Time is a weird thing for a new mom. The first few months, the hours seem unending, you’re exhausted beyond words, days and nights seem to blend into each other. Time goes by so slowly. But wait, my baby is already 2 months old! Already?! Where has the time gone? You cross every milestone off the list and it’s all so exciting. Before you know it, your little ray of sunshine is approaching 6 months when you have another big milestone. Weaning!
In the last 15 years or so, a new weaning method has become quite popular. It’s called Baby Led Weaning. After doing extensive research on both Baby Led Weaning and the traditional weaning, I chose to go ahead with BLW. It was the best decision that I could’ve made both for my little boy and myself.
So, if you are doing your research into weaning, I’ve put together a beginner’s guide into Baby Led Weaning in the hopes that it will help you get a clear image and make the best decision for your baby.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
It means that babies are allowed to explore food on their own terms and ultimately feed themselves from the very beginning. They are given food in the form of chunks, thus skipping the puree stage. The term Baby Led Weaning belongs to Gill Rapley, a public health nurse who has studied infant feeding and child development for many years. She definitely knows what she’s talking about. I recommend wholeheartedly that you read her book on BLW before you do anything.
How do I know when to start Baby Led Weaning?
World Health Organization (WHO) says that: “Complementary feeding should be timely, meaning that all infants should start receiving foods in addition to breast milk from 6 months onwards”. You can read the whole article here
So, in theory, we can start weaning when the baby is 6 months old. However, the reality is something else and because babies develop at different paces, some may start weaning at 5 and a half months while others will wait till 6 and a half months. It’s incredibly important to start weaning when the baby is ready. How do I know when my little angel is ready? Thankfully, the baby will give you a few cues to let you know that it’s time for weaning.
Here are 4 clear signs that your baby is ready for weaning:
- Baby can sit unsupported for at least 10 seconds. This is one of the most important signals. Don’t worry if the baby can’t get to the sitting position on her own. This will happen later on. The main thing is that she can maintain this position for a little while. Do not feed your baby while she’s lying down, leaning on one side or slumping. Feeding your baby in a car seat or a bouncer seat is again a no-no. Unless the baby is in an upright sitting position, the risk of chocking is significantly higher.
- Baby can take objects to her mouth without any help. Around 6 months a baby’s hand-eye coordination is good enough to allow her to bring food to her mouth.
- Baby doesn’t push the food out with her tongue. It is a natural defence mechanism that helps prevent babies from chocking. However, at 6 months of age, the baby’s muscles are developed enough to allow her to swallow the food.
- Baby shows a clear interest in food and often opens her mouth when seeing mom or dad eating.
If your baby shows all of these signs and is 6 months old then, it’s weaning time!
Just as a side note, the fact that your little one is chewing her fists, wakes up more during the night or asks for more milk feeds than usual are not signs that the baby is ready for weaning.
Choking vs gagging
One of the most frequent questions regarding Baby Led Weaning and probably a parent’s greatest fear is: “If I give my baby chunks of food at 6 months, won’t she choke?”. Studies have shown that there are “no differences in choking incidence between BLW and traditional weaning groups”.
Many new parents tend to panic when they see their baby gagging. It looks and it sounds terribly frightening. But in reality, it is nothing to worry about.
What is gagging? Adults do it as well. It is the body’s natural reaction when a bit of food is about to go down the wrong way. There is a point on the tongue, towards the back of the throat, that triggers the gagging reflex. In babies, this gagging point is closer to the tip of the tongue, thus they tend to gag much more often. They will make scary sounds but it’s incredibly important to let them deal with it. Intervening might cause the baby to actually choke. Be calm, encouraging and you will soon see the bit of food coming out. At around 8-9 months the gagging point starts moving to the back of the throat and you will notice much less gagging.
Choking, on the other hand, is serious and potentially life-threatening. The first sign of choking is SILENCE. The baby will panic but there will be no sounds coming out because the airways are blocked. This is the sign that you need to take immediate action. Before you start weaning research First Aid, do a course or watch YouTube videos where they explain how to act in such situations. Here is an example of such a video.
So, to recap, gagging comes with sound and funny faces and should be left alone. Choking is silent, baby panics and the parent should intervene immediately.
What are the best foods to start Baby Led Weaning?
