You may have heard me once or twice say just how much I love baby led weaning. We have done this now with both our kids and the second time around I am still just as pleased! It was still just as awesome! I am still so glad I did it! A lot of people are unfamiliar with the term baby led weaning though and because I spend (too much) time in Facebook groups, I see a lot of questions asked about it. Having done this with two kids now and also read about it, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on baby led weaning and what it entails, so here are my answers to the most frequently asked questions about baby led weaning.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Basically put, baby led weaning is feeding your baby whole pieces of food from the start, skipping purees and what people would traditionally think of as baby food. You allow the baby to pick up the food and feed themselves instead of spoon-feeding them. By contrast, in traditional weaning, people typically start with purees and cereals and then eventually transition to finger foods. One is not right/wrong or better/worse, they are just different approaches.
But weaning? Doesn’t the term weaning mean cutting out breast milk or formula?
Well yes, in America, but in the UK where the term baby led weaning comes from, it just means the introduction of solid foods. Even though food before one is for so much more than fun, this is not an abrupt shift where you wake up one day at six months and bam! solid foods and bam! no breast milk or formula.
What resources are out there for baby led weaning?
Personally, I am a big fan of the Baby Led Weaning book. We actually own the cookbook version, which I love, because it has all the need to know information in the front plus recipes. Some of the recipes are pretty basic, but at the time I first got it, I was still teaching myself to cook and having those ideas and recipes laid out for me was helpful. But specific baby led weaning recipes are not a necessity. I also like this baby led weaning handout from Gil Rapley’s website. My favorite Facebook groups for questions and ideas are Feeding the Littles and Healthy-Minded Baby-Led Weaning.
What about choking?
Well, first of all, I just wanted to start by saying that no matter how you feed your child, I think a class in infant CPR and the infant Heimlich is valuable for all parents. I actually consider basic first aid a critical life skill and something that everyone should know.
That being said, in babies, the gag reflex is much farther forward than in adults. This helps protect them from choking. Additionally, you should not feed them any obvious choking hazards like whole nuts.
What can my baby eat?
I’ve put together a great flowchart to show you. Basically, no honey, and watch the salt, and no choking hazards, but other than that, the world’s your oyster!
What about the three-day rule?
In case you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, the three-day rule refers to waiting three days between introducing any new foods. Basically, I think this one is personal choice. The three-day rule does not prevent any allergies, but rather allows you to identify what food might be causing a reaction if your child has one. We chose only to make sure to introduce these high allergy foods alone (ie we didn’t introduce eggs and wheat at the same time) but you may want to do things differently.
What about high allergy foods? (Peanuts, fish, eggs, etc)
The old advice was to wait on these foods until after a year or sometimes even two, but this didn’t have a strong solid backing in science. A lot of research in the past 5-10 years has actually shown that introducing high allergy foods earlier rather than later can actually help prevent allergies. However, if you have food allergies in your family, I encourage you to talk to you doctor about this to figure out the best plan for your child. (Added: My friend Alexis shared this wonderful summary of some of the current research on allergen introduction with me and I thought you would all benefit from it too.)
What about seasonings?
Bland food for babies is not your only option. They shouldn’t really have a lot of salt, but other than that, you can feel free to introduce your baby to different flavors through herbs and seasonings. If you do offer something salty, offer some water too. Spicy food bothers some babies, but other babies love them. If you are serving something spicy, you can also add something dairy based to help bring down the heat.
What about the mess?
Yes, BLW can be messy. Embrace it. I’m half-joking, but the way I see it, at some point, however you feed them, they eventually start to feed themselves and this learning process is messy. Nevertheless, here are a few tips I’ve learned along the way about how to minimize and manage the mess.
- Limit the amount you put in front of them. If you give them a smaller portion, it limits the amount they can be messy with. And if they eat all that, you can just add a bit more.
- Opt to go without clothes if you’re anticipating a bit mess. That way you can take the kid directly from the table to the bath if you need to.
What age should I start baby led weaning?
Personally, we started at 6 months, in line with the current AAP and WHO recommendations. But the signs of readiness are important. Being able to sit up and hold their head up, the loss of tongue thrust, and so on. The physical readiness will make things go a lot smoother.
What will our pediatrician think?
I’m not a mind reader or your pediatrician. It’s best to ask them for yourselves. Ours was supportive, yours may feel differently.
What does the science say about baby led weaning?
As you may have suspected, baby led weaning has not been widely studied. But, there have been a few small studies on it that you may be interested in. One study looked at the feasibility of baby led weaning based on when babies reached out for food and concluded that it was feasible for babies without developmental delays. Another study found that baby led weaning babies preferred healthier foods but also found that baby led weaning babies may be more at risk for being underweight – so that is something to keep an eye on, especially if you already have concerns about your child’s growth. Another study (granted, self-reported) found that a baby-led weaning approach led to kids that were more responsive to satiety, or fullness, cues. I did also find some interesting studies about mothers who chose to do baby led weaning (one, for example, that found that a baby led weaning approach was associated with a mom’s feeding style that was low in control), but that’s neither here nor there in terms of how well the method works, but if you are interested, they are out there.
Whew! That was a lot of questions! Is there anything else I missed that you’re just dying to know? Leave any further questions below!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and this is not intended to be medical advice. If you have concerns about your child’s diet and/or how to feed them, please speak with a qualified medical professional.