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Tips to Be Successful With Baby-Led Weaning. Four moms share how to do Baby-Led Weaning and what foods to introduce first.
Baby-led weaning is a popular method used by parents to introduce baby to solid foods. Baby led weaning does not use purees. You have baby feed him or herself from the beginning. Benefits of this process are reported to be that baby learns to self-regulate (don’t eat past being full), baby improves fine motor skills, and mom saves time by not needing to sit and feed baby the purees. Baby can eat at the same time as the family is eating and everyone in the family can eat, too.
I asked group members in one of my Babywise groups who used this method to share their experiences with it for the blog so that all of you can know about it! Be sure to do your own research, talk to your own doctor, and go with your own gut on which foods to feed your baby and when.
Get your copy of the book Baby-Led Weaning here (affiliate link).
There are a variety of experiences here. So here it is:
Our Experience with Baby-Led Weaning
The basic principle of Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is simply starting your baby straight on to finger/table foods rather than purees. The idea is that by starting when your baby is 6 months old (and showing other signs of readiness) they are developmentally able to sit up, and pick up, hold, chew and swallow ‘real’ food. It is easiest to start off with foods that are chip/wedge shaped in the beginning – eg slices of avocado, pumpkin, banana, broccoli stalks, kiwi etc. This is because at 6 months babies generally cannot open their hands to eat the food inside so a long thin shape let’s them eat the tops off!
I first read an article about BLW when I was pregnant and mentally filed it away as an interesting idea! As the time came closer to start solids, I decided to at least give it a try – I liked the philosophy behind it and the logic made perfect sense! One of the key elements of BLW is that it is a low pressure/stress approach. On the day my LO, Lily, turned 6 months (yes, I was pretty excited), we decided to let her try but knew that it was common for babies to simply play with and explore the food for the first few goes. With BLW, there is no forcing to eat, no ‘airplanes’, no stress or fuss! You simply give your baby healthy food options and let them decide how much to eat. Especially as milk is still the main source of nutrition between 6-12 months, as the BLW saying goes, ‘food is just for fun before one’ – so you don’t need to feel anxiety that your child should eat a certain amount – give them the opportunity and if they are hungry, they will eat! So we presented Lily with a slice of avocado and stalk of lightly steamed broccoli and casually watched to see what she would do – to our surprise she immediately picked them up and started chomping away! She ate all the avocado and gave the broccoli a good chew, and seemed to thoroughly enjoy it! The next day she had capsicum (red pepper), watermelon and roast potato and pretty quickly progressed to eating everything and anything. Meal times were always a pleasure as she ate with us from the beginning (allowing the baby to be part of family meal times is a big part of BLW) and it was so nice to be able to sit as a family and enjoy our meals together, and Lily loved to taste and try everything! It was always fun to see the amazement of family and friends as they saw our tiny girl chowing down on all kinds of exotic foods, people couldn’t believe what a good eater she was/is.
I have to say BLW was for us pure pleasure. No spending hours mashing, blending and pureeing. No special meals and no stressing and worrying about how much she ate, and no coaxing her to just ‘finish the jar’. Just fun exploring and enjoying good healthy food as a family! As they grow they quickly progress to being able to eat all kinds of foods, as their dexterity improves (and BLW is great practice!) so that soon she was able to pick up peas and corn, and other foods both big (ribs!) and small (puffed rice). BLW can be a little messy but with a good set up (splash mat, smock and scoop bib) it is easily dealt with, and I found that the pleasure of seeing my LO enjoy her food made any extra mess far worthwhile!
BLW can also work wonderfully with BW. We followed BW from birth with great results, and love the sensible routine as well as the strong principles behind it. Although many BLW followers are from the ‘attachment parenting’ side of things, BLW still works great with routine! And like everything, you are still the parent, you still decide! We chose to introduce meals slowly rather than straight into 3 meals a day, but we still had the meals structured into our routine and definitely still followed BW in expectations like no throwing food, smearing it around, lifting the plate up etc. Good table manners are a process but still expected. Like any philosophy, different people may feel more or less comfortable with different aspects so you can choose what you feel comfortable with – e.g. some parents quickly introduce all types of foods to their LO (as current research says that by waiting till 6m to start solids, chances of allergy are reduced unless there is a strong family history, so no need to delay foods), while other parents feel more comfortable staggering the introduction of new foods. You are the parent, you decide.
You can find out more about Baby Led Weaning by googling the term for plenty of info and blogs. You can read the book Baby Led Weaning by Gil Rapley (who is credited with researching and formalising the concept) and even join a Yahoo group. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience with BLW and will definitely be doing it again for any more kids! If you are intrigued about BLW, I encourage you to just give it a go – you just might be surprised at what your baby is capable of!
