The term “Baby Led Weaning” or BLW for short, was originally coined by Gill Rapley and is an approach to infant feeding based on the premise of allowing baby to feed themselves solid foods rather than the traditional puree on a spoon method. This type of feeding gives the baby an opportunity to explore different foods and textures on their own.
When I first became pregnant in 2017, I of course had the baby bullet added to my registry and envisioned myself making homemade puree pouched foods for my baby. At some point though in my extensive research of everything pregnancy, birth, and baby related, I came across Baby Led Weaning and decided to read “Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater” by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. This approach just made sense to me, especially with our busy lifestyle so we decided when the time was right, we were going to jump right in. Before you head to the fridge to prepare baby a meal though, there are some guidelines you will want to follow which I have shared below. Of course, this is what we did with our now three-year-old and our current 7-month-old, but you will want to do more research on your own and discuss with your pediatrician before starting.
Is baby ready?
There are a few signs of readiness that baby must show before starting solid foods. One of the main signs is that your baby is at least 6 months of age and can sit up unassisted. There are a couple others that are recommended such as the loss of their tongue-thrust reflex.
How do I serve their food?
Foods should be cut in finger-length shapes and sizes when first starting out. Cutting food this way actually helps prevent choking because the idea is that larger size foods encourage them to chew whereas smaller pieces may just be swallowed. The finger-shape also allows baby to easily grasp foods. Of course, if it’s something round which you cannot cut into a finger shape, such as a blueberry, you will want to squish it before serving. Another common cutting technique is quartering. As opposed to purees, giving them solid foods in this form allows baby to practice their chewing and swallowing skills.
What do I make?
What I love most about BLW is that it’s super easy and doesn’t involve additional planning or shopping. You simply plan your meals as you normally would and serve it to baby (of course following the proper shape/sizing guidelines). Having tacos? No problem. Serve deconstructed tacos to baby by putting a little sampling of each item in proper shape on their tray. Having eggs, hash browns, and bacon for breakfast? Serve it to baby too! It’s fun sitting down as a family together and watching baby eat what we are eating. There are, of course, some things babies should never be given and one of the big ones is honey. You will also want to be mindful of the amount of sodium you are using in your cooking. You will still want to offer “puree” textured foods (think yogurt, applesauce, etc.) but you can do this in the form of pre-loaded spoons. Hand the spoon to baby and allow them to figure it out!
What if my baby chokes?
There is a huge difference between choking and gagging and it is important you know the differences and signs because intervening when a baby is gagging can actually be more dangerous for them. Gagging is a completely normal reflex and helps them learn. When we see our baby gagging, which is not often, we say, “work it out baby” and “good job working that piece out”. We do not look scared or panicked (even though I may be cringing on the inside!). You will want to know the signs of choking and ensure you know what to do in that situation. You may look into taking an infant CPR class before starting solids with your baby.
How much is enough?
BLW is all about exploring, learning, and having fun. One of the big notions behind it is that “food before one is just for fun” so you generally do not need to stress about the amount of food baby is eating (or not). Baby’s main source of nutrition should still be milk either from the breast or bottle. No teeth? No problem! Babies’ gums are very strong. There are a lot of benefits and nutrients baby can get from just sucking on meat, veggies, and fruits, too. I will say, it is really fun though when you start seeing solids in baby’s diaper!
Resources and Tips
There are so many great resources out there to help you better understand BLW and I highly recommend you dig a little deeper if this sounds like something you may want to do with your baby. Check out the BLW book mentioned above and consider joining the “Baby Led Weaning for Beginners” Facebook group.
To help with the mess, you may consider placing a plastic or vinyl tablecloth underneath baby’s highchair. Another great product for BLW is the silicone baby bibs with the food catcher.
BLW is a lot of fun and so easy— and very messy! My best advice is to just relax and enjoy watching your baby explore new foods and learn how to eat.
Kelly Lipscomb teaches Birth Boot Camp classes in the Kansas City area.