Before we get into what Baby-Led Weaning is, let us start with what it is not. Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) is not a program or schedule for ending breastfeeding. It is a gentle method to introduce solids to an infant in a way that compliments formula or breast milk.

Quite simply, it is human food for tiny humans.

BLW is a term often attributed to Gill Rapley, whose 2008 book, Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food (UK), became a bestseller and has been translated into more than a dozen languages. The idea is simple. When babies are ready to eat, feed them food. No purees, or carefully crafted blends and cereals for infants, but real food. Large chunks for gnawing, small pieces for swallowing, and only small amounts to reduce mess and overconsumption.

But what about all of those baby food cookbooks and aisles filled with purees? What about our pediatrician’s recommendation to start basic cereal at four months? When is a baby “ready” to eat? What about choking hazards? What about allergies? BLW is counter-intuitive to the way many have been raised to think about feeding babies. If you’re considering BLW for your little one, here are answers to the top five questions.

1. When is baby ready? 

The simple answer is when they are grabbing for food, sitting up on their own, have good head control and can use the pincer grasp. The pincer grasp, which is needed to pick up small pieces of food and place them in the mouth, is an important developmental milestone. Typically most babies are ready around six months of age, but many babies are not ready until closer to twelve months. It is important to let your baby decide when they are ready, rather than a calendar. The World Health Organization has excellent recommendations.

2. What foods do I start with? 

According to; “there is no evidence that waiting to introduce baby-safe (soft), allergy-causing foods, such as eggs, dairy, soy, peanuts, or fish, beyond 4 to 6 months of age prevents food allergy. If you believe your baby has an allergic reaction to a food, such as diarrhea, rash, or vomiting, talk with your child’s doctor about the best choices for the diet.” Soft foods like well-cooked peas or ripe fruits make good options.

3. How do I know my baby is eating enough? 

Nutrition from food is not needed until after twelve months of age. Food before that is just for fun, and the focus should be practicing gross and fine motor skills, and to acclimate taste buds. One of the draws of BLW is that feeding is self-monitored as babies will typically eat how much they need on their own. You may find that one day your baby eats several fist fulls of food, and the next day they’re grazing or playing more than eating. That is ok! Follow their lead.

4. My baby doesn’t have teeth, how will they chew? 

A baby’s gums are quite powerful and the act of “chewing” and swallowing are important skills. It is very probable that they will not be able to do it at first. They may be gagging. It is important to note that there is a difference between gagging and choking! Gagging is nature’s way of preventing choking–it is a safety response. If you find your infant is still gagging and spitting out food as they grow beyond 12 months or so you might consider having them evaluated for lip and/or tongue ties if you haven’t already done so.

5. When can I let my baby try a new food? 

Foods should always be given when a parent or caregiver has adequate time and attention to devote to baby. Just because it is baby-led does not mean that it is parent-free. New foods should be introduced at least four days apart. This allows adequate time to monitor for rashes, indigestion, fussiness, gas, bloating or other signs that they may not tolerate that food well. If a food is not successful, don’t be afraid to try it again at a later date.

If you want to explore the concept of BLW and need some expert guidance, contact us about our Infant Feeding services!

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