What to Do and What Not to Do When Baby-Led Weaning
I’ve read the…book…”Baby-Led Weaning” by Gill Rapley & Tracey Murkett.
The general idea I got from the book is to start your baby on the same food you are eating and it makes for a much happier baby and pleasant dining experience. They really don’t start consuming much food until 8-9 mos. After I read the book and the whole theory behind the whole thing….it just makes so much sense to me!! I was like duh!! Why did I ever feed my 1st son purees?? They say starting them on table food makes them enjoy food more b/c they have it on their own terms and it actually is fun & tastes good! And they are much less picky eaters as they get older.
Here are some points from the book about secrets of successful BLW:
- Think of mealtimes as playtimes in the beginning. Your baby still gets all his nourishment from milk feeds
- Keep giving milk feeds as before so that solids don’t replace milk feeds. Baby will gradually reduce milk feeds on his own.
- Don’t expect baby to eat much @ first.
- Eat w/ your baby and include him in your meals so he has plenty of opportunities to copy you.
- Expect some mess!
- Keep it enjoyable for everyone – stay relaxed & encourage baby to explore food.
Six things to do:
- Make sure baby is supported in upright position for eating
- Start by offering foods that are easy to pick up. Thick sticks are easiest. As far as possible offer baby the same foods that you are eating. Don’t forget that a young baby can’t get at food in her fist so don’t expect her to eat all of each piece – and be ready to offer more if she’s eaten the bit that sticks out.
- Offer a variety of foods
- Continue w/ milk feeds as before and offer water at meals
- Discuss BLW w/ your health care provider
- Explain BLW to any caregivers
6 things NOT to do:
- Don’t offer foods that aren’t good for him. (Fast foods or foods w/ added salt or sugar)
- Don’t offer solids if baby wants milk feed
- Don’t hurry baby or distract baby if he is handling food
- Don’t put food in baby’s mouth for him
- Don’t try to persuade baby to eat more than he wants
- NEVER leave baby alone w/ food
First Foods to Try When Baby-Led Weaning
Veggies that are hard when raw should be cut into “stick” shape & cooked w/o salt so that they are soft but not soggy. Boiling or steaming is good, but toasting sticks of veggies in the oven works good too. This gives them a slightly crisp coating and makes them easier to grip. Sticks of softer veggies (cucumber) can be offered raw.
Large fruits (melon and papaya) can be cut into sticks/wedges while smaller ones (grapes) should be cut in 1/2. Apples, pears, nectarines can be offered whole. Softer apples are better than firm as they are easier to gnaw and less likely to snap into large pieces. It is best to leave some skin on most fruit to make it easier to hold. Apples, pears, avocado, mango, potatoes work well w/ some skin on. Your baby will soon learn hold the skin and gnaw the rest w/ his gums. You can also do banana and leave some of the skin on w/ some of the fruit sticking out the top for baby to eat. Crinkle cutters work well to cut fruit/veggies to make them easier to hold.
It is best to offer meat in large pieces that are easily sucked or chewed. Chicken is the easiest to manage at first especially when it is given on the bone. (Remove any gristle or small bones first). Meat can be made more tender by stewing rather than roasting. There is no need to give large pieces every time and you’ll soon find baby can handle minced meat just fine w/ his fingers.
Here are some other 1st foods listed:
- Steamed for lightly boiled whole veggies (green beans, baby sweet corn, carrots, cauliflower, broccoli, sweet potato, pumpkin, parsnip)
- Raw sticks of cucumber (cool sticks are good for teething)
- Thick slices of avocado (not too ripe)
- Chicken as a strip or on a bone – warm or cold
- Thin strips of beef, lamb or pork – warm or cold
- Fruit – pear, apple, banana, peach, nectarine, mango – whole or as sticks/wedges
- Sticks of firm cheese like cheddar
- Rice cakes or toast “fingers” on their own or w/ a spread like yogurt or cottage cheese
Baby-Led Weaning in Practice
So, there are some highlights from the book. Our first meal I gave some oven roasted butternut squash sticks. Kinda over cooked them, but he still gave it a go. Also gave him a whole strawberry. He just gummed it and sucked the juices. I’ve also given the cucumber sticks, bread sticks, and long green beans.
I’m planning on steaming some carrot sticks & broccoli in a little water in a microwave safe dish until they are a little tender (‘m thinking it would take 3 min or so). I’m also gonna offer some apple/pear wedges & avocado w/ skin.
