Baby-led weaning (BLW) has grown in popularity over the last decade or so, and it encourages babies to start eating solid foods through self-feeding, which starts when they’re around six months old.
It’s different to the traditional Western-style weaning, which involves spoon feeding purees etc. as first foods. BLW encourages parents to offer small pieces of regular foods right from the start of weaning. The baby gets to pick what, how much, and how quickly to eat from a selection of foods given by parents.
It is supposed that BLW has several benefits, from healthier eating behavior to better long-term health for children.
1. Can Promote Good Eating Behaviors
BLW lets your baby choose what and how much to eat, which makes them participants in eating, rather than passive receivers of food from a spoon.
One study on babies weaned using a BLW approach found that they were more in touch with their hunger, and better able to recognize feelings of fullness around 18-24 months of age than those weaned using a more traditional type of weaning.
BLW may help babies to develop healthier eating patterns that are based on appetite, rather than food just being available.
2. May Reduce the Risk of Excess Weight Gain
BLW could reduce the risk of children gaining excess weight in later life.
This may be due to babies being more involved in the eating process – they are able to grasp foods and eat them at their own pace, with little input from parents.
This may mean that they tend to stop eating when they are full, as opposed to spoon-fed babies, who can be overfed.
There are several studies that show BLW babies are more likely to be a normal weight than babies weaned in the traditional way.
However, bigger, more recent studies have shown there is no link between the method of weaning and infant weight, so more research needs to be done.
3. Can Reduce Food Fussiness
Proponents of BLW claim it can reduce picky eating behaviors, and promote a wider range of food acceptance, as more tastes and textures are introduced to the babies’ diets at an early age.
One study showed that babies weaned by BLW were less likely to prefer sweets as preschoolers than babies weaned by spoon-feeding.
Mothers who use BLW seem less likely to pressure their babies to eat, or to restrict their intake, and tend to have a more responsive feeding style than those following a traditional weaning approach.
However, using a responsive feeding style when spoon-feeding may also provide similar benefits.
4. Could Make Feeding Easier
Those who follow BLW often cite the ease as a deciding factor in using this method. Parents don’t need to constantly think about pureeing or spoon-feeding, as they can just offer their babies appropriate versions of family meals.
Research shows that mothers who follow BLW report having lower levels of anxiety during the weaning process, but studies can’t show that it’s a result of BLW.
5. Starting BLW
Start with foods of appropriate sizes and textures, and avoid problematic foods that could cause choking.
During weaning, milk will continue to provide most of the nourishment your baby needs, and the amount of milk should gradually reduce as the intake of solid food increases.
6. Good Food Choices
Avocado Baked, skinless potatoes or sweet potatoes Banana Beans or peas, slightly mashed De-segmented orange without inner skin Ground meat Ground nuts and seeds Hard-boiled egg Lentils Oatmeal Salmon Soft-boiled green beans Steamed or shredded carrots Steamed broccoli Slightly mashed berries Unsweetened yogurt
It’s important to offer your baby iron-rich foods, as this nutrient is very important at this stage of development.
Good examples of iron-rich foods include meat, eggs, fish, beans, and leafy greens.
Cut your baby’s foods into slices so that your baby can hold it easily, and give foods that are easy for your baby’s gums to mash.
Place a small amount of food in front of your baby and allow them to grab and bring pieces to their mouths themselves.
7. Foods to Avoid
There are some foods that you should avoid giving your baby, regardless of your weaning method.
Honey – this may contain Clostridium botulinum, which are bacteria that can cause a serious form of food poisoning. Honey shouldn’t be given to babies under 12 months of age.
Undercooked eggs – undercooked eggs are more likely to contain Salmonella bacteria.
Unpasteurized dairy products and lunch meats – These can contain Listeria monogenes, which can make your baby ill. Cow’s milk – cow’s milk shouldn’t be given to babies before 12 months of age, as it can reduce iron absorption from foods.
Low fat foods – babies need a larger amount of calories from fat than adults.
Sugary, salty, or processed foods – these foods don’t have many nutrients, and baby kidneys can’t handle too much salt.
Raw foods like apples, carrots, celery etc. – baby gums can’t chew these foods, and they could choke.
Round or coin-shaped foods – whole grapes, cherry tomatoes, hot dogs, hard candy can all cause choking. Hard or crumbly foods – popcorn, hard-crusted bread, whole nuts etc.
Sticky foods – nut butters, marshmallows etc.
8. Reducing Choking Risks
Ensure your baby is sitting upright when eating, and is facing you. Don’t leave your baby alone while eating Let your baby put food in their mouths themselves, so they can control the amount of food as well as the pace they eat it. Make sure the foods you serve can be easily mashed between your fingers. Cut foods length-wise so that your baby can easily pick them up. Don’t give food that is round or coin-shaped, is very sticky, or has bits that can easily break off into pieces or crumbs.
Research suggests that parents should give allergens to their babies as soon as solid food is introduced, around 6 months of age, as delaying it can increase your baby’s risk of developing a food allergy.
Foods such as dairy, eggs, peanuts, fish, seafood, soy, wheat, sesame and tree nuts like cashews, almonds, pecans, and walnuts are all common allergens.
Give these foods in very small amounts, and one at a time. Wait a few days before introducing a new one, as this will give time to notice any allergic reaction symptoms and know what caused it.
Reactions can be mild, such as rashes or itchy skin, to serious, such as trouble breathing or swallowing