Baby-Led Weaning Q&A

Veronica, enjoying her Easter egg

This guest post is by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, authors of Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods – and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater and The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook: 130 Easy, Nutritious Recipes That Will Help Your Baby Learn to Eat (and Love!) a Variety of Solid Foods – and That the Whole Family Will Enjoy. Gill and Tracey have compiled a list of the most commonly asked questions about Baby-led weaning. I’ll be reviewing their cookbook next week, and giving away a copy too, so stay tuned!

1. What is baby-led weaning?

Baby-led weaning (BLW) is a common-sense and enjoyable approach to introducing solid foods that allows the baby to lead the way. With BLW:

  • your baby joins in with healthy family meals and feeds himself with his fingers.
  • there’s no spoon feeding or purees.
  • your baby is allowed to play with food and to eat as much (or as little) as he likes.
  • milk feedings (breast or formula) continue on demand.

2. How does baby-led weaning work?

At around six months babies start to reach out and grab objects and take them to their mouth to explore them. They do the same with pieces of food – not because they’re hungry but because they’re curious. They experience different tastes and textures, and gradually learn to bite, chew and swallow. Milk feedings continue to provide most of their nutrition while solid foods increase, all at the baby’s own pace.

Dalia munches on a broccoli stalk

3. What’s wrong with spoon feeding?

Spoon feeding simply isn’t necessary. A six month-old baby can get food to his mouth and eat it without help. Babies of this age want to feed themselves – it’s more enjoyable and it helps them to develop their skills. Spoon feeding is commonly associated with problems such as difficulty with lumpy foods, picky eating and mealtime battles – things that rarely happen with BLW.

Anabella enjoyed her labneh

4. When should we start?

Around six months is the best time – when your baby can sit up securely (so he can move his hands and arms without toppling over). Babies don’t need anything other than breastmilk or formula before this – their tummies aren’t ready for solids.

5. Won’t my baby choke?

Choking is no more likely with BLW than with conventional spoon feeding. To help keep your baby safe, make sure he is:

  • sitting up straight – not leaning back;
  • in control of what goes into his mouth (with no-one putting food in for him);
  • not distracted while eating;
  • not offered small, hard foods, such as nuts

Choking can be confused with gagging, which sometimes happens in the early weeks of BLW.  Gagging is a protective reflex that prevents unchewed food from going too far back in the mouth. It doesn’t seem to bother babies, and provided the baby is sitting upright, the food will either fall out of his mouth or he will start to chew it again.

Meatballs are one of Anabella's favorite foods!

6. What are good first foods?

Most healthy family foods are suitable. Start with, thick stick shapes, long enough for a bit to stick out of your baby’s fist. Fruit, steamed or roasted vegetables, large strips of meat, large pasta shapes and fingers of toast are all good. They need to be firm enough to be grasped but soft enough to be munched.

Offering your baby foods that he can’t quite manage yet (such as rice), along with foods that are easy to handle, will help him to learn new skills.

Salt and sugar are bad for babies, so highly processed foods (such as ready-made pies, pizzas and pre-packaged meals) should be avoided if possible. Babies should not have honey, shellfish, nuts or undercooked eggs.

7. What about allergies?

If there is a history of allergies in a close relative (parents or siblings of the baby), it’s a good idea to offer new foods one at a time. However, there’s no need to do this if you don’t have family allergies – it’s a practice left over from when babies were given solids before their digestive systems were ready. Some researchers have recently suggested that potential allergens should be introduced earlier rather than later but the evidence for this is not conclusive – check with your health-care provider for the latest advice.

8. Will my baby get enough to eat?

Many parents over-estimate the amount of food their baby needs. From six months, babies need very small amounts of extra nutrients, and this increases only gradually. As long as they are offered a varied diet and they are still having milk feedings on demand, normal, healthy babies will take all they need. However, if your baby was born very prematurely, or has an illness that makes a normal diet unsuitable for him or a condition that makes it difficult for him to feed himself, ask your health-care provider whether he needs some other form of feeding alongside BLW.

9. What are the benefits of BLW?

Baby-led weaning goes with a baby’s instincts rather than against them, making mealtimes more enjoyable for babies and less stressful for their parents. Babies love it and it helps develop their skills and confidence, making mealtime battles less likely.

With BLW, babies can eat as much as they need at their own pace, so they are more likely to regulate their own appetites and not over-eat. It’s also easier and cheaper than puree feeding, with no separate meals and no equipment to buy.

Dalia diggin' her blueberries

10. What are the secrets of successful Baby-Led Weaning?

  • Think of mealtimes as playtimes in the beginning – not necessarily times for eating.
  • Offer foods when your baby is not hungry or sleepy, so he can experiment and learn.
  • Keep giving milk feedings on demand, so that your baby’s solid foods add to them rather than replace them. He will reduce them gradually, in his own time.
    • Don’t expect your baby to eat much food at first. Many babies eat very little for the first few months.
    • Try to eat with your baby whenever possible, so that he can copy you.
    • Expect some mess! Putting a clean plastic sheet under the table means dropped food can be safely handed back.
    • Keep it enjoyable – don’t hurry your baby or try to persuade him to eat.

Do you have any other questions about Baby-led weaning?

Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett are the authors of Baby-led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and The Baby-led Weaning Cookbook, published in the USA and Canada by The Experiment.  For more information, visit www.baby-led.com or www.rapleyweaning.com.

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