Baby Led Weaning 101

Baby Led Weaning (or BLW), is a method of introducing solid foods to babies who are able to sit up on their own and who show interest in solid foods at 6+ months.

In BLW, a baby self-feeds himself whole pieces of food that are appropriately sized and prepared for their motor skills. For example, a steamed broccoli floret is served to a baby to hold and eat at their discretion vs. pureeing the steamed broccoli and feeding the baby yourself. Sound scary?

What are the benefits of BLW?

  1. Less preparation time because there is no need to puree food.
  2. Encourages fine motor skills like the pincer grasp.
  3. Promotes self regulation of energy intake, with some research indicating less obesity later in life.
  4. Allows your baby to experience a more diverse amount of textures, smells and tastes; possibly encouraging more adventurous eating and reducing food battles later in toddler and childhood.
  5. Is reported to reduce choking and gagging because a baby learns how to chew first and swallow second. In my personal experience, I definitely found that my daughter quickly become very good at gauging what was ‘too much’ and thus, made me more confident in her natural abilities.
  6. Typically more economical because the baby can typically eat whatever you are making yourself, with some modifications on sugar, salt and how it is cut/served. There is no need for processed or pre-packaged baby food or snacks.
  7. Changes the meal time dynamic from ‘feeding’ to ‘eating’ — you now can eat your own meal while your baby is eating hers. This also allows a family to share a meal together instead of needing to prepare separate meals for separate ages.

Here’s some helpful answers to common questions I get about BLW:

You should always consult your pediatrician first before introducing solids to your baby. Things like family history of allergies (limited to immediate family), your baby’s growth progress or special medical conditions may influence what is recommended for your baby. However, the typical recommendation for BLW is to begin no earlier than 6 months old (formula and breastmilk is recommended exclusively for the first 6 months), your baby must be able to sit up on his or her own (this prevents choking and is a sign of readiness for food), and should be displaying an interest in food (looking at you when you are eating or grabbing for food off your plate). In terms of what a baby cannot have, there are very few set rules. The biggest one is that a baby under 12 months old should never have honey. You can cook with dairy or provide yogurt and cheese, but should not drink liquid cow’s milk before 12 months (or until your pediatrician advises) as it is not a replacement for breast milk or formula. You should also be conscientious of sodium and sugars; opting to add your own at the table and avoid or minimize while cooking. You should work with your pediatrician on introducing any foods that are common allergens (eggs, dairy, wheat, peanuts, soy) if you have a food allergy in your immediate family. You should offer a variety of spices — but just use common sense and avoid or minimize use of spices that would be very spicy (i.e., skip the Sriracha). Ultimately, you want to offer your baby a variety of wholesome foods, prepared in different ways, and enjoy meals together.
Some BLW advocates are very strict and demand only finger foods be served (nothing in liquid form) and never putting a spoon into the baby’s mouth to assist in feeding. Others are more moderate; offering pre-loaded spoons of purees in addition to her finger foods. I fall into the moderate camp and will even occasionally feed her something like applesauce from a spoon if that’s the only grab & go snack I have on hand or cleaning up a self-fed yogurt adventure isn’t in the cards. However, one rule we live by is we NEVER allow anyone to put finger foods into her mouth. She is familiar with self-feeding and regulating the size, quantity and frequency of which she feeds herself. This is often a struggle with grandparents or well-meaning babysitters who are used to taking an active role in “feeding” babies — but in BLW, she has learned to feed herself and if we try to take over, she is more likely to choke or gag. So, we have a hard and fast line about putting things into her mouth for her outside of a spoon when needed.
Simple equipment you already have in your kitchen like cutting boards, knives, baking sheets and pots or a steaming basket are more than enough. There are some products and kitchen equipment that I recommend for encouraging natural self feeding (like special baby utensils or tools) or things that make cooking more enjoyable (like my favorite cutlery or mini muffin pans), but nothing unique is required.
In my personal experience, the biggest drawbacks involve meal planning and educating other people. If BB (Before Baby), you relied on Chinese take out, you will most likely have a hard time adjusting to the time required for meal planning and preparation. Babies tend to eat on schedules and frequently throughout the day — so a late night delivery may no longer work on her schedule. You will need to think ahead for meals and snacks. Also, it is difficult to find prepared foods that have baby-friendly amounts of sodium or be aware of a restaurant’s use of things like MSG. I have several friends that often comment that they would never be able to do BLW because they depend on take out and just aren’t very good cooks. And even for me, someone who enjoyed cooking and likes finding the time for it, adjusting my mindset from last-minute meal planning to a more scheduled, planned-for menu still a lot of work to get used to. For me, I think those first months when “food before one is just for fun” was an important time to reset my own eating and food planning habits so that once her nutritional intake became more important, I was prepared as well. Another challenge of BLW is dealing with strangers, grandparents or friends that are not comfortable with or aware of how to feed your child. We’ve been given our fair share of judgmental side glances at restaurants as our 7 month old gobbled up hummus, naan and lamb meatballs. Or, needing to constantly reinforce the “do not put food in her mouth” mantra to a grandparent not because we’re being controlling, but it’s a matter of safety for a self-feeding baby. Or, delicately explaining the benefits of BLW to a friend who is puree feeding her baby but has asked if what we’re doing is safe — and hoping you don’t come across judgmental or make another parent feel bad for their own choices. BLW has been a fantastic option for us. It required an effort to learn and adjust, but was so incredibly worth it. Good luck with whatever path you choose to be healthy & happy!