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What exactly is the baby-led weaning process that other parents have been discussing?
How do you know when your baby is old enough to start the weaning process and begin the next stage of their life?
What are the best foods? Will this process work for you and your baby?
For first-time parents, many of these questions can be overwhelming. However, there is no need to worry.
We’re going to break it down and explain in detail the steps of baby-led weaning and how to implement them with your child.
What does baby-led weaning mean?
Baby-led weaning, also known as BLW, is when you introduce solid foods to your child’s daily intake of breastmilk or formula. That often means skipping the traditional jars of mashed up baby food entirely.
The beginning stages of this process are not to replace the consumption of breastmilk or formula but to add to their diet.
By using the baby-led method, you let your child control the entire consumption of the food you provide to them.
Disadvantages of starting solids too early
Many parents do not want to start their child on anything besides breastmilk or formula too early as there are several disadvantages to introducing solid foods to your baby before they should have them.
These drawbacks include:
- Risks of choking hazards
- Improper nutrition
- Increase rates of obesity
- Result in allergies or eczema
- Future health problems
So, yes, a few reasons for parents to be cautious when it comes time to introducing foods other than breastmilk or formula.
Baby-led weaning: pros and cons
With any new stage in a baby’s life, there are positive and negative aspects. By examining both sides of BLW, parents can make the right decision for their little one when it comes time to introducing solid foods.
- Skipping over the puree food stage entirely, or progress entirely away from purees
- Develops hand and eye coordination
- Enables the baby to explore different tastes and textures
- Can join the family at mealtimes at the table and eat alongside everyone else
- Easier than feeding the baby yourself
- Learns how to self-regulate their food intake
- Develops chewing and swallowing dexterity
- Fosters healthy eating habits early in life
- Could help eliminate having a picky eater as they grow
- It can be messy
- Babies may not be taking in enough vitamins and nutrients they require, including iron
- Babies may need additional dietary supplements
- May not be ideal for babies with developmental or neurological issues
- Hard to gauge how much your baby is eating
How can you tell if your baby is ready for BLW?
Baby-led weaning should start at the proper time. However, every child is different, so there is not a set age to begin this process.
Preferably, parents will need to examine the reasons to start solids to ensure that it is the correct time for the next stage.
Some tell-tale signs will give a good indication your baby is ready to branch out to solid foods. Many babies will be displaying one or more of these attributes when they should move to the next stage:
- Your child can sit up on their own
- Possesses good head and neck control
- Has doubled their birth weight
- Around 6 months of age or older
- Showing an interest in foods other than breastmilk or formula
- Has begun to wake up during the evening when they previously slept through the night
- No longer has the tongue-thrust reflex that pushes food out of their mouth
Some babies will show some of these signs but will not be ready for the baby-led weaning process. It is important not to force your child into the next phase.
Every baby matures differently and may be ready for solids earlier or later than another child the same age.
If you have any questions or concerns about offering solid foods to your baby, talk to your pediatrician or health care provider for clarification.
How to start the baby-led weaning process
How you proceed to introduce solids to your child is your decision and should be tailored to your baby as an individual.
Some children are great with going from breastmilk or formula to solids without an issue. If you feel your baby is ready and your pediatrician has no concerns, you can begin the process of offering solid foods regularly alongside breastmilk or formula.
The BLW process can be relatively easy for you and your child.
Instead of you sitting with your baby and spoon-feeding them meals, they can explore mealtimes on their own. They will still need your undivided supervision, of course.
1. Get prepared
This introduction to solid foods will be experimental for your child. Imagine that food will get on their clothes, on your floor, and even in their hair.
As they figure out how to feed themselves, their sitting area can become messy.
Choose a good quality bib, opt for a large shirt, or feed them just in their diaper to avoid any food stains on clothing.
You may have to bathe your child immediately after eating anyhow, so stay away from fancy clothes while they are going through the learning process.
2. No plates or cutlery required
Babies do not need plates or cutlery in the beginning. Let your baby grab their foods right from the table or tray on their own.
Additional items like bowls or spoons will distract your child, and they won’t use them anyhow.
As they grow and develop, you can let them experiment with dishes and utensils, but to start, let them focus on hand feeding.
