We are HUGE fans of baby led weaning around here. It’s an old/new concept that is gaining in popularity, so I thought I’d answer a few of the common questions here.
What is BLW?
First, let me start off by saying that baby led weaning has NOTHING to do with weaning your child off of breast milk or formula. Weaning, in the British sense of the word, means to ADD complementary solids. If you look up “wean” in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition is “to start feeding a food other than a mother’s milk.”
So baby led weaning is the process by which you add complementary solids to a child’s diet, allowing the baby to lead the way in feeding by self-feeding, and letting baby decide what and how much he or she eats.
Black beans on a preloaded spoon. 8 months old, blw for 2 months.
What are the differences between BLW & traditional weaning?
Baby Led Weaning encourages a child to self-feed, even from the first day you start foods. Rather than using purées, BLW offers infants real, whole foods in their original form. Babies are not spoon-fed, and thereby control the food that goes in his or her mouth.
Traditional weaning offers puréed food which is spoon fed to the baby by a caretaker. Complementary table foods (the whole, real foods offered from the beginning in BLW) are added in usually around 9 months, and the child slowly progresses until he or she is fully on table food (ususally around 1 year). Starting to offer table foods at 8-9 months after offering purées to your child first is NOT baby led weaning. This is traditional weaning.
But I can’t give my baby non-puréed food! He/She will choke!
This is certainly not a concern to take lightly. You should only offer foods that are soft enough to squish between your thumb and forefinger. Babies have a sensitive gag reflex, which is a natural precaution your baby has to help prevent choking. Gagging while learning to eat is perfectly normal, even with traditionally weaned children who are switching to table foods. However, if your child is not making any sounds, turning blue, and having difficulty breathing, the baby is choking. With gagging (including coughing or auditory gagging), it’s best to be calm, monitor your baby carefully, and let baby work it out on his own. Please note that a finger sweep is NEVER recommended. Finger sweeping can actually cause the food to be pushed and lodged further in your baby’s throat.
In my personal experience, our gagging phase lasted 4-6 weeks as my babies learned to maneuver the food in their mouths, chew, and swallow. At 17 months we have never had a choking incident with either baby.
But my baby doesn’t have teeth!
Babies don’t need teeth to chew- has your toothless baby ever bitten you while nursing, or taken a hard chomp on your finger? Those gums are super powerful and can break up most foods with no issue. Though my babies teethed early, I have a friend who did BLW and her child didn’t have a single tooth until 15 months. That little guy could eat any adult under the table! Another point to mention is that we don’t use our front teeth (the ones babies get early on) for chewing, we use our molars. So even traditionally weaned babies starting table food at 9 months would more than likely be chewing with their gums.
Isn’t this just some crazy, hippy, new-fangled idea that is really dangerous?
Honestly, and not to be sarcastic, while BLW is gaining is popularity, what do you think babies did prior to blenders? BLW is an old concept made more obscure with the introduction of commercial baby foods (and don’t get me starting on how marketing is targeted towards what parents “need”, and what a huge business commercial baby foods are).
Strawberries & steamed carrots, 6 months old, BLW for 10 days
When can I start BLW?
The recommended age for baby led weaning is 6 months, and meeting all readiness signs. You should NEVER give your 4 month old table food. They simply do not have the skills or maturity to handle whole foods. If your doctor recommends puréed foods at 4 months, I recommend you do research and decide what you think is best for your child. However, baby led weaning SHOULD NOT be starting prior to meeting these readiness signs:
- Sitting with little to no support. This is of primary importance as your baby needs to have a clear path from mouth to stomach, and needs the core strength to expel the food up and out in a choking/gagging situation. This means that your baby should be able to sit in a high chair without slouching or leaning sideways, and holding himself upright.
- Reaching to grab objects and bringing them to the mouth.
- Making chewing movements.
- Putting food in his or her own mouth. As BLW is baby led, they need to be able to control the what and how much.
