Introducing your baby to solid foods for the first time can be very challenging. However, the task will be much easier to do if you know the rightest approach for that. Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) is a relatively new feeding method that even a lot of first-time mothers find it effective for their babies.
This approach has revolutionized the way parents choose to wean their babies on to solid foods. The Baby-Led Weaning will provide you with another more moderate option than the traditional weaning method that has been used for generations. This page will show you everything you need to know about BLW and how you can take benefits from it.
About Baby-Led Weaning
Baby-Led Weaning is quite popular since it was introduced the first time in the UK. The baby feeding method is now also gaining many attractions from parents in the United States. It can be said that Baby-Led Weaning is a feeding approach where babies at the age of 6 months or older are trained to pick up their own foods soon after they are not given purees or mashed-up foods anymore and introduced to the solid ones.
This method is called baby-led for a main good reason. It allows your baby to feed himself with the foods he wants to eat. In this way, your little one will have total control of the foods prepared for him. In other words, you will let your baby learn to feed himself from a very tender age. This means that your baby will squeeze the foods, squash, and get messed up with them. But don’t worry because by leaving your baby alone with his messy foods will allow him to learn a lot of new things that will be beneficial in the long run.
When to Start It?
So, when is the best time to start applying Baby-Led Weaning to your kid? Well, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the best time to give solid foods to your baby is when he is around 6 months. This is because most babies by this age can sit up, grab, and hold onto objects by themselves. At around 6 months, most babies have also dropped the tongue-thrust reflex that leads them to push out foreign substances from their little mouths.
Not only that but the intestines of babies at that age have fully developed important digestive enzymes to help them absorb solid foods smoothly. However, it will be better if you consult your pediatrician first before starting to apply BLW for your baby. The doctor might instantly give the green light to your kid to start baby-led weaning. But, the pediatric might suggest you wait for a longer time if he finds that the baby has special needs so that he can’t pick up foods or chew them easily.
Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning
Baby-Led Weaning methods will provide a lot of benefits for your little one. Here are just some of them.
- Improves Eye-Hand Coordination
This method will allow your baby to get a lot of practice on dexterity and eye-hand coordination. This is because the baby needs to use his fingers and hands to take the foods directly from the plate and bring them to his little mouth.
- Teaches Your Baby Fine-Motor Skills and Oral-Motor Coordinations
Their fine-motor skills will also be improved significantly since the approach pushes your baby to use her pincer grasp skills. Not only that but the Baby-Led Weaning method will also make it possible for your toddler to develop his oral-motor coordination. These include swallowing, chewing, and tongue placement. BLW will provide your baby with controls to manipulate the foods in his mouth and choose to decide to swallow them or not.
- Reduces Choking and Gagging
Most parents also find that the baby feeding method also helps them to reduce choking and gagging on their babies. This is possible to happen since BLW requires your little one to do more practice to use his mouth and tongue to chew the foods.
- Develop Healthy Eating Habits
The major benefit of Baby-Led Weaning is admitted by many parents that the baby feeding approach helps their toddlers to develop healthy eating habits. This is mainly because BLW provides your baby with more opportunities to explore textures, tastes, and smells a wide range of foods.
Rather than just feeding your baby with purees, BLW will lead your little one to grow and become a more adventurous eater as a toddler. In this way, you will find it much easier to feed the baby with various types of healthy food preferences during his toddler hood. Not only that but a lot of studies show that babies who consume various foods including fish and peanut products will be less likely to have food allergy issues later in their lives.
- Allows Your Baby to Get Messy
Let your baby get messed up with his foods by applying this Baby-Led Weaning feeding approach. Modern parenting methods today suggest that it is okay to get messy and BLW just encourages you to do so. By allowing your little one to get messy while eating, you will help him to reduce stress. As you know that some babies experience the burden to eat their foods during feeding time.
- Reduce Overweight Risks
Compared to babies who are spoon-fed, those who are applying the Baby-Led Weaning feeding method will be less likely to develop overweight. This is because the parents take total control in spoon-feeding. This will lead babies to eat their foods faster and more than they actually need. As a result, the babies will learn to ignore feelings of fullness, making them gain weight fast and uncontrollably. As for the Baby-Led Weaning method, babies will be encouraged to decide how much they want to eat based on their hunger levels. They will be trained to stop eating once they feel full. In this way, children who learn how to self-regulate hunger will be less likely to experience obesity when they grow up.
BLW Starter Foods
When it comes to the time for your baby to explore solid foods, make sure that the toddler can use his whole hands to grab all the food pieces. In this way, the foods you provide to the baby shouldn’t be too wide and stick-shaped foods with 5 cm size can be an ideal option to take.
