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What is baby led weaning?

If the mommy groups, blogs, and Instagrams are anything to go by, parents are going nuts for baby-led weaning. So, what the f*ck is it, and why is it all the rage?

Here’s our cheat’s guide to the feeding approach that puts the ‘solid’ in 

‘starting solids’.  

What is it? 

Baby-led weaning (BLW) is an approach to introducing solids that sees babies offered soft, appropriately-sized foods to pick up and feed themselves rather than blending it first.

Alongside puree spoon-feeding, it’s one of the two main methods for introducing solids (you can read our overview on this here). 

How does it work? 

Do you just give your baby a chunk of broccoli to gnaw on? Sort of, yeah.

You offer them similar foods to what you eat, though cut up into manageable-sized pieces, without spice and seasoning, and avoiding all the usual choking hazards and no-no foods (like honey, if under one). So, a BLW meal might look like slices of raw avocado and roasted pumpkin, toast, or even banana pancakes. Delicious, no?

Of course, as with traditional puree feeding, you need to ensure your baby is ready before starting solids, and you always feed them in a safe environment (more on this below).

So, why are people going nuts for it?

For several reasons:

  • It’s an excellent option for introducing solids if you’ve got an independent-natured baby that is fighting taking a spoon (which some babies, like mine, do).
  • It’s a wonderful way to get your baby involved in mealtimes, as it allows them to sit up at the table and pick away at their food while you chow down on yours. 
  • It can help cut down on food prep because your baby is eating an extension of what you are – a win if cooking isn’t your thing. 

But what about choking?

Fear of your baby choking is one of the most stressful aspects of starting solids. BLW is often associated with an increased risk of choking, but experts suggest this might not be accurate. 

An analysis published in Pediatrics, the journal by the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that BLW was no more likely to lead to choking than traditional puree feeding when done appropriately. So, what does that look like? Well, it’s about following the same safety precautions  you would if you opted for traditional puree feeding: 

  • Giving your baby appropriate foods for their specific age and skill level – e.g. nothing that is known to cause choking, like grapes, hot dogs, or whole nuts, or anything in too-large pieces. You can see a guide on how big foods should be here
  • Feeding your baby in a safe environment – i.e. while being supervised and sitting upright.  

And are there any downsides to BLW?

Yes – as with anything in life:

  • It might not suit your baby. They might prefer pureed food, or spoon-feeding. They might be premature, have developmental delays or issues gaining weight. If this is the case, experts suggest BLW might not be the best fit. Long story short: every baby is different.
  • It can be messy. There’s crusty avocado from this morning’s breakfast on my hands as I type this. That’s not always a bad thing – it can foster a sense of fun around mealtimes and teach your baby it’s ok to get grubby – but you might not love the clean-up (we hear you).  
  • And because it’s up to your baby to feed themselves, it can be hard to know how much they are actually eating (until The Big Poo happens, yay). 

What if you want to give it a try?

Step one should always be to talk to your pediatrician or for individualized advice. They may even recommend trying it in conjunction with traditional puree feeding, to work out what suits your baby best. 

Once you’ve got their sign off, some places to head for meal ideas and inspiration include:

  • Solid Starts – a comprehensive website from a mom who couldn’t find the BLW info she needed, so she took matters into her own hands.
  • Boob To Food – an Instagram account and website from an Australian midwife, nurse, certified nutrition consultant, and mom of three (what a rap sheet) featuring gentle advice and tasty recipes.
  • Annabelkarmel.com – the website of UK-based cookbook author, Annabel Karmel, it offers ideas for getting started with BLW (and solids, in general).

Mamas, have you tried BLW? If so, what was the journey like for you and your baby? Tell us in the comments. 

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