One of the things I love about Baby Led Weaning is that there are no lists, no 3 days rule where you introduce one type of food, wait for three days then introduce another one and so on. You have a lot of freedom when it comes to the food offered which, to be honest, at least in my case, took a lot of pressure off.
When we started weaning, the very first meal that we had was baked sweet potato. I figured that it’s easy to cut into finger-shaped bits thus easy for the baby to grab, soft enough to be eaten without problems and so tasty that chances were the baby would not refuse it. And, indeed, the sweet potato was a hit.
Most fruit and vegetables are OK to start with provided that they can be cut and cooked appropriately. A few examples of great fruit and veggies to start with are broccoli, carrots, potato, butternut squash, cauliflower, baby sweetcorn, bananas, steamed apples and pears, soft melon, avocado. All of these can be either steamed, boiled or baked unless they are naturally soft like the banana.
You can also offer your little one eggs cut into strips, any type of meat on the bone so that the baby can hold and suck on the meat, simple yoghurt ( I like the creamy greek yoghurt), toast bread cut into sticks, soft cheese, pasta, fish.
And, of course, you can combine ingredients to make yummy dishes like pancakes, muffins, butter biscuits, eggy bread, waffles, sponge cakes with different fruit. As the baby grows and gets more and more accustomed to eating, she will start sharing your meals. But do not forget, the meals have to be baby-friendly (no sugar, salt, fried food).
What food to avoid
Baby Led Weaning offers so much freedom, basically, you can give your baby anything from day one. Having said that, there are a few foods and ingredients that should be avoided:
– a baby’s kidneys are not yet ready to cope with the amount of salt that an adult consumes. So, up to 1 year of age, babies do not need any salt in their food. The recommended amount of salt for a baby up to 12 months is 1g, 1-3 years it’s 2g of salt/day. Remember that babies get some salt from breastmilk, as well as formula milk, which has a similar amount of salt as breastmilk. If you buy baby food make sure to read the label because they may contain unsuitable amounts of salt. Here is a guide from NHS that might be helpful.
– according to the American Heart Association, children under 2 shouldn’t be given any products with added sugar. Added sugar can mean anything from fructose, honey or table sugar. The good news is, at this age, a baby’s culinary taste can be easily shaped. So, if you give your baby sweet beverages, candies and sweet cakes, she will develop a taste for this type of food. But if you offer healthy, nutritious food, that is free of processed sugar, these will be her preferences later on in life. Consuming too much sugar as a child has been linked to heart disease, elevated blood pressure and obesity.
– besides being rich in sugar, honey may also contain bacteria that causes botulism. Children under the age of 1 should not be given any honey. Here is more information about the infant botulism, signs symptoms and how to treat it.
– so tasty, crunchy and savoury. But also unhealthy for any age. Fried foods should completely be avoided for babies and only occasionally consumed by adults.
– these should be avoided not because they are unhealthy but because they pose a choking risk. The official recommendation is to avoid giving whole nuts to children younger than 5 years old. However, crushed nuts mixed with yoghurt or used in different dishes are a great source of fat, protein and fibre.
Shark, swordfish and marlin
– even though fish should be an integral part of a baby’s diet, there are some fish to be avoided. Shark, swordfish and marlin contain a high dose of mercury which can affect a baby’s nervous system development.
– it is a known fact that rice is one of the grains that store more arsenic. That doesn’t mean that your baby can’t eat rice. We are talking about small amounts of arsenic that will not harm your little one. However, rice drinks contain slightly higher dosages of arsenic so it would be best to avoid offering them to your child.
– dishes like pasta carbonara, home-made mayonnaise, mousses, home-made ice cream and some cakes should be avoided. Raw eggs have a risk of carrying salmonella which causes a nasty food poisoning. The solution is to hard boil the eggs which kills the bacteria.
How should I cut the food?
At the beginning of Baby Led Weaning, at around 6 months of age, babies are still developing their coordination skills. So, in order for them to be able to grasp the food with their little fists, it needs to be cut in long, thin sticks.
How long is long?
There aren’t any precise measurements here but cut the food so that a bit sticks out at the top of the baby’s fist and a little bit at the bottom. So, let’s say about 6-7 cm long.
How thin is thin?
Again, there aren’t any precise measurements but a good size is about the thickness of your pinky finger. The food needs to fit well into your baby’s fist. Don’t worry, after the first meal you’ll be able to adjust the size and thickness of the food.
