An introduction to baby led weaning: lean about what it is, the benefits of baby led weaning, how to get started, first foods and more!
Ready to introduce your baby to solids but don’t know where to start?
If so, this is the PERFECT article for you.
Because I’ll be going over everything you need to know – doing my damn best not to leave anything out. I’ve fed my kids a couple different ways now and truly believe BLW is the absolute best way to go.
Now… let’s get started.
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What is baby led weaning?
Before we get too far into all things baby led weaning – let’s start with what exactly it is. I mean… there’s no use talking about it if you have no damn clue what I’m even talking about, right?
In plain terms, baby led weaning is the act of letting baby self-feed themselves with age appropriate foods.
But what exactly does that even mean?
Well first of all… it means you skip the processed baby foods and the hours spent in the kitchen trying to make your own. You don’t have to do any of that.
When you sit down to eat, so does baby. You slice up long pieces of banana, avocado, sweet potatoes, or another soft food. They sit right beside you and feed themselves while you watch them learn about food and explore different tastes and textures.
Not only is this fun, it’s less stressful and so beneficial for baby. You BOTH will love approaching solids this way!!
Now to the next section regarding all the benefits of doing it this way…
Baby led weaning benefits
I remember when I first heard of this, I did a head tilt paired with a “why the fuck would anyone do that?!”. I just didn’t get it – at all. Assuming you’re having the same thoughts I had, let’s discuss the AWESOMENESS of why you’d want to actually do this.
it’s soooo much easier
First of all …. purees are a pain in the ass.
You can buy store-bought ones that are more often than not chocked-full of additives, chemicals, and bullshit that actually harm your baby…. or you can spend hours making your own. And even then… you still have to sit off to the side to spoon feed and hope to god they are happy when they’re done long enough for you to eat. Go ahead and insert an eyeroll here.
Baby led weaning makes this process sooooo much easier!!
You get babe their food, get them set up in their high chair, and you too get to sit down right beside them to eat. Um, hello?! This is EXACTLY what we all need. Babe is happy trying out food, exploring, getting messy, laughing, etc – while you get to relax and eat (and visit with the rest of the family if that’s something you do!).
it encourages good habits
Next point – it allows them to develop some kick-ass eating habits.
Since they are the ones in control vs you shoving a spoon in their mouth … it gives them the ability to select food themselves, choose how much they shove in their mouth at one time, and experiment with all kinds of food choices. These are important things to get them in the habit of!! (As long as this freedom continues into toddlerhood and beyond, that is.)
I actually love this study that connects the benefits to overall health later in life.
it’s an educational process
Lastly but certainly not least… it is very educational as opposed to being spoon-fed.
Through feeding themselves, they will learn all kinds of skills around eating. They will learn to safely handle food – which is SUPER important (chewing before swallowing, for example). They will also learn how to handle foods of different textures, sizes, tastes, and shapes. It’s also a great opportunity for developing hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills as they pick up and shove food into their mouth.
All in all… baby led weaning has some amazing benefits. I know you’re still worried about all kinds of things though – I sure was!! I’ll be addressing the most common ones throughout this post, but be sure to reach out if you’d like more help putting your mind at ease!
#1: they must be ready for solids
The single most important part of starting baby led weaning is making sure they are ready for solid foods. It’s still common to feed our babies far too early – even doctors aren’t up to date on the latest recommendations!
WHO (World Health Organization) suggests that, “infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health” (source) and experts believe the same to be true for formula-fed babies as well.
why you should wait until 6 months old to introduce solids
In simple terms… it’s when their little tummies are mature enough to handle the complex process of digesting food. While it seems so… natural, it is a complicated process and we are not born with the ability to digest food.
Here are some more specific reasons why you should wait:
- Baby will be greater protected from illness. When babe starts solids too early, you are taking away all that breastmilk has to offer them. There are 50+ immunity factors inside breastmilk that can protect them from an array of illnesses. I have my own experiences of my babies dodging illnesses simply because they are breastfed.
- Their stomach will have time to mature. As stated earlier, their stomachs are not ready to digest food right away. If intorduced too early, they can have unpleasant reactions. In addition, babies have what is called an “open gut” where there are spaces between the cells of their small intestines that allow different properties to pass through directly to the bloodstream. This can cause babe to develop allergies, diseases, and other health conditions. Breastmilk will coat the spaces and provide passive immunity, reducing the chances before the gut closes. At 6 months of age, the gut will close and baby’s body will start producing anti-bodies on their own (source).
