Baby-led weaning (BLW), is a method of introducing solid food at the baby’s pace, while he or she is still in the lactation period. As such, with BLW foods are gradually introduced to the child, who until then had been exclusively breast or bottlefed, while, maintaing breastmilk or formula as the main source of nutrition.
What characterizes BLW is that foods are offered directly to the baby as soft solids that they feed themselves (properly prepared), instead of spoon feeding in the traditional way (mashed, in porridges or purees).
Provided below is an index with the 11 points we are going to expand on in this article.
What is baby-led weaning (BLW)?
Baby-led weaning (BLW) can be defined as a method of complementary feeding directed or self-regulated by the baby his or herself. It is a way to gradually introduce healthy foods to the baby (alongside breastfeeding) as soft solids with a specific size, shape and consistency (instead of pureed or mashed).
This encourages the baby to be active in feeding and to be able to pick up food by himself with his hands. In this way, with BLW it is the baby who will decide when and how much to eat, continuing to feed on demand, just as when he/she is exclusively breastfeeding.
Another fundamental aspect of BLW is that the baby sits at the table to eat with the family encouraging him or her to eat by themselves, by imitation. The end result is that the baby will gradually eat the same food as the rest of the family.
When should baby led weaning start?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that during the first six months of life the baby should be exclusively breastfed. However, once the baby is six months old, it may be possible to start incorporating foods into the baby's diet as a supplement to milk.
To do this, first check whether the baby has the necessary skills and requirements to be able to start complementary feeding (whether you opt for BLW or for feeding the baby pureed foods). Among these requirements are:
- The ability to maintain themselves sitting upright when unsupported.
- Not have an extrusion reflex. This tongue thrust reflex makes the baby push solid food from its mouth. It generally disappears at around 5 months old.
- Show interest in food.
- Being able to grasp things and bring them to the mouth.
However, the best way to know if a baby is ready to start complementary feeding is to follow the advice of the pediatrician.
How do you start BLW?
Once the baby is six months old and meets the conditions to start feeding on solids, BLW can begin.
To do this, foods can be cut into long strips, larger than the baby's fist, and offered to the baby little by little, so that he can easily grasp them with his little hands.
It should be taken into account that the baby's teeth start to appear from about six months old, so the gums palate and tongue will be used to "chew" the food. Therefore, the consistency of the pieces offered should be soft enough to chew, but not so soft that it squashes completely or crumbles in their hands.
As such, it may be necessary to try different cooking times and methods. A good way to check if the texture is right is to squeeze a sample of the food between our fingers, it should give, but not fall apart.
In addition, it is important to introduce foods one at a time. It is usually recommended, as the most prudent, to introduce the new foods (only one new food at a time) by offering them consecutively for 3 days and in the morning. Thus, if the baby were to have an allergic reaction it would be easy to know which food is the cause, and it would not occur while sleeping.
Finally, once solid feeding begins, remember to offer water to the baby as well.
What foods can you give in baby led weaning?
Any food can be given to the baby, except those on the list of foods to avoid, mentioned below. However, it will be important to offer it in pieces of the right size, shape and consistency. Good foods to try include:
- Soft fruits such as banana, watermelon, mango, and so on. It is important that the fruit is ripe so that it has the correct consistency. Hard fruits such as apples or pears should not be offered raw because of the choking hazard.
- Cooked vegetables such as broccoli, potato or pumpkin.
- Well cooked meat, cut into strips or ground to make a hamburger.
- Fish, with some exceptions such as large fish.
- Pulses, which can also be used to make hamburgers.
- Cereals, rice and pasta.
- Cooked egg.
Any type of food can be used to start since it is the baby who leads the way and there is no established order to follow. However, nutritionally rich foods and foods rich in iron should not be forgotten, to avoid deficiencies in the baby.
Foods that should not be given (forbidden) in BLW
There is a list of forbidden foods to avoid in BLW, as they may pose risks for the baby's health. Among them are:
- Whole nuts (can be given crushed), hard foods such as carrots or apples (can be given cooked) and pieces or rounded foods such as grapes, olives or frankfurter sausages (must be cut lengthways), due to the risk of choking and suffocation.
- Large fish (such as tuna) or shellfish due to their possible mercury and heavy metal content.
- Green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach) due to their nitrate content.
- Honey, due to risk of botulism.
- Seaweed, for its iodine content.
- Rice milk, due to its arsenic content.
- Popcorn, due to the risk of choking and suffocation.
- Cow's milk (before the first year of age).
- Game meat.
Juices should not be given either, even if they are natural. It is better to give fruit pieces directly (within the appropriate guidelines).