We’ve had some episodes of gagging, which the book says is normal. If they are gagging, that is good b/c they are learning how to move food from the front to the back of their mouth and back again. Gagging is not the same as choking. Choking is no air moving and requires immediate action. When Nate gagged, I just watched him and he got it out on his own. From what the book says and what I’ve learned on the BLW yahoo group this stage only lasts 1-2 weeks until they get the hang of it. It is a little alarming, but all part of the process. Not all babies do this, though. Some just start chowing down right away.
I was concerned about iron, but someone of the BLW yahoo group referred me to the kellymom.com website. It had a great article w/ lots of info and made me feel a lot better about skipping the cereal.
The BLW yahoo group is pretty helpful. It’s not as active as the Chronicles group. But, the moms on there are totally opposite of Babywise. They all feed “on demand”, many co-sleep, and hate CIO. I just ignore that part and stick w/ the food info.
Well, can’t think of anything else. I’m really excited about it and can’t wait for Nate to really start eating. I think it will be so fun to watch him chow down on a chicken leg when he is 10 mos old!
Baby-Led Weaning Realities
When I first read about BLW on the Wholesomefood. com website, I was interested yet skeptical. I started my DD on cereal at 4.5 months of age due to upcoming travels that I wanted her to be familiar to eat solids if the need suddenly arose. I asked the group and found that several of the moms here were using this method with great success. My biggest fear was the risk of choking. As a first time mom, I was extremely paranoid about just giving my 6 month old daughter bits and chunks of food, etc. Since she was small, my ped recommended that I feed her purees since she would actually increase caloric intake that way as opposed to finger foods only.
Well, long story short and 5 months later, my DD eats no purees and only finger foods or easily mashed or gummed foods. I so wish I would have skipped baby food completely and just did this at six months of age. I thing that baby cereal is great and nutritious, but my DD never seemed like she enjoyed or had an appetite when I fed her either homemade or store bought baby food. Now that I am feeding her what my DH and I eat, she is a hearty eater that really enjoys lots of varieties of foods! I just put it on her tray, and she goes at it. I usually feed her yogurt or cereal with a spoon in the beginning of the meal when she is most hungry and willing, and then let her do finger foods until she is done eating! I am so free! No more stressing and counting ounces and comparing to other babies!!!
It is messier for sure. But so worth it to see my little daughter finally have an appetite! Today for lunch she ate yogurt with fruit, bits of salmon, tofu, broccoli, and corn.
I especially want to encourage those of you who are concerned that your baby does not like baby food or has a very small appetite to give this method, Baby Led Weaning at try. I was always obsessing that my DD would barely eat 1 jar of babyfood a day at eight months old!
I was unsure of BLW methods giving baby too much freedom and control. But remember, mom is still in control deciding what and when baby eats. But baby has freedom to feed herself and how much. You can still train in the areas of not throwing or spitting out food, screaming in high chair, and keeping hands out of hair. It is not as neat as feeding baby solids with a spoon with their hands placed on the tray!!! So just be ready with plenty of washcloths.
I didn’t read any books or study up on this method. I feed my baby healthy and lightly seasoned foods and avoid the common no no foods for babies under 1 year. I really hope this encourages some of you!
Baby-Led Weaning Alternative
We didn’t do Baby-led weaning per say, but followed the thoughts from Ellyn Satter’s book “Child of Mine.” It’s kind of the same concept, except I DID start with oatmeal for a month, then moved on to mushed up banana, sweet potato, squash, etc, then moved on to chunks of anything soft. I haven’t used any jarred baby foods, and I “make” all my own food, if you can count microwaving frozen peas for three minutes “making food.”
My son is 9.5 months old now and eats an impressive amount of food. And an impressive variety. I like the ease of it all, the fact that we can eat a lot of the same things.
I still follow Babywise principals – we still eat, play, sleep. We’re at a point now where we’re moving dinner time to an actual family meal time (lunch and breakfast already are this way). It takes control away from Mom at mealtimes, which perhaps varies slightly from Babywise philosophy, but I don’t mind it.
Also – it makes a HUGE mess, so have a good piece of plastic under your high chair, and a faithful dog helps a lot, as well! 🙂
RELATED BABY FEEDING POSTS ON THIS BLOG
- How to Introduce Solid Foods to Your Baby
- Solids: Aligning Meals with the Family
- Solids: What do they eat at each meal?
- Solids: When Do They Master the Spoon?
- Solids: When Do You Stop Babyfood and Move to “Real” Food?
Valerie, also known as The Babywise Mom, is the mother to
four children. She has been blogging on Babywise and general parenting since
2007. She has a degree in technical writing and loves using those skills to
help parents be the best parents they can be! Read her book, The Babywise Mom Nap Guide, to get help
on sleep from birth through the preschool years. You can also find her writing
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