Our baby shown signs that she wanted to eat solid food right before 5 months of age. She was watching us eat, sticking everything in her mouth (including our fingers), chewing on everything (including our fingers), and trying to grab at what we eat to put in her own mouth. So as instructed by our baby’s pediatrician, we decided to try infant cereal first. I looked for one that was 4 months+ or supported sitter, rather than 6 months+, and saw that Healthy Times’ barley cereal seemed good, had fibre, iron, and nutrients, and got that as her first solid food. I mixed it with breastmilk according to the instructions on the package: 1 tbsp of cereal with 4 tbsp breastmilk/formula to start. She liked it right away and wanted more. We followed the advice of our doctor for the first couple of weeks: continuing with cereal for a few days, then introducing mashed steamed vegetables and mashed fruit (carrot, avocado, sweet potato), and licks of fruit.
It was then that I heard more about Baby-Led Weaning and decided to try it, because it seemed easier than feeding purees and, apparently, BLW raises a less picky eater than those brought up on purees. We tried steamed carrot sticks, avocado slices, steamed broccoli florets, and peeled cucumber sticks. She has liked everything we have given her, has not gagged (but that is a natural reaction for babies) and only spat things out because she didn’t know how to chew and swallow yet. I wanted to learn more about Baby-Led Weaning, so I began looking for books. I went for the top recommended book first, which the author also turned out to be the same one that phrased the term, Baby-Led Weaning (BLW), Gill Rapley.
In this blog post, I will include key points from the book by Gill Rapley, Ph.D. and Tracey Murkett called “Baby-Led Weaning, The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater”.
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) is how the baby leads the change from having breast milk or formula as their only food to having no breast milk or formula at all, and having solid food instead. This process is different from the traditional method of feeding purees/spoon-feeding, because babies can choose what to eat, how much they want, and encouraged to explore with their hands. Breast milk or formula is still used to supplement feedings, but isn’t the only food source anymore. As a result, BLW will develop the baby’s chewing skills, manual dexterity, and hand-eye coordination. They will discover a wide range of healthy foods and learn important social skills. Rapley believes that pureed foods decrease in nutritional value from whole foods, and it is natural for a baby to eat whole foods, rather than purees, just like how they crawl and walk.
The World Health Organization (WHO) currently recommends that all babies should be gradually introduced to solid foods at around six months.
How do you tell a baby is ready to start exploring solid foods:
- the baby has developed immune & digestive systems & mouth
- the baby can sit up with little or no support
- the baby reaches out to grab things and take them to the mouth quickly and accurately
- the baby gnaws on toys and making chewing movements
- the baby starts to put food in mouth by self
What are the benefits of BLW?
- BLW makes mealtimes enjoyable: babies can play and be in control of what/how much/how fast they eat, making mealtime more enjoyable.
- Babies are a part of family mealtimes: they get to learn mealtime behaviour, while eating together, rather than having mealtime separately, which they then need to be entertained while everyone else eats.
- Babies learn about real food: they get to explore the look, smell, taste, texture of different food; how different flavours work together.
- Babies learn to trust food: since they are allowed to use their instincts to decide what to eat and what to reject, they are more willing to try new foods.
- Babies learn to eat safely: babies practice chewing effectively and moving food in mouth, which makes eating safer and is good for speech and digestion.
- Better nutrition: they are involved in mealtimes from the start, copying what their parents do, so they are less likely to choose unhealthy foods when they are older.
- Babies have appetite control: they have control of how much food they want, at the pace they want it, and know when they don’t want anymore, prevents them from overeating when they are older.
- Babies make scientific discoveries: babies like to experiment and explore with their hands and mouths. They use all their senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and taste) to understand the world around them.
- Babies improve dexterity and coordination: they develop hand-eye coordination as they pick up food and put it in their mouths. They learn not to squish soft textures or to drop slippery textures.
- Babies gain confidence: babies gain confidence in their own abilities and judgment. They get rewarded with the taste and the texture of the food after they pick the food up and put it in their mouths.
- Easier, time-efficient, cheaper meals: babies can share what is cooked for family, making it easier and less time-consuming to provide meals for the baby.
- Less pickiness and fewer battles: food is enjoyable, and they eat solids from the start, so they don’t have the transition from purees to lumpy foods to deal with.
- Eating out is easier: no need to prepare something in advance, the book states that there is usually something on the restaurant menu that a BLW baby can share and enjoy.
What are the disadvantages of BLW?
