Baby Led Weaning
Baby led weaning (BLW) is where instead of pureeing food and spoon feeding it to your baby, you give your baby a variety of finger foods to try and let your baby feed himself. The concept behind BLW is that babies will naturally eat the right amount of food for them, if given the chance to do so, and let babies adapt to solid foods better when they can choose for themselves what and how much to eat. While there is a lack of official research carried out on the benefits of BLW, fans of BLW believe that babies are more likely to eat a wide range of foods if they can feed themselves. BLW is only suitable when babies can sit upright and feed themselves, usually around 6 months old.
Supporters of BLW believe this method of weaning gets babies used to different textures from the beginning, which may lead to less fussiness later on. Babies can often reject lumpy food if not given it by 8 months. BLW also saves you time, as you don't have to blend, mash, mix, and freeze purees.
The downside of BLW is that it is very messy. Your baby may drop lots of food, or generally play with it, inevitably at some point throwing it on the floor/walls! But starting solids is bound to be messy, whichever method you choose!
How To Do It
If you like the idea of forgoing the often time-consuming process of pureeing, mashing, blending, and freezing purees for your baby, here's a guide on how to get BLW started.
- Include your baby in family mealtimes. If you give your baby their meal at the same time as the rest of the family, they are more likely to eat it, as babies love imitating mum/dad/and older siblings!
- It's important to choose foods that are suitable for your baby's age. Good first finger foods include well-cooked strips of carrot, slices of ripe avocado, cooked florets of cauliflower and broccoli, small pieces of soft fruit such as banana, melon, ripe pear and mango, and savory foods such as breadsticks and rice cakes. Many parents wonder how their baby will be able to eat anything that isn't pureed when they have few or no teeth. BLW isn't just for babies with lots of teeth. Even babies with no teeth are able to mash soft food up with their gums.
There are some foods your baby will find hard to chew, such as meat, so it's best to wait until your baby is older before giving them these foods. If you want your baby's diet to include meat, some parents do BLW alongside spoon feeding, alternating between the two different methods. You could also try shredding meat to make it easier for your baby to eat. Official guidelines from the Department of Health and the World Health Organisation recommend giving your baby pureed or mashed food at the start of weaning, as well as finger foods, to help them get used to different textures.
Adding Different Flavours
When your baby is 7-8 months old, and has become more used to eating you can try bolder flavours and slightly harder textures such as soft cooked meat, eggs (these must be well-cooked), pasta, chopped up olives, and bread. You can also try giving your baby bite-sized sandwiches, with fillings such as soft cheese, finely chopped chicken mixed with yoghurt, and humous. If you want your baby to eat creamy foods such as yoghurt, there's no reason you can't do this alongside blw. Put some yoghurt on your baby's highchair tray or plate for him to use as a dip. He can either dip his fingers in it and lick it off, or dip pieces of food into it (you might want to show him how to do this).
Will My Baby Choke?
There are certain foods which you shouldn't give your baby as they present choking hazards. These include nuts, seeds, large chunks of either meat, vegetables or fruits, whole grapes, whole olives and whole cherry tomatoes (these foods are safe to give babies aged 7-8 months, if chopped up), and chewy foods such as raisins and other dried fruits. Also avoid foods that are unsuitable for babies under 12 months (see A Guide to Introducing Solids).
Many parents are put off BLW because they are worried about their baby choking. However, as long as your baby can sit upright, and is able to move food to the back of his mouth (babies can usually do this by 6 months of age), they aren't at risk of choking anymore than a spoon fed baby. Make sure that the food you give your baby is soft (moving onto harder textures as they get older), and only use foods suitable for his age. Babies should never be left unsupervised while they are eating.