What Is Baby Led Weaning?

Starting Solids

Meet little Baby L. She’s eight months old and right now she:

» Thinks crawling is for suckers when obviously mom can just carry her around everywhere.
» Wants EVERY toy and household item in sight. Bonus points for non-toys, especially mom’s phone, the baby monitor, my instant-read thermometer (?) and dad’s wallet.
» Is absolutely delighted by lift-the-flap books.
» Does not have a single tooth (very strange to me since my other daughter started getting hers at exactly four months old!)
» Seriously cannot get enough broccoli and is really enjoying most of the other foods we’ve tried via Baby Led Weaning.

I blogged a little bit about Baby Led Weaning (BLW) when I was pregnant with Baby L and posted a review of the fabulous new BLW book, Born to Eat. And now that she is at the weaning age, we’re having so much fun with BLW and I’m excited to share my tips and perspective on the feeding method with you.

What is Baby Led Weaning, exactly?

BLW is a method of starting solids. In BLW, babies feed themselves whole table foods rather than having an adult feed them purees. Parents have likely been doing it for a long time – when I mentioned it to my mom, she said that’s pretty much how she fed my youngest brother since she didn’t have time to sit and feed him purees with three other littles running around! It has gained popularity in recent years largely due to the book Baby Led Weaning by Gill Rapley, PhD.

What do babies eat in Baby Led Weaning?

Baby led weaning. Asparagus, sweet potato and salmon.
Munching on asparagus, roasted sweet potato and salmon.

Anything the rest of the family is eating, so long as it is a safe size and texture. Right now, Baby L is loving roasted broccoli, sweet potato fries, avocado, meatballs, shredded meat, flaky fish, soft pasta, whole wheat bread with spreads like nut butters and hummus and soft fruits like strawberries. At this stage, I don’t always give her everything the rest of the family is eating. There are ways to modify most foods to make them safe, but I usually don’t have time! Instead, I’ve been planning meals that include foods she can easily eat that the rest of my family wants to eat anyway.

Whole table foods? Isn’t that a choking risk??

That was definitely my first thought, too, and it has been really interesting to learn about why this isn’t the case. A recent study showed that BLW babies did not experience more choking episodes that babies who were weaned via spoon feeding and, in fact, babies who were given the fewest opportunities to explore finger foods had the highest frequency of choking episodes. I like to think of  the first foods babies are offered with BLW as basically pureed food in stick form. Think avocado, sweet potato, soft fish, meatballs, etc.

Sounds really, really messy…

Baby led weaning. Baby with meat and rice.
Checking out the filling from my Mexican Stuffed Peppers.

This is a common concern with BLW but I don’t find it any messier than feeding a young toddler (12 to 24 months). Yes, food goes on the floor and all over the high chair but that is basically par for the course when you have little kids, so with BLW you are just tacking on about six months to that messy phase. Using an easy-to-clean high chair (Ikea Antilop for life!) and a splat mat helps a lot.

Why would it matter how a baby starts solids? She’s not even going to remember it!

True. These are the advantages I see:

The baby is part of the family meal from the start. I have long worked in family meal advocacy so this one is very important to me. I love that with BLW, my babies have been able to sit at the table and partake in the family meal just like everyone else. I’m pretty sure that our evening meals are Baby L’s favorite part of the day, judging from how happy she is interacting with me, her dad and her sister.

You don’t have to sit there and spoon feed the child. ‘Nuf said, in my opinion. I can focus on eating my own food rather than feeding her! And there’s no trying to persuade her to open her mouth for another bite of puree, which can feel really defeating.

You don’t have to buy separate baby food or deal with making your own purees. I am pretty confident that whatever time I spend cleaning up after a meal is less time than I would spend pureeing food and cleaning all the equipment. And I’m also sure I’m saving money on baby food since it’s not like she eats enough for me to prepare an additional portion for her yet.

The baby learns to enjoy many different foods from day one. I follow Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility in child feeding (parents choose what, where and when food is served, child chooses whether to eat it and how much) both at home and in my professional work and to me BLW is a natural extension of the principle. One recent study found that babies fed via this method exhibited less food fussiness later in life. I’d love to see more research on this. If it turns out to be well-supported, that’s HUGE!

All that said, I DO offer her food on spoon from time to time. Usually it’s something that’s already in a pureed or mushy form, like hummus or my Easy Egg Drop Soup, although sometimes I will quickly mash something with a fork on my own plate. You will find BLW advocates who strongly discourage ever spoon feeding a baby. I’m just not in favor of being so rigid about anything having to do with child feeding (or raising kids in general!) Most of the time, she takes the spoon from me and feeds it to herself.

Like I said in my Born to Eat book review, I really don’t think that any one method of feeding is right for every family, but this is why BLW feels right for me.

And I am SO excited to announce that I’ll be sharing my knowledge of BLW locally in St. Louis with Baby Led Weaning workshops! My next one is scheduled for April 18th at Kangaroo Kids boutique. If you are local, I encourage you to come check it out. And if not, stay tuned for more online BLW resources!

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