The book only stated one disadvantage:
- the mess: since the baby needs to practice at feeding him/her/themselves first, it tends to get messy really quickly. Food can get everywhere – on themselves, the floor, the high chair, etc. We found, based on a recommendation from a mom group I’m in, is that the Bibado (a long sleeved bib that ties to the high chair table) catches all the messes from in between the baby and the high chair, and on the sleeves. It is so easy to clean, and I highly recommend using it. (Save £15 by using this link http://i.refs.cc/88vs1Kcj?smile_ref=eyJzbWlsZV9zb3VyY2UiOiJzbWlsZV91aSIsInNtaWxlX21lZGl1bSI6IiIsInNtaWxlX2NhbXBhaWduIjoicmVmZXJyYWxfcHJvZ3JhbSIsInNtaWxlX2N1c3RvbWVyX2lkIjo0OTk0MTI0OTJ9 with the code “2FOR30”). They have a warehouse near me and delivered it within a few days of purchase.
But this was a fear I had:
- fear of choking: first, the pieces of food should be easy for the baby to handle. Babies first grab items into their fists before they learn how to use a pincer grip. The items should be cut into long thin strips, but be soft enough that the baby is able to gum or chew the food down. Second, the child should be sitting upright without slumping or leaning back. The child should have good neck control. Third, the parents and anyone feeding the baby should also learn CPR, or at least watch a few videos on what to do in events of choking, just in case.
How does BLW work?
Self-feeding is a natural skill for babies. They didn’t have to be taught how to breastfeed or drink from a bottle. But once they find out how to find the breast or bottle and suckle, they are in control of how much milk they want. This ability to self-feed doesn’t disappear, but develops and matures as the baby grows. A baby’s curiosity only grows, so give them the chance to explore foods and practice hand-eye coordination. Babies learn well by copying, including watching us and then doing it themselves. them to make mistakes (like dropping food), but try not to interfere with them (praising, criticizing, laughing) or it may distract them from continuing to try. Give them time to try and don’t assert any pressure to force them to eat – they may reject certain foods, they’ll only take what they need. Forcing pressure on them may discourage them from trying. If they are hungry or get frustrated, offer them a milk feeding or a nap.
You may have heard of babies gagging or coughing when they try solids for the first time or experienced it. Don’t let the gag or cough reflexes stop you from trying BLW. The gag reflex is normal for a baby to dispel a piece of food that is too big for them or it goes too far. They learn how to manage food safely after a few times. The cough reflex occurs if something small or crumbly partially blocks or irritates the baby’s airway. If they are upright or leaning forward, they are strong enough to dispel the food. Also, check their mouths after mealtime to make sure they aren’t hiding food in their mouths, just as a safety measure.
Danger! Don’t feed them these:
Avoid feeding babies added salt, added sugar, artificial flavourings, colours, preservatives, and sweeteners. Their bodies are not mature enough to deal with them and it can be harmful to them. Also, avoid honey until 1 year old because of botulism.
What should we feed them?
Start out with vegetables in stick or finger shape, which can be boiled, steamed, or roasted in the oven. Larger fruit can be served in the same shape, but smaller fruit, like blueberries, grapes, or cherry tomatoes, make sure to cut them into quarters or halves, to prevent choking.
Eventually, make sure their diet contains: fat (like dairy, oil, nuts/seeds), omega 3 (fish, seaweed, breastmilk), fiber (fruit, veg), protein (meat, legumes), calcium (dairy, fortified plant-based milks, sesame seeds, fish, dried fruit), and carbs (make sure to limit bread to two slices a day because of the extra salt).
Steps to a successful BLW:
- Have the baby sit with you at meal time to form a habit of eating at meal time
- Start feeding baby solids at 6 months of age, if they show signs of readiness
- Offer the baby breastmilk/formula before their meal
- Offer food first in finger or stick shape to allow them to grab it with their fists. Pincer grip comes later, like 9-12 months old.
- Let the baby explore the food and give them the choice of which food to choose and what to reject
- Model to the baby on how to eat and allow the baby to copy you
- Give them time, don’t add pressure
- If they are frustrated, look into the shape of the food or offer a milk feeding or a nap temporarily, and try again later or the next day.
- Expect it to be messy, be prepared with a couple Bibados (https://bit.ly/3eVltWi)
- Know that their skills will develop and they will eat more purposefully and efficiently with practice
Good luck and let me know in the comments the method you used to first feed your baby and what are your thoughts: purees, BLW, a mixture of both.