This is aimed to ensure that your baby can close his fingers around the foods and make a fist. When choosing a starter food for the BLW, it will be a good idea to start with softer finger foods since they can be easily in your baby’s mouth. One of the fun tips to determine whether the foods are soft enough for your baby, you can squash them in between your forefinger and thumb.
If you find the foods are easily squashed, then you can be sure that your baby can manage it too. At the starting time of the weaning period, you don’t need to provide your baby with single individual foods. As for the equipment, you do not need to be worried about plates since they just get chucked on the floor very often.
A divided plate can be a perfect option to take once the baby is on meals rather than just tastes the foods. Putting your baby on a tabletop or high chair when he is having his meal will be very helpful. However, you need to make sure that they are scrupulously clean just before you put your baby on them.
Best Foods for Baby-Led Weaning
You can put any foods to the baby-led weaning menu as long as they are soft and not included on the list of foods that can trigger choking. The foods should also be the ones that can be cut into small pieces and manageable sizes or pieces that will make it easier for your toddler to grab and make a fist. In the first few months after applying the feeding method to your baby, you might find that he only eats a little.
But, just don’t worry about that. All you need to do is just try your best to provide your little one with a well-rounded diet. As an alternative, you can try to offer your baby food from each of the high-nutrient food groups every mealtime. This will allow you to make sure that the baby gets the important nutrient he needs from the foods. Here are groups of foods you should include in the Baby-Led Weaning menu.
- Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and veggies should be in your baby’s daily menu. As for this Baby-Led Weaning, some best fruits and veggies you can serve to your toddler include a piece of avocado, banana, steamed broccoli, sweat-potato fries, a ripe triangle of pear, green beans, and carrots. All these foods can be mashed easily even by your kid’s toothless gums. Not only that but they can also be cut and shaped like thick strips, making it easy for your baby to hold them.
- Healthy Fats
Some foods like avocados contain good fats that will be perfect to be included in your baby’s diet menu. Either they are smeared on bread or eaten on their own, avocados are a perfect option for your little one.
When it comes to dairy products that should be included in the Baby-Led Weaning menu, you can give yogurt to your toddler. As an alternative, you can also give him pasteurized cheeses like cottage cheese and ricotta. They are a good option to take especially if you want your baby to start learning using a spoon to feed himself.
To improve protein intake in your baby’s diet menu, you can choose foods like boiled eggs, beef, chicken, or fish. However, keep in mind to remove all bones from the boiled fish just before you serve it to your baby.
Another group of food you should include on the menu is grains. You can get them from some foods like wheat toasts with hummus and whole-wheat fusilli pasta.
Foods to Avoid
When applying Baby-Led Weaning to your little one, you need to know that some foods are not recommended for babies under a year old. This is aimed to minimize food poisoning risks or avoid adverse effects on your baby. Some foods that are not suggested in Baby-Led Weaning are:
- Unpasteurized milk and cheese
- Rice milk
- Foods marked as “low fat”, “light”, or “diet”
- Foods with additives, preservatives, and a lot of colors
- Shellfish and raw fish
- Marlin and swordfish
- Under cooked or raw eggs that do not have the Red Lion stamp
- Foods containing caffeine such as green tea, coffee, tea, energy drinks, and cola
When preparing the Baby-Led Weaning menu for your kid, keep in mind that there is no need to add artificial sweeteners, sugars, and salts. This is because the ingredients might cover the original flavor of the foods. Not only that but experts also claim that babies do not actually have any preference for the tastes.
Additionally, the frequent use of sugars and salts in babies’ foods will lead them to prefer sugary and salty foods in the long run. As an alternative, you can use spices or herbs to season the baby foods and your toddler might like the kick of the flavor.
How to Get Started Baby-Led Weaning
So, how to successfully get started with this Baby-Led Weaning feeding method. Just check out the following tips.
- Wait Until the Baby is Old Enough
Baby-Led Weaning can be applied to your kid if he is at least 6 months old. Not only that but you have to make sure that the baby has strong neck control and can sit up unassisted before you let him feed himself. This will help your baby to sit comfortably and enjoy a safe experience sitting on his high chair. The baby will be interested in eating his foods served for him once he feels secure while sitting on his eating space.
- Start With Soft Foods
When giving the Baby-Led Weaning menu for your kid, you need to start it with soft foods. Cooked egg yolks, ground/ shredded meat, vegetables, flaky fish, well-cooked pasta, and ripe fruits are all great options of foods given to the baby. Foods with healthy fats, protein, and high calories are also recommended by most pediatrics. Cut food into sticks for your baby to easily grab and hold it.
