Baby Led Weaning is becoming an increasingly popular approach to starting solid foods. Could it be the right option for feeding your baby?
Baby Led Weaning or (BLW) is an approach to introducing solid foods that encourages babies to self-feed and eat intuitively. There is no spoon feeding and baby is trusted to explore food at their own pace.
The phrase "Baby-Led Weaning"
The term Baby Led Weaning was conceived by Gill Rapley (I recommend reading her book) but the concept has been around for a long time. In this context the term "weaning" refers to the introduction of complementary foods not stopping breastfeeding as it is often used in North America. Breastfeeding should continue as long as both you and your child are enjoying it.
Some refer to this approach as Baby-Led Feeding, Baby-Led Solids, finger foods first, self-weaning. In my house we just say "he feeds himself".
When I was first working as a dietitian I sometimes worked with moms one-on-one and through workshops to discuss introduction of solids using the traditional approach. It wasn't until I was pregnant with my son that I started to hear more and more about baby led weaning. I really loved the idea of letting babies explore food. What better way to raise an adventurous eater than encouraging their natural instinct for exploration? I learned all of the benefits and started researching it more, when my son was 4 months old I had already read countless research articles, 3 books and taken 2 online workshops on BLW. I was very nervous to get started, watching my 6 month old guide pieces of food into his mouth and get excited about it, made me realize it was the best approach for him.
"watching my 6 month old guide pieces of food into his mouth and get excited about it made me realize it was the best approach for him."
Why are parents choosing BLW?
Baby Led Weaning has certainly become very popular among parents as a method of introducing solid foods. Here are some reasons why some parents (including myself!) are choosing this approach:
No prepping special purees
Encouraged family meal times - you can eat while your baby eats
It feels intuitive to let baby feed themselves without spoon feeding
Baby is showing disinterest in spoon feeding but enjoys exploring finger foods
Baby is relying on their own hunger and fullness signals without parental influence
Emphasis on whole (rather than packaged) foods
Baby is given the opportunity to explore their food and the various tastes, textures, shapes, and colours
Enhances parental trust of baby's ability to eat
Development of motor skills and dexterity
Most of these benefits are anecdotal or assumed. There is not a large amount of research evidence around baby-led weaning yet, as the definition is still so new (though the concept has been around much longer!). There are many great studies taking place now and there will be a growing body of evidence very soon.
Unfortunately many parents choose to start BLW because they are influenced to by peer pressure or mom groups and never receive proper instruction on how to proceed safely. It is important to seek the guidance of your health care provider or a pediatric dietitian specializing in Baby Led Weaning rather than turning to an internet search or word-of-mouth for advice. In my Baby Led Weaning course we discuss how to get started with Baby Led Weaning and how to proceed safely to reduce the risk of choking and ensure your baby is meeting all of his nutrient needs.
Can you still offer purees?
Yes you can still offer purees either by letting your baby self-feed with a "loaded spoon" or by spoon feeding with the traditional approach and still offer finger foods. There is no research evidence to support the claim that you cannot spoon-feed and practice baby led weaning at the same time. None!
The Canadian infant nutrition guidelines actually suggest a mixed approach with includes introducing a variety of textures. The "traditional" approach of offering smooth purees first and slowly progressing to different textures is not necessary. This approach likely became the norm because, in the past, babies were being introduced to solids much earlier than developmentally appropriate.
Consider the fact that adults still eat pureed textures such as applesauce, yogurt, soups. Introducing your baby to a variety of textures including purees, mashed textures, and finger foods sets them up for an appreciation of all foods regardless of whether you practice the baby led weaning approach.
Many parents are concerned about choking risk, especially when your baby is self-feeding. In a recent study, there was no observed increase in choking episodes for baby led weaners when parents were educated on safe feeding practices. Babies should always be supervised while they are eating and not distracted. Your baby should be showing developmental signs of readiness for starting solids. Finger foods should be a safe, mash-able texture that is easy to mash between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. A baby led weaning approach may not be appropriate for all babies such as those at risk of dysphagia, such as babies who have an anatomic disorder (cleft palate, tongue tie), a neurological disorder (developmental delay, hypotonia, oral hypotonia) or a genetic disorder.
Should you choose a baby led weaning approach?
There is still more research needed on baby led weaning but many parents are already choosing this approach to start solid foods. In my experience, baby led weaning was the right approach for my family because my baby was eager to self-feed and had no health concerns that would prevent him from eating safely. Watch your baby for signs of readiness to start solids and speak with your health care provider or a dietitian specializing in baby led weaning.
Want more information?
It is my mission to arm parents with a wealth of information so you can make the best choice about feeding your family. I will continue to provide more information on this blog on the topic of baby led weaning. If you are eager to learn more, join a baby led weaning workshop for a comprehensive overview on baby led weaning and everything you need to know to get started. Don't forget to follow the Nourished Nest Nutrition Instagram page for baby led weaning tips and meal ideas.
Want your free copy of my Baby Led Weaning Meal Building Guide? Click here.
The nutrition information contained in this resource is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician, registered dietitian, or other qualified healthcare provider with respect to any questions you my have regarding the nutritional requirements based upon a medical condition. Reliance upon any content provided in this resource is solely at your own risk. Speak with you health provider if you suspect your child may have a condition or delay that would prevent them from eating safely.