If you’ve never heard of this whole “new-fangled” idea of baby led weaning before (which really isn’t all that new), then please allow me to make it really simple for you: it’s when you start feeding your baby real food from the very start. Yep, that’s right… the very same stuff you would make and eat yourself. You skip the purees and mashed stuff altogether, and go straight to the real thing.
By the way, the term baby led weaning is a bit of a misnomer. The term originated in the UK, where “weaning” refers to starting your baby on solid foods. But here in the US, “weaning” is associated with decreasing baby’s milk intake. And technically speaking, you ARE, by starting baby on solid foods… However, baby led weaning does NOT mean that you are purposefully decreasing ANY amount of breast milk or formula that baby is receiving when you first start. In fact, you keep right on feeding the same amount of milk that you always did, and you just ADD the solid foods to your feeding schedule! But it’s called “baby led” because baby is the one who ultimately determines in the end when he/she will begin consuming less milk in lieu of more solids. And left to their own devices, baby doesn’t usually make that move until closer to their first birthday. So there really isn’t any weaning involved for a few months down the road.
If you think about it, baby led weaning is something that families have been doing since the origin of mankind. Do you really think cavemen or people in third world countries had/have the luxury of serving their babies specially-made organic baby food out of glass jars or pouches? Nope! And if YOU find yourself gagging at the thought of tasting your baby’s food (pureed turkey, anyone?)… then do you really think baby is going to enjoy an entire jar of it?? It’s not exactly a first-class introduction to the joy and satisfaction of a delicious meal. So feeding baby real food… in its natural form… just makes sense.
Worried about choking? That’s normal. We all are! I’m vigilant about this EVERY TIME my daughter eats. But research shows that baby isn’t any more likely to choke on real food than they are pureed baby food. (Check out some of the resources at the bottom of this post for more information about it.)
Don’t believe me that a 6 month old baby with hardly any teeth can chomp down on some broccoli?! Take a peek at my YouTube playlist of my baby girl eating ALL KINDS of real food! (Spoiler alert: be prepared for lots of silliness, tray smashing, food throwing, and gagging… but most importantly, you’ll see her observing, closely inspecting, and LEARNING how to handle and eat actual food!)
And did I mention that meal time is FUN for my baby and I? There are NO airplane spoons, no funny faces and dances to get her to open her mouth, nothing of the sort. I just give her food, and she eats what she wants. End of story. It’s pretty dang awesome.
If you’re convinced that this is something you want to try, then great! Here’s the nitty-gritty of what you need to know, and how to get started:
You don’t really need any special equipment to do baby led weaning. Your baby can simply sit in a diaper on your lap and call it a day as she chows down on some avocado, if you want. But there are a few products out there that some BLW parents swear by for making their experience a lot easier, specifically these things:
– pocket bibs (this brand and these these softer silicone ones seem to be the most popular choices)
– sleeved bib (an alternative to the pocket bib that a lot of people prefer)
– IKEA Antilop high chair (this is the “posterchild” highchair for BLW, but any highchair that’s easy to clean will work – I use this one!)
– crinkle cutter (makes slippery foods easier for baby to pick up)
Basically anything your family eats is fair game to feed your baby. You’ll probably want to focus on fresh or steamed/roasted/boiled fruits and veggies at first, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with going straight for a whole chicken drumstick, if that’s what you want to do. You can eventually move on to other kinds of food, too, like meat, beans, toast, pasta, and baby-size portions of fully prepared family meals (or elements from those meals). Be sure to completely avoid processed foods, anything salty, and extra sugar; this means you’ll need to pull out bits of your family’s meal for your baby BEFORE you add salt to the rest of it. Babies CAN have seasonings on their food (even spicy ones!), just be sure to use your best judgement based on your baby’s personal preferences. It might be a bit of trial and error at first, but that’s okay!
