Discover the method of Baby Led Weaning—learn how to get started, what to do and what not to do.
Easing your baby through the transition from milk (whether breast milk or formula) to solid foods can be a tricky thing to do. There are many different ways to do this, but we’re going to look at a method called Baby Led Weaning or BLW.
Baby Led Weaning is a method that was first popularized a decade ago by the UK-based author Gill Rapley. It’s a style of feeding approach that teaches infants to feed themselves right from the outset.
Find out more about Baby Led Weaning and how it can help you and your baby grow into easy, healthy, and stress-free feeding habits.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
As the name suggests, this method lets the baby feed themselves—i.e., the feeding process is initiated and led by the baby, who has an active role in the process.
Food is given to the baby in thick, finger-sized pieces that are both easy-to-hold and soft enough to squish (so that there is no choking hazard, and so that your baby can eat the food even without chewing).
The baby is encouraged to hold these pieces of food in their hand and feed themselves completely independently, making the process intuitive and natural.
What are the benefits of BLW?
The main reasons BLW is becoming popular are that it’s easy for mum, as well as good for baby’s development.
Preparing meals for Baby Led Weaning is usually simpler than preparing baby food separately; you can often modify food that you’re already making for the rest of the family, or at least use the same ingredients. This means there’s less separate cooking involved, so it’s easier and more convenient to follow this plan.
Letting your baby feed themselves also helps in their overall development. Giving your baby control over what they eat right from the beginning sets a good precedent for eating intuitively from an early age. This is sure to aid your baby’s healthy growth and development.
When to begin BLW?
Paediatricians agree that infants can be introduced to solid foods through Baby Led Weaning when they can eat unsupported and process the food sufficiently.
Here are the signs that your baby is ready to begin Baby Led Weaning.
- Your baby should be double their birth weight, at least.
- Your baby should be able to hold their head up and sit up unsupported.
- Your baby should show signs of being interested in food—watching you eat, reaching for food, etc.
- When you feed your baby, they should be able to move the food around in their mouth instead of spitting it out.
How to get started with BLW
First, before you begin, make sure your baby has reached all the milestones above, to ensure that they’re truly ready to start with solid foods.
The next important part of effective Baby Led Weaning is using the right high chair or seating arrangement. Find a chair that helps your baby straight and upright, while allowing free movement of their arms and hands to make eating easier.
Next, choose one particular food item to start with and stick to that same food until your baby gets more used to the idea of eating solid food. Offer one food at a time rather than overwhelming your baby.
While you’re introducing solid foods, it’s a good idea to introduce water as well, as the two tend to go hand in hand. Use a trainer cup or sipper to make drinking water easier.
If your baby fusses or refuses to acknowledge your initial attempts, be patient. Observe the signs your baby shows, and be receptive to them. If your baby doesn’t seem interested in food at all, take a break from the plan for a few days or weeks and start again; it doesn’t always work perfectly on the first try, the key is to keep trying patiently.
Tips for BLW
There are many do’s and don’ts to follow when it comes to Baby Led Weaning. Here are some tips that you should follow to ensure the effectiveness of this feeding plan for your baby.
Continue breastfeeding or formula feeding
First, remember that you will have to continue to breastfeed or formula feed your baby even after beginning this new routine. BLW is not a complete substitute for milk, and shouldn’t be treated so. The transition from milk to solid foods is a gradual process, and shouldn’t be forced abruptly. Supplement your usual feeding plan with slowly increasing portions of solid foods, to begin with.
Offer the right size and shape of food items
Provide foods that can easily be held by your baby. Cut food items into easily consumable portions—sizes that can be held in your baby’s hand, i.e., roughly the size and shape of your finger. This encourages your baby to hold the food and eat independently.
Offer soft foods
As your baby’s teething process might not be complete, you should provide soft foods that are well-suited for sensitive gums. The food should be soft enough to squish between your fingers. Examples of food you can use to start with are ripe fruits, roasted or steamed vegetables, mashed eggs, etc.
Offer pre-loaded spoons of food
Occasionally offering pre-loaded spoonfuls of food can make eating less tedious for your baby. Simplify the process from time to time to help your baby out.
Recognise when to end the meal
When your baby shows signs of being finished with the meal—fussing, refusing to eat more, turning their head away, etc.—understand that they are done; let them set the pace and don’t push them.
