Baby led weaning (BLW) is an approach to introducing solid foods that allows the baby to feed themselves from the introduction of food at 6 months age. Coined after the release of Dr. Gill Rapely and Tracey Murkett’s book of the same name in 2008, the method has hit a chord with many parents who were tired of making multiple meals for the family.
BLW is an approach to introducing ‘real’ foods to babies rather than purees. Parents give babies chunks of food and they feed themselves, usually with their hands to start and then progressing to using cutlery. The BLW approach suggests parents include their baby in family mealtimes to encourage the social aspects of eating. BLW also encourages parents to take cues from babies as to when they are full rather than trying to have them finish what’s on their plate. As with the traditional puree method, BLW babies will still have formula or breastmilk for the majority of their nutritional needs at first and slowly transition to more food and less milk as they get the hang of eating.
While some parents will take a strict BLW approach, many parents will choose to offer their child a mixture of purees and solid food.
The recommendations suggest starting infants on solid food between 4 and 6 months. In order to successfully use the baby-led weaning approach, it’s important your baby shows the following signs of readiness:
For starters, the idea of feeding your baby the same thing you’re eating is a whole lot easier than making multiple meals every day. Of course, you’ll need to modify the meal for baby (no salt/sugar, big chunks, etc.) but at least you avoid feeling like a pureeing factory.
A big part of baby-led weaning is exploration. In the process of learning to eat, babies are learning to control the food in their mouth, practice hand-eye and hand-mouth coordination, and understand the social side of eating. Both BLW and puree-feeding are about a slow transition to eating solid foods – the majority of their nutritional needs in the first few months will still come from breastmilk or formula so don’t worry if there’s more food on the floor than in their tummies!
Because BLW is a fairly recent concept (in name only – in practice, parents have been introducing chunks of food since the beginning of time), the evidence base for it is limited. Some key findings in studies of BLW that have emerged over the last several years:
Understandably, one of the main worries parents express when considering baby-led weaning is safety, in particular, choking. Anecdotal evidence suggests that because infants are controlling where their food is in their mouth (rather than having a spoon shoved in there), they’re more likely to gain good tongue and mouth control over their food and choke less. In the beginning, this often means they will gag their food up as they learn how to control it. According to a 2017 review[iv] of the evidence on baby-led weaning, choking had occurred in 35% of infants in their first year – with no difference between babies fed a traditional pureed diet vs. babies introduced to solids using BLW.
It’s important to introduce foods one-at-a-time at first to see if they have a reaction. Try a food for a few mealtimes in a row to assess a possible reaction before moving on to the next food. The following foods need to be avoided:
Introducing your child to the wide and wonderful world of food sets them up for a lifetime of relationships with food. Despite the mess, try to enjoy watching them explore and understand food!
This article was independently written by Healthy Matters. It is informative only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be relied upon for specific medical advice.
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