How soft should the food be?
It is really important to get the texture right. Too soft and the baby won’t be able to grasp the food without mushing it, too hard and the baby won’t be able to chew it, plus it increases the choking hazard.
The good news is that it’s fairly easy to test the food in order to see if it’s the right texture for your baby. Just pop a bit of food in your mouth and if you are able to mush it with your tongue against the roof of your mouth then it is perfect for your baby.
Keeping in mind that a lot of babies don’t have teeth at 6 months of age, it’s easy to understand the reluctance of many parents to offer their babies chunks of food. But if prepared properly, I guarantee that the little explorers will have no problem eating the food even in the absence of teeth.
How much water should my baby drink?
Once you start weaning, you will need to offer your baby water as well. Water is not just for thirst but also helps digestion and prevents constipation. So make sure that you give your little one some water after each meal.
However, there is such a thing as too much water. Their kidneys are not equipped to process large amounts of water and keeping the electrolyte balance in their bodies. Very young children can get something called ‘water intoxication’ from too many liquids. This is something serious and potentially life-threatening. So this is something you need to pay attention to.
Up to 6 months old babies shouldn’t get any water, as they get all the fluid intake from breastmilk. The only exception is for formula-fed babies when it’s extremely hot outside. They can get small amounts of water.
Between 6 and 12 months they can get a maximum amount of 240ml of water a day.
Between 1 and 2 years they can get 880-960ml of liquid, this includes water and milk.
Between 2 and 3 years they can get about 1L of liquid a day.
And so on, as the baby grows, the quantity of liquid grows as well. At about 9 years old a child drinks more or less the same quantity of liquid as an adult.
What do I need in order to start Baby Led Weaning?
You don’t need much at the beginning of weaning. A sturdy high-chair is necessary regardless of the method of weaning chosen, a few bibs, I recommend the ones like a vest made out of a kind of plastic. Keep in mind that Baby Led Weaning can get quite messy so the more the baby is covered, the less washing you’ll have to do. As a tip, when we started BLW, I cut a big plastic bin bag and put it under the high chair. Babies love throwing food on the floor, so after mealtime was done all I had to do was take the bag and throw the food bits at the bin.
Another useful thing to have that you might want to consider investing in is a steamer. Since a lot of the food that you offer the baby will be steamed it might come in handy. But if you don’t want to buy a steamer, it’s alright. Just pour some water in a pot and put a colander (the type with bigger holes) over the pot. Cover it with a lid and voilà, you’ve got a functioning steamer.
At the very beginning of weaning, you can put the bits of food directly on the tray of the high-chair. Later on, you will need some bowls and plates. I recommend the ones that have suction as babies seem to love throwing plates with food and they’ll do it when you least expect it. It’s a special baby skill, hehe. Also, if you don’t want plastic, there are many bowls, plates and cutlery made of bamboo and silicone. Something like this. (not a sponsored link, just an example).
These are the basics that you need in order to start Baby Led Weaning. It’s not much or expensive.
What are the downsides of Baby LEd Weaning?
In my view, there are so many benefits to Baby Led Weaning. You can read about the benefits of BLW and 8 amazing reasons why you should choose this weaning method in this article. However, it does have some downsides as well:
- It’s considerably messier than traditional weaning. Babies have control over food so they will very often drop it or throw it around the room. You will need a lot of patience because there will be cleaning up to do after each meal.
- There is a concern that babies might not get enough iron from food. Up to 6 months of age, babies get all the iron they need from breastmilk or formula. However, after this age, they need extra iron that they will get from food. Since some BLW babies may not be so interested to eat iron-rich foods it is easy to see where the concern comes from. However, so far, there is no conclusive evidence to suggest that babies who followed Baby Led Weaning have a bigger deficiency in iron than traditionally fed babies.
- Babies whose motor skills are slower to develop might have difficulties in feeding themselves. If this is the case, the traditional weaning method might be more beneficial for them.
- Mealtime may take longer. Babies will play, explore and have fun with the food in addition to eating it. Also, eating itself might be time-consuming as it’s something new to your little explorer. This is not necessarily a downside unless you are short on time. In which case, spoon-feeding your baby will definitely be faster.
No matter the weaning method that you choose, remember that it’s supposed to be a joyful and relaxed experience both for baby and you. Trust your baby. They are capable of so much more than we believe them to be. You’ve got this!