What Is ‘Baby Led Weaning’, And Should You Be Doing it?

Honor is 15 months old now (which blows my mind, where did the time go?!), and well into eating solid foods. While we still give her purees, she’s at the age where she can comfortably feed herself by grabbing finger foods like fruit, veggies, grains, pasta, and more. So far she’s been a great eater, happily trying different things and liking mostly everything (her favorites are not what you’d expect – she LOVES broccoli, salmon and beetroot – great!).

We started transitioning away from solely breastfeeding when she was around 6 months old: I had wanted to continue doing it for longer, but traveling to London and having major jet lag throw off our schedule and my milk production, sadly meant I had to supplement with formula for a few weeks, before moving over to 100% formula. She was already eating purees, and so very gradually, we introduced an array of different foods, by spoon-feeding her (read all about that here). While that worked for us, there’s a relatively new movement going on called ‘baby-led weaning’, which is popular in the UK and starting to gain traction in the US. Whenever I hear about these kinds of trends I like to do research myself before participating, so I gathered information on the topic, which I’ve outlined for you below. Of course, always talk to your pediatrician before introducing a new eating plan, but read on to learn more about baby-led weaning, and if you should try it with your little one.

What Is Baby-Led Weaning?
So, what exactly is it? While you can find several definitions online, baby-led weaning is essentially a practice that puts the control in the hands of babies (literally!). Parents decide when babies are fed and what food is put in front of them, but the babies are ultimately in charge of how much – or if – they would like to eat what’s given to them. The practice involves trusting that even though your baby is young, they generally know how much they really need. The idea is that if parents are not pushing foods on babies, they will learn to be competent, non-picky eaters on their own.

How Does It Work?
Advocates of baby-led weaning suggest skipping the purees and heading straight to solid finger foods around 6 months old, as soon as they are ready to move away from solely milk and formula. Parents choose a variety of healthy (pediatrician-approved) solid foods, and place them in front of their baby at mealtime. Rather than being spoon-fed, babies handle the food themselves, and stop when they are full. According to Jessica Diamond, child registered dietician/nutritionist, you should follow the ‘Division of Responsibility’ when making feeding baby-led. This means that “parents are responsible for what, when, and where of feeding and children are responsible for how much and whether of eating … they eat as much as they need, they grow appropriately for their body, and they learn how to eat a wide array of family foods when parents follow the Division of Responsibility”.

Why Should You Do This?
While this concept may sound shocking to some parents, advocates claim that this allows babies to learn how to properly chew and swallow food, practice manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination skills, and avoid becoming picky eaters in the long run by being exposed to many types of tastes and textures early on. It allegedly also prevents babies from gaining too much weight, by allowing them to decide when they are full, rather than the amount of food being controlled by the parents with spoon-feeding.

Are There Any Dangers?
There are a few factors to consider when introducing baby-led weaning. Firstly, parents and their doctors should keep an eye on babies’ iron levels when solid foods are introduced. While babies at 6 months old are technically ready to start moving away from iron-rich breastmilk and formula, they aren’t quite ready to chew iron-rich solid foods like meat just yet. In order for your baby to get enough iron, it may be necessary to supplement solid foods with pureed meats, dark green veggies, and fortified grains. Some parents may also worry that their baby will not get enough calories or nutrients if they are left in charge of their own eating. Make sure to get the green-light from your doctor to try it, and pay attention to your baby’s reaction – baby-led weaning may not be for everyone. Some babies may not enjoy taking the lead and may need gentle guidance from you, while others may do just fine. And finally, some parents (including me!) may worry about the risk of choking at such a young age – we had a very scary moment only recently, when Honor choked on a piece of apple. I had to whip her out of her chair, turn her onto her stomach and perform an anti-choking technique, until the piece came up. She actually vomited a little, and the entire moment was terrifying, making me burst into tears afterwards. I’m not trying to scare you guys by telling you this, but I can’t stress enough how important it is to 1. take a baby hazards / choking course, most local hospitals or community centers do them, and 2. cook the food until it’s incredibly soft; soft enough to smoosh between gums, rather than teeth. There are many super-squishy baby-safe foods that little gums can handle. Items like scrambled eggs, avocado, very ripe fruits (like bananas and pears), and steamed veggies all make great options. Avoid foods that are choking hazards, like nuts and whole grapes or whole blueberries. Make sure to never leave your baby alone with their food, and only feed them while they’re in their high chair.

While we didn’t follow this method with Honor, I’m so intrigued and advocates feel so strongly about it that we may try it when we have another someday. I’m so curious, what are your thoughts? Have any of you tried this with your little one? Let’s discuss in the comments below!

xx,

5 responses to “What Is ‘Baby Led Weaning’, And Should You Be Doing it?”

  1. Rachael says:

    We started it with my baby boy at 6 weeks, (after he met all BLW required skills). I’ve since stopped because he coughed/gagged I’m pretty much everything that went in his mouth and I was having a mini heart attack every time it happened! I’m sure if I persevered it would eventually become more familiar to both of us and I’d know that he wasn’t actually choking, but I can’t bring myself to do it – I’m just too nervous! So purée it is…

  2. Rachael says:

    6 months not weeks…baby brain. 🙃

  3. Harriet says:

    Great article! I’m surprised you didn’t do any element of baby led weaning! We started with purées but quickly moved to a combination as that’s what suited our little one. A couple of points that I would add…
    There is no iron in breast milk but the iron stores the baby has from during pregnancy are used up around 6months which is why introducing iron rich foods is important. Lentils are a great initial food which are high in iron but easier for babies to eat than meat. Combining or serving with citrus fruits (containing vitamin C) aids iron absorption.
    All babies should be off purées by 7-8months as they need to chew solid foods to develop the muscles in their jaws which are used in speech development. In other words continuing with solely puréed food for too long can cause speech delays.

  4. Aura M says:

    Hi Louise, Please make sure to give your baby shredded apple or cooked apple until she is able to handle hard pieces of food. I can only imagine how scary that must have been.
    There is a lot to talk about this subject, and I hope with baby nr 2 you will feel confident enough to go with blw from the beginning. Though I advice you to document yourself before thoroughly. Gill Rapley’s book is great to start with.
    I send you many blessings for you and your family from Spain.
    .

  5. Francie Emlen says:

    We did mostly BLW and it’s worked out very well! Yes, there will be gagging but we found with our little guy that he was just trying to move food towards the front of his mouth. He pretty much likes all foods and really gets to participate in his meals, feeling the texture of foods and stopping when he’s feeling satisfied. If your baby is not a great eater, I don’t think I’d recommend it as sometimes it feels more difficult to ensure your baby has had enough food (my baby has always been a hungry guy so this was not a problem). Any method that is centered around plant-based foods and no sugar is great in my book!

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