free, relaxed parents, relaxed baby all eating as a family.
  • Less pickiness as a toddler. Eating as a family from the very start,  being included in on mealtimes, no pressure, no battles, eating the same meals, no need to transition from baby foods to lumps then family meals (which many babies feel difficult), creates babies/toddlers that are less likely to be picky or fussy eaters.
  • Baby isn’t left out and gets to engage and watch conversation with the whole family.
  • Eating out is easier and family meal times are cheaper. No need to blend and spoon-feed at the table. Baby can simply have some of Mum or Dads meal or most restaurants have healthy sides on the menu.
  • Better nutrition. As a BLW mum, as i am cooking for the whole family, we now watch our salt content, sugar and try to limit packet or preservatives when family cooking. Eating as a family and offering a healthy and varied diet, demonstrates and teaches babies/kids good habits for life!

Can you switch from purees to BLW?

Yes, its never too late to switch to BLW. It may take a little longer for bub to pick up and eat food but he/she will get there.

Can we ‘do a bit of both’?

BLW is about more than just offering your baby food to pick up – it’s about trusting her to know what to pick up and what her body needs. Topping bub up with purees after she has just played, defeats the purpose of trusting bub’s natural instincts.  “So doing some self-feeding and some spoon feeding may work for you, but it’s not BLW.” (ref: Gill Rapley)

What first foods should I start with?

I believe in starting with ‘foods from the ground/nature’s food! this is how i think about it… if i have just landed on earth and there was no supermarkets what would i eat? or what would i feed my new born baby? For me, when it came to first foods for bub i started with nature’s foods. This just made it so easy and i wanted bub to try every vegetable, fruit, a variety of meats out there (we are still getting through the list). My BLW theory was to ‘KEEP IS SIMPLE STUPID’ (the KISS acronym).

I am a big believer in introducing god’s foods first for your baby. It just doesn’t seem right to offer your beautiful clean baby processed ‘cereals’ or ‘pouches’ (where your baby can’t see whats inside of it OR feel its textures).

We started with steamed vegetable and fruit.

  • Vegetables (steamed, boiled, roasted): Broccoli, Sweet potato, Pumpkin, Carrot
  • Fruit: Avocado, Peach, Mango, Steamed or baked apple (to soften a little), Strawberries, Banana
  • Proteins: (steamed, boiled, roasted, pan-fried): Chicken, Beef, Pork, Fish
  • Dairy: Full Fat Greek Yogurt, Cheese (watch salt and processed)

Food to avoid in the first year?

Salt is bad for babies, their kidneys are not mature enough to deal with it.
Babies up to 1yr should have no more than 1g (0.4g sodium) per day. Watch out!!! for cheeses, bread, sausages, ham, bacon, yeast extract, brine, soy sauce, smoked meats, processed foods…

  • A general shopping guide for mums/dads: A food high in salt = more than 1.5g (0.6g sodium) A food Low in salt = less than 0.3g per 100g. (ref: Gill Rapley, Baby Led Weaning). 

Sugar: are empty calories, have no nutritional value. Contributed to tooth decay. To sweeten things up like yogurt try dried fruit, lemon, cinnamon.

Fish: shark, swordfish and Marlin should be avoided, contains high levels of mecury which can affect a babies development of the nervous system. Raw fish has a high risk of food poisoning, safe if they are cooked. Oil fish (salmon, tour, mackerel, herring, sardines and fresh tuna is very nutritious, girls and women of childbearing age shouldn’t eat it more than twice a wk because of possible pollutants) boys,men and older women X a have up to 4 servings per wk).
Canned tuna doesn’t contain toxins ie tuna or other oily fish, can be eaten more often.

Additives: monosodium glutamate and e-numbers which are artificial preservatives, Flavours and sweeteners should be avoided as much as possible, no nutritional value and can be harmful for babies and kids – linked to hyperactivity in children.

Honey: avoid until your baby is over 1. Can cause botulism.

