When our little C turned six months both my husband and I were excited to start introducing solid foods. As an exclusively breast-fed baby, I wanted to give her the best jump-start to eating right. I came across Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett’s book, Baby-Led Weaning, and it’s a great approach to introducing solids that seems right in line with natural parenting.
What is baby-led weaning (BLW)?
In a nutshell, BLW is just as the name implies: letting the baby lead the way. It’s a stress-free approach to letting your child eat real food with her own two hands rather than spoon-feeding. It doesn’t require you to make “special” food for you child; no purees or jars of mushy stuff.
Baby-led weaning makes sense developmentally
Letting your child eat the food off their own plate (or highchair tray) helps them develop fine motor skills both in their hands and in their mouths. Playing with a variety of textures, sizes, and flavors gives their brain new information to digest. They also learn to judge volume and size. Best of all, you get to include them in meal time, helping them learn social skills.
Baby-led weaning makes sense nutritionally
Your child will be eating real food. They will be getting nutritionally packed foods like carrots, bell peppers, avocados, bananas, sweet potatoes, meat (and all the iron goodness that comes with it), and a variety of other foods. Because they are introduced to so many flavors and textures early on, BLW babies usually don’t have as many “issues” with food as toddlers (or adults). Most become very adventurous eaters. And studies have shown that as long as the child is given healthy options, when put in charge of their own food most babies will eat what their body needs—a skill that will help them fight obesity and poor nutrition later on.
Best of all, it’s easy!
There are no purees to make. No jars to buy. No airplane tricks to make your child eat. You are teaching your child early on that real food is important.
Some common questions:
When should I start? BLW is safe as long as you wait until your child is developmentally ready to start. Waiting until your child is 6 months helps to ensure that your baby’s digestive system is mature enough to handle solid food. But you will also want to make sure that your child is able to sit up straight on their own. From there, let them at it! You will be amazed at how they progress.
Won’t my child choke? As long as you are safe and practice some common sense, the chances of your child choking are unlikely. The fine motor skills that allows your baby to pick up small pieces of food is in line with the fine motor skills necessary to eat them. This means that your child most likely will not be able to swallow those small objects until she’s ready. Don’t be surprise, however, if you child gags a little. A baby’s gag reflex in not as far back in their throat as it is with adults. Think of this as a natural built-in safety mechanism designed to keep your child from choking while at the same time helping them learn how to handle food within their mouth.
Avoid nuts or other objects that could get stuck in their throat. (Side note: Rapley and Murkett actually talk about the fact that spoon-fed babies are more likely to choke because they are not in control of their own food, and adults have a tendency to put the spoon too far back—behind their natural gag reflex.
How will I know if they are eating enough? At the beginning your child really won’t be eating much, if anything at all. The first few weeks (even months) are more about discovering food and developing fine motor skills. One of the aspects of BLW is that you are feeding your child breast milk/formula “on demand.” Breast milk, especially, is a nutritional powerhouse and all your child really needs for the first year. Once your child begins to recognize solid foods as a way to solve their hunger they will naturally take less milk/formula. As long as your child is growing and seems happy they are probably getting enough. But of course, if you have concerns you should talk to your pediatrician.
What do I need to begin? Some patience (babies will take their time eating), a camera (you will not want to miss their first experience!), and some tactics to deal with the mess (can you say drop cloth?) Other than that, not a whole lot! The beauty of BWL is that you feed your child real food—the food you would normally eat (with a few exceptions, things like salt, nuts, and honey shouldn’t be fed to babies). Just remember to offer your baby healthy food. Organic is great because at the beginning they will be doing a lot of chomping and sucking while testing the texture of the food.
Anything else? It’s always smart to talk to your child’s pediatrician before diving in, especially if you have any concerns or a family history of food allergies. Also, never leave your baby alone while they are eating. This will help ensure their safety as well as keep mealtime about family time.
Did you do baby-weaning? What did you think of it?