What is Baby-Led Weaning?
First, it’s not “weaning” per se; the focus is not on giving up breastmilk or formula. The focus is, instead, on adding (age-appropriate) solid foods (rather than purees) to your little one’s diet, once they show signs of readiness for self-feeding.
Let’s begin there, then — signs of readiness.
- Be at least 6 months of age
- Sit up with little/no support
- Hold head steady
- Reach out and grab things effectively (important as your child will be self-feeding)
- Move objects to mouth quickly and effectively
- Make gnawing and chewing movements
There are pros and cons to BLW, of course.
The negative aspects of this type of feeding are not to be taken lightly, of course. It is MESSY. Your little one is learning to grasp foods of different sizes and textures, and choosing what they want and don’t want to eat. You also don’t get the easy choices from the shelves at the grocery store telling you what is appropriate for 6 months, 9-12 months, etc — you have to do the research about how to cut things up, how much of different nutrients is appropriate depending on your little one’s age, and what to watch out for regarding allergic reactions, choking versus gagging, and whether they’re eating enough. Also, because the idea is that your little one eats from what you’re eating, you have to be sure you’re making foods that are supplying your little one with the nutrients they need; this means foods that are nutrient-dense, as little ones have little bellies that fill quickly. No fast food, empty-calorie foods for your little one OR for you, friend!
However, the positives greatly outweigh the negatives.
Your little one gets to make choices about what they want to eat and when, so they’re beginning at a very early age to recognize when they are hungry and when they are full. They get extra practice with fine motor tasks, including objects of different sizes, textures, and — dare I say it? — play with their food! They get to explore these brand-new sensations, including (and especially) new tastes. Your little one has a better chance at liking a greater variety of foods (including fruits and veggies) because they eat them in their original form, rather than hidden in purees. You don’t have to pack tons of baby foods and snacks because they eat what you eat, so eating out is easier, too (though, again, sometimes messier). And while this may not be the case for everyone, it has made me think more about my own nutrition, as well as adding in things I maybe wouldn’t normally eat… like chicken liver!
Now that we’ve established when to start, and the benefits, … how??
The World Health Organization has a few guidelines to follow:
- continue frequent, on-demand breastfeeding until 2 years of age or beyond;
- practice responsive feeding (for example, feed infants directly and assist older children. Feed slowly and patiently, encourage them to eat but do not force them, talk to the child and maintain eye contact);
- practice good hygiene and proper food handling;
- start at 6 months with small amounts of food and increase gradually as the child gets older;
- gradually increase food consistency and variety;
- increase the number of times that the child is fed: 2–3 meals per day for infants 6–8 months of age and 3–4 meals per day for infants 9–23 months of age, with 1–2 additional snacks as required;
- use fortified complementary foods or vitamin-mineral supplements as needed; and
- during illness, increase fluid intake including more breastfeeding, and offer soft, favorite foods.
What foods do I introduce?
Really, it can be almost any. Early on, larger chunks of food are safer. Veggies and some fruits should be steamed/boiled so they aren’t a choking hazard. Nuts are always a choking hazard, but they can be introduced as nut butters, thinned out using oatmeal or yogurt.
I highly recommend following a baby led weaning blog or account, such as Solid Starts. This is a momma who is documenting the first 1000 foods her twins try, and has done a lot of research on the nutritional aspects of foods, and has some great ideas on ways to introduce solids safely!
In general, give your little one what you’re eating!
Some ideas on first foods to introduce may include:
Vegetables (steamed, boiled or roasted) — including sweet potato, broccoli, carrots
Fruits — avocado (mashed or slices), baked/steamed apple, banana (initially in a large piece, later in 3rds lengthwise)
Meat — chicken, beef, salmon, eggs (especially in omelette strips), chicken liver (has so many good nutrients!)
Dairy — full fat yogurt, low sodium cheese
Some things to avoid (until at least 1 year old):
Highly processed foods
Where to start? Like Nike says, Just Do It. There really isn’t one perfect food to begin with, but share your meal with your little one! My little one’s first food was a piece of tomato her dad gave her from his sandwich. Not highly recommended — very acidic and caused a rash around her mouth!
At 10 months, my little one’s favorite foods include rice, eggs, broccoli, sweet potato, banana, and most of all, yogurt with some sort of nut butter mixed in.
Have fun with your little one! Can’t wait to hear stories of how much they love playing with their foods!