Uncooked eggs: often salmonella which can make baby I’ll. Cooking destroys the bug. Cooked eggs (the whole egg) can form part of your baby’s diet over 6mo+

Hydrogenated fats: avoid trans-fatty acids interfere with healthy fats, found in many processed foods. Most healthy foods don’t have them.

(Ref: Gill Rapley, Baby Led Weaning, U.K. Department of Health)

Do I have to eat every meal with bub?

BLW is also about letting your baby join in on family meal times. Saying this, this means if you are cooking for the family what you usually cook, recipes may need altering. i.e. reduce the amount of salt, hidden salt (in stock etc), sugars, processed foods etc, These days not all households eat at the same time, your baby may go to bed earlier before you get home from work, both parents may work, baby may go to childcare etc doing BLW suggests just ‘try’ join in when bub is eating, even if you can sit and have breakfast with your baby or on the weekend eat with your baby or just grab a snack whilst your baby is also eating, so they don’t feel left out. This will make them feel more so part of the family. Eating with your baby boosts your babies confidence and understanding of what meal times is all about.

My baby is not eating, is there such thing as a BLW regression?

YES! New teeth, tummy bugs, a cold or a change in childcare environment can all lead to phases of fussiness. Think about the occasions when you don’t want to eat; your baby may well be experiencing exactly the same feelings. The key is to keep calm through these dips. Don’t rush him; this will put pressure on him, which can reduce his appetite and come across as fussiness. Try eating as a family, with lots of praise when he does eat. Also, try removing any distractions such as TV or toys.

Butters and oil

Saturated fat and cholesterol should not be restricted in children under age two according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Fat plays an important role in a babies brain and nervous system development. Once bub has experienced the flavor of single foods i.e. fresh fruit and steamed/roasted vegetables, try adding a little butter or oil to make them more palatable and boost their nutrition. Try choose an organic brand whenever possible to reduce your baby’s exposure to pesticides and herbicides. And, make sure to include other sources of fat in your child’s diet like avocado, olive oil and full-fat yogurt.

How long should I breastfeed for?

AAP recommends to exclusive breastfeeding for the first year.

To help your baby get all the benefits of breast milk:

  • Give her only breast milk for the first 6 months
  • Once she starts eating solids, try to keep breastfeeding until she’s at least 12 months old.
  • Many babies and mums successfully breastfeed for a year or longer!
  • Breastfed babies who are breastfed for at least 6 months are less likely to be overweight.

Note: breast feeding can me hard at times and can lead to exhaustion, stressful situations and depression. Try to keep it up as long as you can and speak with your health care nurse or lactation consultant for tips and alternative ways to relieve the pressure for you and bub (alternate methods may include expressing, relaxation techniques, creating a routine etc)

Does my baby need water?

Healthy babies under 6mo do not need extra water. Breast milk and/or formula provides all the fluids they need. However, with the introduction of solid foods, water can be added and offered to your baby’s diet at 6mo (offer with meals). Also, a small amount of water may be needed in very hot weather, but check with your child’s doctor about how much is safe. And if you live in an area where the water is fluoridated, drinking water also will help prevent future tooth decay (AAP recommendations).

Healthy Drinks:

Babies should drink breastmilk (or formula) and water (at 6m+) for the first year of life. Try to avoid introducing juice or sugar-sweetened beverages during the first year. (Re: AAP recommendations).

Where to go for BLW Support & Ideas forum from other BLWer Mums & Dads?

Please join my support group Facebook group ‘Baby led weaning support & ideas group’, I created this group for mum, dads, grandparents, caregivers, childcare workers etc to have somewhere for BLW support. The group has hundreds of mums/dad etc seeking support and can ask the other members questions about BLW to help each other out, post photos, encouragement and motivation along their BLWing journey and food discovery. This group does not provide professional advise its just a forum for sharing experiences. Please consult your paeditrition and speak with your health visitor or doctor if you have any concerns about your baby’s eating. Many health centres offer weaning ‘clinics’ and advice on different meal options.


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