Benefits of BLW
BLW is gaining in popularity and is increasingly chosen as a way for parents to introduce solid food to their babies. Among the main benefits or advantages that can BLW has are:
- It is more in tune with the baby's developmental rhythm.
- It respects the baby's appetite control, hunger and satiety signals.
- Promotes greater development of motor and coordination skills.
- It is beneficial for oral development and the development of the entire system involved in chewing.
- It can prevent the baby from rejecting certain foods or textures.
- It could prevent overweight and obesity.
In addition, little by little, the baby will eat the same food as the rest of the family, so BLW can save time when cooking.
Disadvantages of BLW
One of the main concerns that arises with BLW is whether the baby might have an increased risk of choking and suffocation when starting to directly eat solid foods.
Therefore, it is important not to leave the baby alone to eat, to offer foods of the right size, shape and consistency so that the baby can manage them in his mouth and never to offer the forbidden foods. Furthermore, studies show that choking occurs equally in BLW infants as it does in infants who are fed on pureed food.
Another possible risk of BLW is that the baby may be deficient in energy or nutrients, vitamins or minerals, especially iron. For this reason, attention should be paid to offering iron-rich foods (even better if accompanied by foods rich in vitamin C) and energy-dense foods at every meal.
Recommendations for starting BLW
First of all, it is important to be patient, especially at the beginning. It is completely normal that the baby will see it as a game. She will most probably experiment with the food and may hardly eat at all.
However, this is not a cause for concern. BLW is a complementary feeding method to milk. Therefore, milk (breast milk or formula) will be their main source of nutrients when starting BLW and until at least 12 months of age. For this reason, breastfeeding on demand should be continued before meals and, little by little, food will gradually replace milk.
Furthermore, it is essential not to leave the baby alone while eating, so that we can act quickly if a problem arises. Indeed, some families feel safer after taking a pediatric first aid training course, to learb what to do in case of any accidents that may happen (not just food related).
It should be noted at this point that gagging is a normal occurrence, but it is not the same as choking.
Finally, as the baby will eat with its own hands (later with cutlery), she will get dirty and some of the food will end up on the floor. To promote the baby's autonomy, it is better not to constantly clean the baby.
As in the case of introducing solids as purees, it is essential to follow up with the baby's pediatrician and to raise any doubts with the professionals.
Video about baby-led weaning (BLW)
Michelle Embleton, inviTRA's biochemist, talks to us in this video about baby-led weaning (BLW).
FAQs from users
Can all babies do baby led weaning?
According to the recommendations of the Spanish Association of Pediatrics (AEP) on complementary feeding, most babies could safely and effectively do BLW, provided that adequate information and precautions are taken.
As for premature infants, the corrected age should be taken into account and could be assessed individually.
However, they do not recommend BLW in infants with failure to thrive (inadequate weight and height gain) or neurological or motor difficulties.
Can we do baby led weaning even if my baby has no teeth yet?
Yes, BLW can be started as early as six months of age, if the baby is ready to start on solid foods. However, at six months the baby will not yet have any teeth or the first teeth may be starting to come in.
Nevertheless, the baby will "chew" food with the gums and using the tongue and palate. Therefore, the food offered should be of a soft consistency so that the baby can squish it with his gums (but not too soft to avoid squishing it in his hand).
What is the BLISS method?
The BLISS method stands for Baby Led Introduction to SolidS, a modification of Baby Led Weaning (BLW) that focuses on solving the potential drawbacks of this method of complementary feeding.
Among these disadvantages of BLW is the possible deficiency of iron and energy, for which it is proposed to introduce a food rich in iron (if possible accompanied by a food rich in vitamin C) and a nutritionally rich food at each meal.
On the other hand, to avoid the risk of choking, it is essential not to leave the baby alone while eating, to provide foods of the right size, shape and consistency and never to offer forbidden foods such as raw apples (roasted apples could be offered) or nuts (crushed nuts could be offered).
BLW is desinged as a complementary way of feeding. Initially it does not replace the milk feeds. If you want to read more information about breast and formula feeding, you can visit this link: Feeding your newborn baby - breastfeeding or formula feeding?
Alternatively, if you are interested in knowing more about proper nutrition for the mother during breastfeeding, we recommend reading this article: Feeding and nutrition of the mother during lactation.
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FAQs from users: 'Can all babies do baby led weaning?', 'What is baby led weaning (BLW)?', 'When should baby led weaning start?', 'How do you do baby led weaning?', 'What are the pros and cons of baby led weaning?', 'What advice is there for successful baby led weaning?', 'Can babies do baby led weaning despite not having any teeth?', 'What is the BLISS method of baby feeding?', 'Can we do baby led weaning even if my baby has no teeth yet?' and 'What is the BLISS method?'.
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