I also have and highly recommend the Baby Led Weaning Cookbook. It’s authored by the woman who started the movement as it is known today, and it has basically become the “bible” of BLW for many families (along with her original book on the topic). Not only does it have all the information you really need about BLW from the original book, but it also contains a ton of recipes you can cook for your entire family that are baby-friendly, so you’re not cooking extra food. (Need BLW recipe ideas, like, NOW? I’ve got you covered! Check out my BLW Recipe Roundup, which is basically the best of Pinterest all in one place!)
You should also definitely take into consideration your family’s history of food allergies, and consult your child’s pediatrician about when it is safe to introduce some of the common baby food allergens to your baby. And of course, NO honey or cow’s milk AT ALL until after baby’s first birthday! Many parents decide to feed one type of food at a time, and for a couple of days at a time, to rule out potential allergens for their baby.
BEFORE you start:
– Baby should be sitting up unassisted or with VERY little support, to avoid a choking risk (usually around 6 months old)
– Baby should be showing a genuine interest in food (i.e. grabbing things off your plate, watching you eat and making chewing motions with their mouth, etc.)
– Baby should also be able to pick up items and bring them to her mouth on her own fairly easily
– Be prepared for a mess. Food WILL be flung in every direction and end up all over the floor. Make peace with this beforehand. Hopefully you have dogs. 😉
– Be prepared for gagging. This is totally normal in the beginning as baby learns to maneuver food in her mouth, and is nothing to be frightened about. But you should also familiarize yourself with what choking looks like, and know what to do if it happens (and here’s another video).
– Realize that, at first, not much swallowing of food is going to happen. Instead, it will be a lot of exploration and tasting and spitting and gagging. But once baby starts to get the idea, and gets better at moving food around in her mouth, she will eventually begin actually EATING it.
WHAT to Feed:
– First, see guidelines above in section entitled “The Foods”. Then…
– Food for baby is okay to eat if it’s soft enough that you can squish it between your pointer finger and thumb, at least until they have more teeth and are better at chewing.
– Offer baby small sticks or wedges of food at first (about the size and thickness of your finger), until baby gets better at picking things up. Then you can move on to smaller-sized pieces of food and things that are more slippery or difficult to handle. In the mean time, you can use a crinkle cutter to make things easier to pick up, or lightly dust them in baby cereal. (**Note: you still need to avoid all the usual baby choking hazard foods.)
– Keep feeding baby the same amount of milk as before; she’ll spontaneously begin consuming less milk and more solids on her own as time goes on (not until at least 9 or 10 months), at which point you can begin dropping some milk feedings.
WHEN to Feed:
– Start baby off with just one “meal” a day, and as she gets better at eating and seems hungrier, you can gradually increase to two, then three, meals a day. You can choose which time of day this meal occurs (breakfast, lunch, or dinner). It would be wise to choose a time when your baby is likely to be in a good mood. Expect a typical feeding session to take anywhere from 5 to 20 minutes from start to finish.
WHERE to Feed:
– Baby will hopefully be in her highchair for all mealtimes.
– If baby is not in her highchair, at least make sure she is ALWAYS seated upright while eating. NO “on the go” eating while watching TV on the couch or crawling around the house! This can be a major choking hazard!
HOW to Feed:
– Only place 2 or 3 pieces of food at most on the highchair tray, so as not to overwhelm her with choices. Allow baby to decide which piece she wants, pick it up on her own, and feed it to herself. NEVER put bits of food into baby’s mouth for her, no matter how much she looks like she’s struggling to do it on her own… not only does this pose a serious choking hazard, but self-feeding is the spirit of baby led weaning, so this would entirely defeat the purpose. Learning how to manipulate and manage various sizes, shapes, and textures of food is all a part of the learning process!
– As soon as baby shows the dexterity and desire to feed herself soft foods (like yogurt) with a spoon, encourage her to do so! She may make a complete mess at first, but she’ll eventually get better at aiming.
– Give baby a few sips of water with each of her meals, as it helps to ward off constipation. You can use a sippy cup or a regular cup, it just depends on how much you want to assist in the process during the learning phase!
Although I am a mom with personal experience on this topic, I am not a doctor or nutritionist. So you may want some more information from the experts about this whole process before you feel confident enough to give it a go. Here are some resources that I personally found super helpful in getting started:
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