3. Continue the milk intake
Remember that baby-led-weaning will not replace breastmilk or formula at first. Breastmilk and formula should still be a vital part of their diet since their bodies are still growing and developing.
The goal of BLW is to supplement their daily intake and allow them to explore foods and textures themselves. It is a transition phase and should start slowly to get your child used to solids.
Ultimately, it’s your decision how you wish to continue offering milk to your baby. Some mothers prefer to nurse their little one before sitting them down for solids, while others wait until afterward.
Some parents also use this opportunity to offer milk in a sippy cup to get their little one used to another form of milk instead of a bottle.
There is no right or wrong way, as long as they continue to receive the vital nutrients needed from breastmilk or formula.
A parent or caregiver must ensure their baby is safe and healthy at all times, especially during feedings.
Supervision is essential for any feeding times, and babies should not be alone to eat.
5. Start slowly
Do not overwhelm your child with a large variety of options at the beginning. Start slowly and only offer one or two pieces of food at a time.
Picking up foods to eat can be frustrating at first, so let your baby focus on only a small amount rather than providing a bowl full of food items.
6. Offer one type of food at a time
Only offer one type of food at a time for a few days. This way, you can pinpoint any food allergies or sensitivities if they arise.
Stay away from foods that could trigger allergies or sensitivities. If you or someone in the family deals with food allergies, hold off on offering those food choices to your baby until after consulting with your pediatrician.
7. Choking risk
Avoid foods that pose a choking risk. Food items like grapes, hot dogs, nuts, or hard berries can obstruct the windpipe.
If you want to give some of these to your baby, slice them lengthwise and ensure they are in thin strips.
8. No salt and sugar
Do not add additional salts or sugars to your baby’s foods. They do not need these in their diet as they do not aid in their daily nutrition at all.
9. No distractions
Eliminate distractions while your baby is eating. It’s best to not let them have toys while they eat or watch television.
They should be fully attentive to what they are doing, and distractions can pose choking risks.
Without their full attention, babies will mindlessly put food in their mouths, where portion sizes may be too large, or they won’t be chewing their food entirely before swallowing.
9. Dont force it
Try not to get discouraged if your child is showing all the signs of being ready for solid foods but prefers to nurse or take a bottle at mealtimes.
Take cues for your little one, but don’t force solid foods on them, as this will create negative feelings around food.
The best foods for BLW
Offer your baby food items that are soft enough to chew or gum down if there are no teeth.
The pieces should be large enough for your child to grab and put in the mouth, but not too big that they will choke on them.
Long sticks or strips of cooked vegetables or softer fruits are great starters for little ones.
Some of the best foods to try are:
- Bananas and other soft fruits
- Cooked or steamed vegetables
- Soft vegetables including spinach, tomatoes, and cucumbers
- Pasta or other soft grain items
- Cooked eggs
- Grilled fish with bones removed
- Soft cheeses
- Cooked beans or legumes
- Shredded meat
Follow your baby’s cues and offer foods they will like to explore as they grow and develop.
If your child rejects a food type at first, have patience and wait a while before offering it again. The process of solid foods is new, and it may take a few times for your baby to try different things.
Some parents will begin introducing foods to their baby in the forms of purees. This routine can be a great way to start your baby on solids, but it isn’t for everyone.
It can get expensive if you opt for organic or specialized puree foods rather than a store-brand generic type. If your child has a good appetite, you may be feeding them several purees a day, which has its downsides.
Concerned parents also ask
1. Can we use both methods of spoon-feeding puree and baby-led weaning?
Of course! It can be a difficult transition for some babies to grasp foods to eat at first. By combining both methods, you can be sure your baby is still getting all of the vital minerals and nutrients they require each day while exploring different foods.
2. Can I start baby-led weaning if my baby doesn’t have teeth yet?
Yes, you can. Every baby develops and grows differently, so many babies will not have teeth when they start solid foods.
Be sure to follow the safety guidelines for offering proper food types to avoid choking, and your baby will be able to experience mealtimes with baby-led weaning.
Baby-led weaning can be a fun time for your child to explore new foods.
As they grow and develop, so will their taste buds. Be patient and start slowly by introducing new foods to their diet. Remember to relax and let your baby take the lead with this new stage.
Before you know it, they will be eating everything you put in front of them, so take it slow and steady at first, and it will be a positive experience for both of you.