- Baby will be developmentally ready. When they are older, they can feed themselves, chew, pull food into the back of their mouths, etc. They are more developmentally ready to start the solid foods!
signs of readiness
It’s important to note that babe should also be showing ALL signs of readiness in addition to being at least six months old.
- Can sit up well without support: does not topple over when you step away
- Has developed the pincer grasp: can grab food with thumb and forefinger
- Has lost the tongue-thrust reflux: pulls food into the back of his mouth
- Willing and able to chew: don’t force a baby who can’t or doesn’t want to eat
- Eager to participate in mealtimes: note that this is not the ONLY sign to look for
#2: gagging is not choking
I know something I thought was, “Holy shit, won’t they choke?!” – and so do many others. But that’s actually not something to be concerned about… assuming you’re being smart and not leaving babe unattended.
→ gagging is beneficial to ensure they DO NOT choke
Fun fact for you: gagging is our body’s natural reflex to ensure we actually don’t choke. So while it can seem scary – it is a good thing!! It is going to happen while they explore new foods, so it’s best to understand why it happens so you don’t freak out about it.
When a baby gags, it is because food has touched a spot in their mouth – which will push the food back into the front in order to prevent choking. Choking occurs when the air passage is blocked, while gagging is just a reflex. When they’re younger, this spot is further in the front of their mouth.
Another cool fact too is that babies who feed themselves will learn to eat food and gag less by 8 months of age compared to a baby who is spoon-fed and not given the opportunity to learn.
When you supervise and follow safety practice, there is no risk of choking (source).
safety tips to prevent choking
There are some things to do in order to prevent choking – so not to worry! If you follow the tips below, there is nothing to worry about.
- Let your baby feed themselves: by putting food in their mouth, you take away the control of letting the gag reflex do it’s job and it is incredibly dangerous to do so – DO NOT ever put food in their mouth!
- Keep an eye on your baby: choking does not make any noise so it’s very important to keep an eye on them! Sit down with them and avoid preparing food or doing dishes while they eat – unless of course they are pulled up right next to you and you are closely watching them.
- Offer appropriate foods: Avoid foods that are bigger than the width of a fingernail, round, or hard. Make sure to thinly slice foods, cut up round foods into halves or quarters, and steam any “hard” foods.
- Get rid of distractions: Baby needs to focus on learning the new skill of eating and by being distracted, they are more likely to choke on their food. Turn off the TV and take away any toys they were playing with once you serve them their food.
- Be prepared: In the rare chance that your baby does choke – be prepared and know what to do. Look up local CPR classes so you can jump quick into action.
#3: baby needs appropriate foods
Next order of business is to emphasize that baby can’t have everything that you can, nor in the same way.
They are still developing and can’t handle every food or every ingredient. You can’t expect to make a chicken enchilada casserole and just plop it on their tray. If you do… sit back and watch as they react to the complexity of ingredients. They may have an upset tummy, a skin reaction from acidity, or worse.
A good rule of thumb is to start with fruits and vegetables. Later, you can add meats that are easy to digest, such as chicken or turkey. Avoid spices as much as you can…. but you still catch me adding salt and butter on occasion.
Here are some great foods to try:
- Banana, avocado, pear, mango, and apples
- Steamed broccoli, carrots, and sweet corn
- Roasted sweet potato or squash
- Soft cheeses cut into chunks
- Boiled or scrambled eggs, cut up if needed
- Unseasoned fish, chicken, or turkey
- Appropriate sized pastas and breads
Personally … I try to avoid grains for the first year, but it isn’t okay to feed if you personally choose to. Also aim to feed babe a variety of textures and flavors vs feeding them the same thing all the time. It gives them the ability to explore and is really good for them!
#4: it’s going to be messy
Okay let’s be real here … baby led weaning is NOT for the mama who freaks out over messes. They are going to throw food, squish it in their hands, drop it in the lap, and end up COVERED in it. We take a lot of baths in our house LOL!!
So if you are that mom … brace yourself – because the mess is a coming! But that said – it’s so much fun to watch them go wild.
#5: don’t take it too seriously
One last and final note here – don’t take it too seriously. Solids should be a supplement to breastmilk or formula anyway… so it’s mostly for play. Allow them to explore different foods, learn how to feed themselves, etc. Some will say nutrition is important at this age, but I personally disagree. Just have fun with it!!