- Start Slowly
In the beginning, you can choose to put only one or two pieces of food on your baby’s plate every mealtime. Avoid serving too many choices at the early stage of the Baby-Led Weaning method since it will overwhelm your little one. Instead of making your kid interested in eating his foods, you will make him confused by doing it.
- Offer Variety of Foods
As time passes and your baby has developed his fine-motor skills, eye-hand coordination, and oral-motor coordination, you can start to offer mare various food types to your baby. Encourage your little one to explore a wide array of food options and help him to build an adventurous palate.
By offering a variety of foods, you can also encourage your kid to be less likely a picky eater once he grows up. You also need to provide foods with different colors every mealtime. For example, you can include steamed green beans, roasted tomatoes, and sweet potatoes in one serving. Adding foods with different textures can also be a good option to take. Consider to include grainy whole-wheat bread, crisp watermelon, tender cooked pasta, and tender avocados in the menu.
- Skip the Mealtime Schedule
Some people argue that this is important to stick on the mealtime schedule to feed your baby. They claim that it is important to put your little one on a feeding schedule that includes three meals of solid food, and breast milk or formula at once. But, with Baby-Led Weaning, the schedule could be flexible based on your baby needs. In this baby feeding approach, you can serve solid foods for the baby at mealtime and let him decide whether they want to eat them or not.
- Continue to Bottle-Feed
Providing your little one with solid foods in his BLW method doesn’t mean that you stop giving him bottle-feed. Maintaining the same bottle-feed frequency while applying to the Baby-Led Weaning feeding approach is important. This is because your baby still relies on breast milk or formula to allow him to get the majority of their nutrition during the first year of his life.
- Consider a Big Bib
Investing in a big bib for this Baby-Led Weaning will be very helpful. Consider covering your little one with an oversize bib to avoid more mess on his clothes. As an alternative, you can your baby in a diaper. To avoid food splash covering your dining room or kitchen, you can place a sheet of newspaper or a drop cloth on the eating area or his high chair.
- Encourage a Mealtime
Avoid a stressful experience for your baby during mealtime. Instead, you can turn the feeding time into a fun playtime for your little one when he is experimenting with testing and chewing or when he is exploring foods with different textures. You need to keep in mind that this feeding method is all about getting comfortable with a wide range of foods.
You can be sure that Baby-Led Weaning is safe for the baby as long as you serve the foods safely. Take a look at the following safety tips to minimize any risks that might come with the baby feeding method.
- First of all, avoid serving foods that are choking hazards for your toddler. These include apples with the skin, whole grapes, cherries, and nuts.
- Then, make sure to never leave your baby without any companion. This is to ensure that the baby will get quick help once he is choking or gagging.
- As for allergic reactions, you need to be careful with this Baby-Led Weaning. But, it doesn’t mean that you have to think conventionally in which certain foods should be eliminated to avoid allergies. Experts even suggest that the more food options you give to your baby, the bigger chance he will accept different foods.
- When serving food for your baby, make sure that he sits upright on his high-chair while eating.
- In case you are a working mom and need to leave your baby with a caretaker, make sure to let everyone know about the Baby-Led Weaning feeding method you apply to. In this way, everyone in the house will follow the same safety precautions that you have set up.
Cons of Baby-Led Weaning
Despite all of the benefits that your baby can get from Baby-Led Weaning, there are some downsides often associated with this baby feeding method.
- Potential Negative Mealtime Experience
This is true that coughing and gagging are mechanisms that can help your baby avoid choking. However, you need to keep in mind that the two reflexes are sometimes scary and uncomfortable for some babies. In this way, your baby might need more time to learn and practice feeding himself. The main goal is to allow your baby to have a positive mealtime experience. In this way, your little one will have a willingness to keep doing it and trying new things as well.
- Potential Safety Risks
Another downside of BLW is that it comes with potential safety risks. This is because giving your baby certain foods while he has not developed oral-motor skills needed will be a bit risky sometimes. This might cause your toddler to experience choking, gagging, or vomiting.
- Difficult to Pinpoint an Allergic Reaction
You need to be careful when applying the Baby-Lead Weaning method to your little one, especially if there is an allergy history in the family. If this is the case, you might need to introduce one food at a time to minimize the risks. This will also make it possible for you to pinpoint which food might become the trigger. You will find it harder to identify which food is the culprit if you give many foods to your baby at once.