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Baby Led Weaning: What it is and How to Start

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When you’re getting ready to start feeding your baby solid foods, there are so many different decisions you’ll need to make. The most important of which is how to actually do it.

That’s where Baby Led Weaning comes into play.

Though it may sound weird and unnecessary, baby led weaning is actually a really great way to feed your baby solid foods. Once you figure out what it is anyway.

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What is Baby Led Weaning

Baby led weaning is a feeding method that completely bypasses mashed up and pureed food and goes straight to finger foods.

As the name suggests, the entire process is “baby led” and allows your baby to self-feed from the start.

The whole idea is to allow babies to control not only what they put in their mouths, but also how much. This gives babies a chance to better understand their bodies to be able to better understand the feeling of fullness.

baby led weaning, baby eating spaghetti in a highchair

The Benefits of Baby Led Weaning

There are a plethora of benefits surrounding baby led weaning.

Registered dietician and author of Feeding Baby, Clancy Cash Harrison believes that the benefits can be great since it helps promote and fine-tune motor development.

"Baby-led weaning supports the development of eye-hand coordination, chewing skills, dexterity, and healthy eating habits. It also offers babies an opportunity to explore the taste, texture, aroma, and color of a variety of foods."

Clancy Cash Harrison

Baby led weaning also has the added benefit of preventing overeating since a baby that is full simply will not want to go through the effort of moving the food from the table to his mouth.

When feeding purees, parents may be tempted to have the baby finish all of it and my try to sneak in extra spoonfuls.

Baby led weaning doesn’t allow for this since the baby is in complete control of the entire process.

You’ll also be able to avoid spending all of that extra money on those tiny little jars of baby food and that to me is a huge benefit.

What Age Can I Start Baby Led Weaning?

Since your baby will be in full control of the feeding process, you really do need to wait for him to be truly ready to start solids before beginning.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until 6 months of age and showing all signs of readiness before beginning solids. (Source)

That means that your baby:

  • Can sit up well without support
  • No longer has a tongue-thrust reflex
  • Shows eagerness at mealtimes

Regardless of whether you think your child is ready or not, always consult your pediatrician before feeding your baby anything other than milk or formula.

How to Start Baby Led Weaning

The best thing to do is to start slowly, but be consistent.

Learning how to eat real food is a valuable life skill, but one that will not appear overnight. Your baby is going to take some time to get used to the process.

Once you get the go ahead to start solids from your doctor, choose a single ingredient food, wait for your baby to be calm, and go to town.

Start with softer foods like avocado or banana and cut them into long thin strips, or crinkled coins to make for easy grabbing.

Start slowly and introduce one food every 3-4 days. This gives you plenty of time to see if there are any allergies that you need to be aware of.

If you are ever concerned that your baby is having trouble breathing or swallowing due to an allergic reaction, contact 9-1-1 immediately.

Can You do Baby Led Weaning and Purees?

You can absolutely do a combination feeding. That’s basically what I did when we started my son on solids.

We started with softer foods like avocado and sweet potato and mashed them up and allowed him to spoon feed.

I didn’t know anything about BLW when we first got started so doing that just made the most sense for me.

We did purees for about a month and then my doctor finally explained what baby led weaning was. Once we tried it, I was hooked.

I personally hated having to deal with either store-bought baby food or dealing with making it myself. Baby led weaning was just easier for me and my family.

Are Teeth Required?

Nope, not at all.

A baby’s gums are much tougher than they appear and they can chew through so much more than you would believe.

My kid had his front teeth in by the time we started solids, but he was chewing through chicken, steak, and plenty of other tough foods well before his molars came in.

Smaller pieces of tougher foods are much easier for babies to work through, but they’ll still be able to do it.

Ground meats are even easier if you don’t want to worry about cutting it so much.

Will Babies Stop Eating When They’re Full?

Absolutely.

Going through all the effort to actually pick up the food and put it in his mouth will be too much for a baby that doesn’t really want to eat it.

And since babies eat more slowly by feeding themselves, there’s an even better chance that your baby will be able to stop eating at the perfect level of fullness rather than risking overeating.

The Difference Between Gagging and Choking

Many new moms worry about starting baby led weaning because they’re worried about an increased risk of choking.

The truth of the matter is that a baby is not any more likely to choke doing baby led weaning than he is doing the regular puree method.