- Loss of tongue thrust. The tongue thrust is a reflex that baby typically loses between 3-4 months. The tongue thrust means a baby immediately pushes anything out of his or her mouth. When they start allowing objects to stay in their mouths and be maneuvered, they are indicating the loss of the tongue thrust.
What do I need to know before I start BLW?
Anyone with a baby should take an infant CPR class. I highly recommend you enroll in one prior to starting foods, if you have not already.
What does research say about BLW?
These are some great reads about BLW that I highly recommend.
Will my pediatrician support BLW?
Maybe, maybe not. We had 2 pediatricians due to an insurance fiasco (thanks, Obamacare). Our pedi from 4-7 months was very old school, so when she told me to introduce solids at 4 months, I just smiled, nodded, and ignored the directive. At 6 months we saw someone different in her practice who told us that we should NOW start solids (apparently that doctor recommended waiting till 6), but because I didn’t know her I didn’t broach the subject of BLW. Our pedi from birth, who we went back to at 8 months, sang the praises of BLW and wondered why parents didn’t have their babies on table food by at least 8 months. In the end, the way you feed your baby is up to you. I suggest you do your due diligence and make an informed decision about what you feel is best for your child. I will say, your doctor is not a nutritionist (this is a great article), and so he or she may not be up to speed on the latest practices. I’m not knocking doctors and their advice, my best friend is a wonderful doctor, but regarding nutrition advice, I prefer to do my own research.
First food! Avocado and organic baby oatmeal, 6 months old exactly.
Oatmeal served on a preloaded spoon and self-fed.
Cereals are not recommended for BLW, but we needed the iron as mama was
very iron deficient during pregnancy and we delayed meat until 8 months.
What can I feed my baby?
Anything! Just no honey prior to 1 year, and make sure the food is easily mashed between the thumb and forefinger. Also, sodium should be limited to 400 mg per day for babies under a year (1 g of salt– salt is a compound, NaCl or sodium chloride or 400 mg of sodium, which is .4 g). Apples, even cooked, can be difficult. Hot dogs and grapes are the top choking hazards for children under 2, so they should be cut in half lengthwise. They are the exact circumference of a baby esophagus, and if lodged will fully cut off the airway. But cutting in half lengthwise you eliminate the concern of totally closing off the air supply.
What can I NOT feed my baby?
Honey. No honey under 1– not cooked, raw, baked into something, or as an ingredient in processed food. The risk is due to infant botulism. Infants are unable to process the botulism spores in honey like adults can, and can become very, very ill if infected. The risk is small, and primarily for children under 6 months, however cases have been reported up until a year, with one case after a year (a 14 month old). Check out here for the signs and symptoms of infant botulism.
Honey in any form is not recommended because in order to kill the spores, the honey must be heated to a certain temperature for a certain amount of time in a certain manner. As it is difficult to guarantee commercial products will be treated in this manner, it is better to avoid.
Beware of common foods that often contain honey, such as BBQ sauces, bread, cereal, yogurt, and graham crackers.
Will my child want to stop nursing if I do BLW?
Nursing or formula should be your child’s primary source of nutrition until 1 year. However, you will notice a natural progression as your baby approaches the one year mark. There’s no magical switch that happens at a year where your child suddenly relies upon food vs. milk. Here’s what it looked like for us:
Started solids at 6 months. Offered breakfast and dinner. Nursed 7 times a day.
At 8 months, the babies both started eating really well. They added lunch, and dropped 2 nursing sessions, so nursing 5 times a day.
At 11.5 months they started sleeping through the night, and we added 1 glass of cow’s milk at lunch to aid in the transition. They nursed 3 times a day.
At a year, by my choice, they began having cow’s milk with all 3 meals, and just nursed upon morning wake up and before bed in the evenings. As they changed to one nap at a year which directly followed lunch, they didn’t need to nurse before nap time. We still nurse twice a day at 17 months.
So in a nutshell- no, I don’t think starting food harmed our nursing relationship in the slightest.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, I’m just a mom. This has been written based on my own research and experiences. I encourage you to do the same for your family.