Baby led weaning is a weaning technique where the baby learns to feed himself by trying finger foods before purees.
If you’ve already introduced the first solid foods into your baby’s diet, this may seem nonsense to you – isn’t it supposed to be the other way around? Well, baby led weaning has been proved to give results as good as traditional weaning, so here you have another valid technique you can use to teach your baby how to eat – one of the most important things he will learn throughout his life!
Traditional weaning… Or baby led weaning?
If you haven’t started giving solid foods to your baby and need to choose how to start, don’t worry. This isn’t that hard a choice! Actually, traditional weaning and baby led weaning are not all that different: yes, there is a reverse in order, but your baby learns to eat no matter what you choose.
Baby led weaning (or BLW) gives the baby more independence, since he’ll feel more like he’s deciding what to eat (which is not entirely true). It’s a great option for babies with older siblings: babies are prone to imitation, and he will feel like a big boy as he picks up the pieces of food and brings them into his mouth, just like his big brother or sister.
Many mummies see baby led weaning as a natural extension of breastfeeding: breastfed babies have to work harder to get the milk than bottle fed babies, so they may be better at chewing at the beginning – they already have a lot of practice using their jaws to get the desired food! Besides, some experts argue that breastfed babies are also more aware of the amount of food they need, since they used to be fed on demand and can more or less self-regulate themselves.
However, feel free to choose traditional weaning if this way doesn’t seem to appealing to you – one is not better than the other, and the good thing about traditional weaning is that we’ve been doing it for a long time and we know that it works – so don’t force yourself to be adventurous if you don’t feel comfortable with it. The most important thing is that your baby gets all the nutrients he needs and learns to have a healthy and balanced diet rich in all the food groups from an early stage – something that can be accomplished both with traditional weaning and baby led weaning!
How do I start with baby led weaning?
First of all, find a range of healthy finger foods for your baby. Be careful! This is not the same concept of finger-food you would have in a house party, for instance: Never give your baby something like mozzarella sticks! Select things not all that different to what he would eat in a puree if you were weaning him the traditional way: chunks of cooked fruits and vegetables (pieces of boiled apple, broccoli or carrots, for instance), different types of soft breads or soft meats like chicken (boiled, never fried!). As you can see, first foods for baby are generally the same!
Don’t worry if your baby starts playing with the food – it’s completely normal! Weaning is a messy process, and baby led weaning presents no progress in this matter. It’s even messier!
Don’t worry if your baby doesn’t eat the food either: let him suck on it or chew it just a little bit so he gets used to the new tastes and flavours little by little. With traditional weaning, it’s recommended to keep feeding the baby breast milk or baby formula while introducing a few spoons of a puree in his meals, as a desert. Same thing here: keep on feeding him meal between meals if he hasn’t eaten enough, and you will see how he starts weaning himself little by little.
The advantages of baby led weaning
We’ve already stated some of the advantages of baby led weaning – which is your baby feeling more independent and “grown-up” as he imitates older children and adults. But these are not the only ones! Let’s take a look at what other beneficial effects it could have on your little one:
- Come at me, chunk: lumps, thicker purees and new textures can be a problem in the second stage of traditional weaning. Babies who start eating finger food over purees grow accustomed to chunks of food from the very beginning, so they probably won’t have to struggle when the purees become less smooth.
- Baby led weaning is good for the socialisation of your baby, since he will be able to eat with the rest of the family and join in on the family foods (whenever these are suitable for the baby)
- Less work for mummy and daddy! You won’t have to use your blender to make the purees, since you will be giving chunks of food to him. If you have healthy family meals as well, you may even skip cooking just for your little one.
- Many parents who have tried this approach are enthusiastic about it, saying that babies are less likely to become fussy eaters.
Disadvantages of baby led weaning
There is a list of cons of baby led weaning as well, of course. Here all the downsides you need to consider before making a decision:
- A very messy mess: as we stated before, letting your baby feed himself comes with a whole lot of mess!
- Less control over the quantities: it’s more difficult to know how much is your baby eating, but you can solve this measuring the amounts before and setting them in a plate just for your little one.
- Slow baby: it demands more time for the meals, since the baby is going to need more time than you to feed himself.
- Before trying baby led weaning, talk to your GP if there is a history of allergies, food intolerances or digestive problems in your family, or if your baby was premature. If you see that your baby is not dealing well with chewing, change to traditional weaning.
Always stay with your baby while he’s eating to prevent choking, Even if he seems very willing and quite dextrous in eating and chewing, never forget that you’re dealing with a baby and that he always needs care and attention. Always give him small chunks of food and keep an eye on him all the time.
In sum, baby led weaning can be very positive for your baby, but traditional weaning is very effective as well. You know your baby better than anyone, so consider whatever option may suit him best!