Let’s start by defining what baby-led weaning (BLW) is. Simply put, BLW is a unique practice to introducing solid foods to babies where you bypass purees or mashed foods and go straight to finger foods. Finger foods are small, bite-sized food that can be ‘gummed’ before being swallowed and should be easily dissolved in the mouth. As its name implies, babies lead and are in control over what and how much to eat.
It’s a practice that is easily becoming popular to parents, and for really good reasons. Babies who are not spoon-fed enjoy the various benefits of getting introduced to whole pieces of food right off the bat.
Babies develop good eating habits. Experts say that BLW exposes children to more variety of tastes, textures and aromas which improves their food preferences later in life.
It also helps instill self-regulation early as they decide to stop eating once they are full, instead of parents deciding how much to feed them. Hence, they are less likely to become overweight.
They are also less likely to develop food allergies after being exposed to more variety of foods early on.
BLW develops manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination.
Babies learn to chew, which is crucial in digestion.
Babies are able to participate during meal times, which helps with parent-child and sibling bonding.
For parents, feeding babies with whole pieces of food is less time consuming than preparing purees. It is also healthier than buying processed baby food.
But before trying your hand at BLW, make sure that your baby is ready. A good benchmark is between 6 to 8 months, but some babies might not be fully ready until 9 or 10 months. Look for signs such as ability to sit and support their necks in a high chair, and ability to push food to the back of their mouths as well as good jaw movement.
As with anything, BLW also has its down sides. Most parents are afraid about the risk of choking, and it’s a valid concern. It shouldn’t stop you from considering BLW, but keep in mind that you should never leave a child with a whole piece of food unattended to avoid choking. Veer away from foods that are considered choking hazards, such as grapes, apples or pears, cherry tomatoes and nuts. Instead, go for ideal finger food that are soft and easily dissolved such as bananas, mangoes, avocadoes, sweet potatoes, boiled eggs and even chicken.
It’s also important to monitor nutrient intake and make sure that your child is receiving all the crucial vitamins and minerals that they need. Remember to continue to breast or bottle feed, as majority of your baby’s nutrition will still come from milk at this age.
Lastly, expect a bit of adjustment and a lot of mess! An easy to clean, food-grade silicone bib with a wide food catcher can help ease the mess and reduce cleaning time so consider getting one. Available in the USA and also in the UK.
Good luck, moms and dads! Let us know how’s your experience with baby-led weaning.