First of all, what is baby-led weaning (BLW)? In a nutshell, babies skip the pureed food stage and start directly with solids in the form of soft finger food. The term of baby-led weaning was coined by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett in the book Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods ( I totally recommend this book).
When my baby was about 3 months old, I started researching weaning. It’s an important step so, naturally, I was a bit nervous but excited at the same time. I couldn’t wait for this big milestone in my little boy’s life. I read countless articles about baby weaning on the internet and assaulted my mom friends with questions. One of my friends, who has a lovely daughter, 5 months older than my son, told me that she chose ‘baby-led weaning’. Baby….what?? She shared her experience and gave me all the information she had. I was totally intrigued by the idea. When my son turned 6 months old we went with baby-led weaning and it was the best decision that I have ever made. Here is why:
BLW may help the baby develop dexterity
Babies start handling food from the very beginning. So, at each meal, they practice their dexterity. At first, they will grab food with their fists and take it to their mouths. Not very elegant, but damn cute! Then, slowly they will start practising the pincer grip with food. This is when babies start grabbing smaller objects between their thumb and their index finger.
The pincer grip is quite an important milestone for a baby. It shows that the coordination between the brain and the muscles is developing well. You, as an adult, use the pincer grip numerous times a day, for example, when you hold a pen or when you button up your shirt. This will give baby some independence but it also means that from now on, she will be able to grab smaller things that have a choking hazard. So mom and dad need to be extra careful.
I truly believe that encouraging my little boy to handle bits of food early on has helped him a lot when it comes to dexterity and I notice it in the way he holds his pencil and crayon, in the way he uses cutlery or in the way he handles his toys.
BLW may help with the oral-motor skill development
Although there are no conclusive studies to confirm the fact that BLW helps with the oral-motor development, the fact that babies use their lips, tongue, teeth, the hard and the soft palate and the jaw (all of these elements are crucial for eating without choking and for speech) in order to eat, is good practice. And thinking about it, a BLW baby will have 3-4 months of extra practice compared to a traditionally fed baby. So it’s not far-fetched to believe that BLW may help with the oral-motor development.
BLW can help with hand-eye coordination
Hand-eye coordination is a complex neurological process that takes some time to fully develop. That’s why it’s so important to encourage the development of this skill as early as possible. BLW does just that. By allowing babies to feed themselves they will be practising hand-eye coordination at every mealtime.
Babies get to experience the world of food (textures and tastes)
When feeding babies pureed food, we usually don’t just give them one type of vegetable. It needs to be nutritious so, we’ll mix together peas, carrots, potatoes, broccoli and so on. Babies surely won’t be able to distinguish the taste of peas or carrots in the mixture, they won’t be able to see what each vegetable looks like. It’s a shame. Babies are curious little creatures, they want to discover their world with all their senses. So why not let them do that when it comes to food as well?
Remember how our parents constantly told us “don’t play with your food”? Well, In BLW playing with food and exploring it is encouraged. In fact, this is one of the things that I love about BLW. Seeing how my baby picked each bit of food, curiously looking at it, squashing it, feeling its texture, tasting it, was amazing and fun to watch.
Less chance of a fussy eater
Think about how appetizing that veggie mush must look. Mmm…no! We eat with our eyes as much as with our mouths and it must be true for babies as well. Presenting them with the vegetable or fruit in its natural form is a lot more appealing than the pureed food. Babies will be more inclined to explore and eat the food in front of them. Not to mention that there will be no drama when it comes to the transition from pureed food to chunks, because….there will be no transition.
BLW encourages greater satiety‐responsiveness
There is more and more evidence to suggest that nutrition in infancy can have an impact on our eating habits later on in life. Thus, it is important to establish a good relationship with food from the very beginning. One of the modern-day problems is obesity. We generally eat a lot more than we need, we constantly ignore our body’s signals that we are full. And this starts from childhood when we encourage our babies to have one more spoonful of food. We resort to elaborate stories and tricks to make them clean out their plate even though they were full 3 spoons ago. We are teaching our kids to over-eat.
A study by the “Pediatric Obesity published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd on behalf of International Association for the Study of Obesity”, shows that “A baby‐led weaning approach may encourage greater satiety‐responsiveness and healthy weight‐gain trajectories in infants”.
Healthier culinary habits
There are studies which suggest that BLW promotes healthier culinary habits. Because babies have greater independence and freedom of choice when it comes to eating, they will lean towards healthier types of food. A particular study done by Dr Ellen Townsend shows that BLW babies have a preference for healthier foods like carbohydrates while spoon-fed babies prefer sugary food. Of course, you, as a parent, play a major role in encouraging your little tot to eat healthy food, avoiding bad, sugary treats.
Eating with the whole family
BLW encourages family meals since, after a certain age, babies can eat more or less the same food as the rest of the family. It also gives mom the chance to enjoy her own meal as she doesn’t have to spoon-feed the little human of the family while the other members are eating. So, everybody can enjoy their food and each other’s company. Living in the age of fast-food and fast-everything it’s often difficult to find time for each other. I love the fact that ever since we started BLW, most dinners are together at the table opposed to eating quickly on the sofa while watching TV. I can honestly say that BLW changed the whole family’s eating habits which is awesome!
Bear in mind that BLW has been around for only 15 years so there are still studies underway to determine whether these advantages are indeed real. This article is based on my experience alone with BLW and doesn’t make it universal. Although I am so glad that we chose this weaning method and I do recommend it, you, as a parent, have to make sure that the baby is ready and that you are fully informed about BLW. Good luck and remember: weaning, no matter the method, is supposed to be fun, stress-free, a celebration that your baby is growing. Enjoy it!