A study by the AAP in 2016, monitored more than 200 infants and their feeding habits. They found that there was no increase in choking risk with baby led weaning. (Source) 

Many people believe that gagging is the same thing as choking, but it really isn’t.

Gagging is an extremely common thing that babies do when they start solids. Gagging is actually a good thing because it means that your baby is actively trying to prevent choking from happening.

The gag reflex helps to prevent larger pieces of food that haven’t been well-chewed from reaching the throat, thus actually preventing choking from occurring.

What to do if a Baby is Gagging

First of all, don’t freak out.

The first time you see your baby start gagging can be a little jarring, but there’s nothing wrong with it and freaking out will only make your baby start freaking out.

If you’re scared of the gagging, he’ll be scared of the gagging and that’ll only make the entire processes scary for your child.

Just stay calm and watch him to make sure that the gagging doesn’t turn into choking.

How to Prevent Choking

While choking can be scary, there are ways to help prevent it.

1.      Let him feed himself

The whole point of baby led weaning is to allow your baby a chance to feed himself at his own pace. If you start trying to force food into his mouth then it’s only going to cause problems.

It can be aggravating to see all of the food being wasted as your little one is learning to feed himself, but trying to force him to eat it can lead to choking issues.

baby led weaning, different foods on a plain background

2.      Watch your baby

If it sounds like common sense, it’s because it is, but also typically overlooked.

Contrary to what you might believe, choking is a very silent experience. If your baby begins gagging, you’ll be able to hear him, but choking can be easily missed.

Always watch your baby while he is eating and never leave him unattended, even if just for a moment.

3.      Use the right high chair

Having the right high chair for his size is important, as well as the proper positioning.

A baby should always eat sitting upright rather than leaning back. This makes it easier to control the positioning of the food in his mouth.

4.      Avoid foods that are easy to choke on

Foods that are round or are easily bitten into a size easily choked on should be avoided.

One of the biggest culprits of choking is actually apples. A peeled and thinly sliced apple is a much better option than a larger chunk.

Round foods such as grapes, cherries, blueberries, and small tomatoes should always be sliced in half or quarters to help prevent choking.

I actually used to squish the blueberries so that they were no longer round rather than taking the time to cut them all.

The key is to make sure that your baby can actually control the food easier in his mouth, and being squished and not completely smooth like they are when round helps with this.

5.      Give soft foods

Soft foods should always be the go to over hard foods in the beginning.

Steamed fruits and veggies that can be easily mashed with your tongue are much easier for a baby to “chew” through than tougher foods.

Give your baby a chance to get used to his new skills before really putting them to the test.

6.      Meal time isn’t play time

Don’t let your baby watch TV or play with toys while he’s eating.

Being distracted can lead to him simply not paying attention to what he’s doing and can lead to a choking hazard.

7.      Take an infant CPR class

Always be prepared should the worst happen.

Have you, your partner, and any caregivers take an infant CPR class so that you can all be prepared just in case your child does choke on his food.

BLW Starter Foods

One of the great things about doing baby led weaning is that preparing a whole separate meal isn’t always necessary.

There are so many foods that can be great to start with.

Some of my son’s favorites were:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Bananas
  • Avocado
  • Peaches
  • Apples
  • Peas
  • Carrots
  • Zucchini
  • Green beans
  • Plums
  • Ground beef

BLW Foods to Avoid

There aren’t too many foods that you have to avoid giving to your child thankfully, but the ones that should be are for a reason.

Top foods to avoid are:

  • Salt (until age 1)
  • Milk (until age 1)
  • Honey (until age 1)
  • Tomatoes (until 10 months)
  • Sugar (until age 1)
  • Processed and unhealthy foods
  • Stimulants like chocolate

Always consult your doctor if you are curious about any foods to feed to your child.

Baby Led Weaning for the Win!

Baby led weaning can sound like a lot, but it really isn’t nearly as hard as you may think.

In my own opinion, I believe it is substantially easier than dealing with the purees.

Just be vigilant and pay attention to your child to avoid any choking hazards and enjoy the fun.

Though it can be messy, watching your baby try food for the first time is priceless. Make sure you have the camera ready!

So what about you? Are you ready to give baby led weaning a try? Leave me a comment below and come join the conversation in our Facebook group.

Until next time!

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