What is Baby Led Weaning and When Do You Start?
Prep the Easy Way: Tips for Busy Mums
Baby-led weaning (BLW) is a feeding approach that involves introducing your baby to solids by offering them finger foods and encouraging them to self-feed. In Baby-led weaning, we avoid purees and spoon-feeding methods entirely. Baby-led weaning is quickly gaining popularity amongst parents because the feeding approach is associated with reduced pickiness and improved fine motor skills.
Dinner times definitely look a little different with BLW. They can be a bit messier! Mum and Dad's hands are more freed up, and there's not an incoming spoon plane in sight.
Baby-led weaning can be daunting for parents. Especially if you’ve previously been recommended to feed your baby with smooth, lump-free purees. But research shows that baby-led weaning is associated with improved chewing capabilities and better eating habits later in life. Remember, the best decision for you and your baby is the one that works for you both. Do what works for you.
When to Start Baby-Led Weaning
The World Health Organisation recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed until six months of age. Beyond six months, they recommended that mothers continue breastfeeding for at least two years, supplementing your breastmilk by feeding your baby a wide range of nutritious foods.
A couple things indicate your baby is ready to start eating solids. The first is that they can sit upright in a highchair and support their head. , The second is that they can move their jaw up and down (like a chewing motion). Generally, babies can perform these tasks by 6-months of age. And this age is the World Health Organisation recommends to start introducing solid food.
Keep in mind that breastmilk or formula is still your baby's number one source of nutrition. And at six months, they should still be having four-six milk/formula feeds per day, in addition to the baby led weening sessions with solid food.
The Do's and Don'ts of Baby-Led Weaning
Size and shape: The most crucial thing for baby-led weaning is size and texture. The size of foods should be like the size and shape of your finger. And the texture should be soft enough to squish it with your fingers.
Even though your baby is essentially feeding themself, you should always sit with them and never leave them unattended. In fact, if you can eat your food at the same time, it's an excellent way for your little one to observe how you pick up, hold, chew and swallow your food.
Don't be too strict:
If you've made a soup or porridge and bubs isn't ready to use a spoon yet, it's okay to spoon-feed them yourself. Just because you want to give baby-led weaning a go, it doesn't mean you can't be flexible. You may find that if your little one is tired or sick, they will want to be spoon-fed, it's okay to follow their lead.
Embrace the mess:
Baby-led weaning is about allowing your little one to explore food and become comfortable with different textures, colours, and smells. This might mean they want to rub scrambled eggs through their hair or smear Bolognese sauce on their clothes. This is all part of the process and contributes to the benefits of baby-led weaning.
Showing our little ones that food is something to enjoy and investigate, rather than be afraid of, will help set them up with healthy eating habits. If the mess is getting to you, try using a bib or smock to keep your little one cleanish. And pop a matt or towel under their highchair to catch some of the food that drops.
The Best Baby-Led Weaning Foods to Start With
Foods that are easy to pick up, like a steamed broccoli floret, are a great place to start. Foods like avocado and banana are fantastic as they're soft, but they can be slippery. Try cutting them into slices and rolling them in a little desiccated coconut; this will allow for a better grip. Some great foods to start with are:
- Baked sliced apple or pear
- Steamed vegetables
- Roasted vegetables (make sure they're soft enough you can squish them with your finger)
- Flaked salmon
- Poached, shredded meat
Some foods are associated with an increased risk of choking due to their size and shape. It's best to avoid these foods altogether initially. Foods to avoid include:
- Cherry tomatoes
- Sausages and hot dogs
- Raw foods like apples, carrots, celery, and broccoli stems
It's best to avoid marshmallows, nuts, and popcorn until at least age five.
The Benefits of Baby Led Weaning
Improved Fine Motor Skills
Fine motor skills are essential when it comes to eating and drinking. Whether you’re peeling a banana, picking up a spoon, or guiding a straw into your mouth. These skills are second nature to us now, but we too had to learn them when we were babies. The baby-lead weaning method of feeding means babies can practise and master these skills months earlier than spoon-fed babies.
Reduced risk of childhood obesity
Baby-led weaning gives your baby more choice when eating. When we spoon-feed, the parent controls how much food goes on the spoon, how quickly we offer spoonsful, and when we decide to stop offering. Baby-led weaning gives all those choices to your baby.
A recent study found that babies who followed the baby-led weaning approach were more in touch with their hunger at 18-24 months and were better able to recognise when they had had enough food. The study also found that babies were less responsive to food, which means they’re more likely only to eat when they’re hungry rather than just for the sake of it.
Higher Acceptance of Foods and Textures
Babies who are spoon-fed are only introduced to one texture for months. Babies who are exposed to baby-led weaning experience numerous textures right from their first exposure to food. Early exposure is associated with higher acceptance. One recent study showed that there’s a reduced fussiness and pickiness in BLW babies compared to those who were spoon-fed.
- Wait until your little one is six-months of age before offering solids
- Educate yourself on the shape and texture of each food before you offer it
- Be aware of choking hazards and provide a list of foods to avoid to anyone who is looking after your child
- Remind yourself of the benefits associated with BLW and try to not worry about the mess!
Shevi is a qualified nutritionist with a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and food sciences. As a new mum herself, she is passionate about postnatal-related nutrition. Shevi has worked alongside some of the most famous leaders and celebrities in the fitness industry throughout Australia and the UK.
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