Things to avoid
Here are some common practices that you should avoid when introducing Baby Led Weaning into your child’s lifestyle.
Remember, it’s called baby-led weaning—the initiative is all on your baby, not you. Let your child set the pace and eat accordingly. Never try to force your child to eat. Remain patient and let the process occur naturally.
Don’t leave your baby unattended while eating
Never leave your baby alone with the food; this could lead to something as dangerous as choking, or even something so trivial as a mess. Regardless, it’s never a good idea to leave your child unattended after serving their food.
Don’t worry about making a mess
Speaking of messes, though, it’s no big deal if your child makes one. Messes are a natural part of figuring out eating, and your baby will inevitably spill food, or eat messily. Don’t worry too much about it—after all, you can clean up afterwards. Let your baby explore each food and learn naturally.
Don’t rush through meals
Again, be patient; learning to eat is difficult for your baby, and it’s completely fine if they start as a slow eater. Let them figure it out at their own pace.
Don’t panic if your baby gags
As you start Baby Led Weaning, learn about the gag reflex and understand how it works. Gagging is different from choking; gagging is a sign that your baby is learning how to move food in their mouth and spit it out. Recognise the difference between gagging and choking, as gagging is a natural part of learning to eat solid food.
Avoid foods that are difficult for your baby to hold or eat
Your aim in BLW should be helping your baby hold and eat food independently. The best way to do this is to serve appropriate foods. Avoid foods that are too hot or too slippery; these are difficult to hold and can cause frustration for your baby. Similarly, sticky or hard foods are difficult to bite and chew, so they should be avoided.
First foods to start with
There’s a whole range of first foods you can start with on your baby’s food journey. Whether you prefer solid foods or purees, there are a lot of choices out there, including combinations of the two.
The main goal is to make sure your baby is introduced to new flavours, textures, and nutrients. Try to find a balance between what your baby enjoys, and what has the best nutritional value. Look into protein-rich, iron-rich, and energy-rich food options to keep your baby healthy in their growing stages.
Remember to make sure that the solid foods you give to your baby are soft, easy to hold and easy to chew, as well as tasty. Here are some examples of first foods that are easy to prepare.
• Roasted apple slices
• Bananas, partially peeled
• Mango slices
• Mashed avocado on toast
• Melon slices
• Roasted sweet potatoes
• Steamed or roasted broccoli florets
• Mashed egg yolk on toast
• Cooked lamb or beef
• Dark meat chicken
Foods to avoid
Here are some types of food that you should avoid when starting Baby Led Weaning.
• Hard or crunchy foods (like raw apples or carrots, nuts, crackers, etc.)
• Hot or sticky foods (like nut butter, hot roasted foods, etc.)
• Slippery foods that would be difficult to hold (like fully peeled bananas)
• Added salt
• Cow’s milk (although yoghurt is easier to digest)
• Added sugar
Other common questions
In addition to everything explained above, here are some of the most common queries when it comes to Baby Led Weaning, and the solutions to these questions.
Do babies need teeth for BLW?
The answer is that no—babies don’t need teeth to start eating solid foods. Your baby’s gums are very strong, and front teeth aren’t involved in chewing foods. Hence BLW advises soft foods that can easily be crushed by your baby’s gums.
How much food do babies eat with BLW?
When you begin Baby Led Weaning, your baby will probably not eat much food initially. There will likely be more tasting of food than eating, as your baby gets introduced and acclimatized to new foods. Breast milk or formula will probably still be their main source of nutrition; the transition from milk to solid food is not instantaneous.
Is it possible to combine BLW with purees?
Yes, it’s possible and even a good idea to combine these two methods. Using both solid foods through BLW and purees gives you more food options while also introducing new textures to your baby. You can follow Baby Led Weaning even with puree; allow your baby to feed themselves, using pre-loaded spoons of puree. Mashed avocado, mashed banana, applesauce, oatmeal, and mashed peas are some examples of simple purees you can introduce to your baby. And, if you’ve got the right appliances, pureeing can be super quick and easy too!
Keeping all the above in mind, Baby Led Weaning can be a simple and convenient way to get your baby started on solid foods. You can follow all these tips to ensure a healthy and natural transition for your baby from breast milk or formula to solid foods by letting your child set the pace and lead the weaning process.