Victoria’s very first post on Baby Led Weaning was so popular we’ve brought her back to tell us more about how to do Baby Led Weaning with your baby, and share her experiences about what worked and what didn’t for her…
It’s hard to write a guide to Baby Led Weaning (BLW) as its, umm… Baby led, (and parent led to some extent) so how you do it depends on your baby and on you.
But it’s also hard to take the leap into a different form of weaning without some sort of information so the following is my guide to BLW based on our family’s experiences. Every baby is unique so I’m sure once your baby has graduated to regular solid meals you’ll have your own list of top tips!
My BLW cheat sheet
Have a highchair or a bumbo type seat with a tray where baby can sit upright safely and reach out for food.
Allow your child to investigate and pick up the food for themselves, in their own time.
Don’t put food in your baby’s mouth for them.
Food should be chip shaped or in chunks big enough for them to grip firmly.
Offer a range of healthy foods.
Good first foods include: Fusilli pasta, cooked carrot sticks, cooked broccoli florets, toast and butter, melon, banana, roasted potato, roasted parsnips.
The safety announcement
Like the film about life jackets and emergency exits at the start of a flight we all hope we won’t ever need this bit and most people don’t but it should be said all the same. The big no-no’s for babies are whole peanuts (choking hazard) and honey (botulism). Cut rounded, skinned fruit like grapes and tomatoes into halves or wedges (potential choking hazard). Hard foods that break in chunks like raw carrot or raw apple wedges and pear are best avoided (potential choking hazard)
Never leave your child alone to eat. Consider a child first aid course for you and your helper.
Choking is silent. Your baby may gag (cough) but never pat a gagging child on the back or reach into their mouth for the food
The Full Version
It’s all about being relaxed and enjoying mealtimes and the weaning process. Food is fun until they’re one, which means that you offer them a variety of food and they eat or they don’t. You KNOW that they won’t starve, as they will be getting their nutrition from the milk.
There are very few rights and wrongs to BLW but if you and your baby are regularly getting upset, stressed or worried by mealtimes then you’re doing it wrong!
Ready, get set, go!
Your baby should be able to sit well and show an interest in food before you start, six months is usually about right but some are ready earlier (snatching pizza off your plate while you’re not looking) and some a bit later.
It’s a self regulating process as a baby who isn’t ready won’t be developmentally able to or be interested in picking up the food and moving it to their mouth.
A child of six months won’t have the pincer (thumb and forefinger) grip so won’t be able to pick up small pieces of food to begin with so it’s best to start with larger ‘chip shaped’ food that they can grip in their fist with some sticking out and bring to their mouth.
This is the parent led part of BLW. Some parents start off with a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise and watch the ensuing joy, mess, exploration and tasting fest with pride. Some start small and work up to this stage – it’s entirely up to you and what you are comfortable with.
The idea is that you don’t need to cook special food for your baby, you can give them what you’re eating in a form that they can pick up (large lumps or chip shaped) and they dive in.
If you’re not the type to jump in with both feet and a full roast dinner (we weren’t) then when thinking about whether food is suitable, think texture; slippery foods like fusilli pasta, banana or melon are easily swallowed (fusilli can be swallowed whole as my son often demonstrated!). A cooked carrot stick, broccoli floret or roast parsnip can be gripped and easily squished by the baby’s gums or tongue. A piece of toast can be sucked into submission and goes mushy and easy to swallow. You’ll be amazed how long they can ‘work on’ a piece of food!
Once you’re all confident with these foods you can start offering them a wider variety and more of the kind of foods that you’re eating. Keep in mind that healthy for us isn’t the same as healthy for babies, their diet needs to be significantly higher in fat than ours.
Also remember that our bodies process salt a lot better than theirs will so you do need to be aware of the salt content of the food you’re giving them. A diet of processed or takeaway food would not be advisable but at the same time it’s not realistic to think we can cut salt out of their diet entirely. We stopped adding salt during the cooking process (also a healthy change for us!) but didn’t worry too much about recipes where salty ingredients like cheese were added. If they’ve managed to swallow a chunk of salty bacon just keep the next few meals low salt to compensate.
When should I feed them?
You should look at these early ‘meals’ as play sessions rather than ‘food’. These meals will be about learning how to eat and learning about texture and flavour. The food that goes in will be gradually introducing their gut to the work it will need to do in order to digest a range of solid food.
With this in mind, throw out the idea of three meals a day. To start with, food should be offered when they are well slept, well fed and happy and when you have the time to enjoy this experience with your baby.
Depending on your baby and how fast they ‘get’ eating, you’ll get a feel for when they start to need meals – for us it was months before I felt he’d miss it if I skipped a meal.
Look, don’t look!
This is an odd one but I think we’re not the only one to experience it. Babies (and toddlers) tend not to like it if their every move is closely watched and commented on, however they do like it if someone is there eating the same foods they are (I guess it’s reassuring) so dining en famille without staring at the baby is ideal with BLW but of course not realistic for every meal.
Eating in restaurants
Is fab with a BLW baby. They can be happily chewing on some broccoli and chunk of sourdough for the whole time it takes you to do starter, main and coffee. Then someone else has to clear up. It’s all good.
You’ll learn on your first aid course that choking is silent. However, nothing quite prepares you for the first time your baby manages to get food to the back of their mouth and gags at this unfamiliar feeling – it’s a coughing sound as they move the food around their mouth. The Boy was a champion gagger (apparently some hardly gag at all) and my heart beat a little faster every time I heard him, in the same way that my heart beat a little faster when he first stood up and took his first wobbly steps – as parents, we’re built to worry but I needed to realise this was his way of learning a skill that will be vital for the rest of his life.
As long as they are making a noise it is best to leave them to it. Never pat a coughing baby on the back or reach in to get the food out as this can actually cause the food to move back and fall down the airway.
A question of allergies
BLW is about how a baby eats their first foods not what they eat. That will be up to you. Waiting days between foods won’t make any difference to what they ARE allergic to, it just makes it easier to identify WHAT they are allergic to. I’d say if there’s some sort of allergy history, you’d have to think about that. For us there wasn’t so I didn’t. As it turned out, The Boy developed an allergy to fish about a year after he’d started eating it so waiting days between new foods wouldn’t have helped us at all!
This is the baby led part of BLW. You let your baby decide when they’re ready to drop milk feeds (bf or formula). They will take what they need, and when they are feeding themselves efficiently and their gut is digesting their food, they will start to favour food over milk.
Feast and famine
Be prepared for this, all sorts of things will affect how your little one chooses to eat. Teething might mean they eat less or crave cold carrot to soothe their ouchy gums. A growth spurt might mean they polish off twice as much as usual.
You can offer your baby a range of healthy foods and allow them to select what they need. Many babies go through phases where they’ll eat vast quantities of carbs and then suddenly switch to veggies – they’re selecting what they feel the need for in exactly the same way we do, energy for a growth spurt or something soothing and easy to eat if they’re feeling poorly.
I like that we’re letting them listen to their bodies and their instincts rather than hoping that they finish a set amount of food at three times a day – some children seem to be happy and energetic on practically nothing most of the time and occasional huge meals and others eat more regularly, exactly the same as with adults.
And that’s it from us… that’s how we did it and how I’d do it again if we get the opportunity. It’s been our best parenting decision so far.
For a fantastic list of practical top tips check out The BLW blog.