Basic Ideas of Baby-Led Solids (Baby-Led Weaning/BLW)
PRINCIPLES OF BLW
- Baby feeds herself right off the bat. That’s right — you never have to feed your baby! (Okaaay, technically you will have to prepare the food and leave it at a reachable distance from your baby though).
- Give healthy, whole foods to your baby in manageable pieces (finger foods). Place them on her tray/plate and allow her to explore and play.
- Baby begins exploring food textures with her hands, as well as experiencing smells and colors. Then with time, the she progresses to licking and sucking, then eventually swallows and consumes some pieces. As she grows more interested and comfortable with feeding herself, pretty soon she’ll grab and munch consistently and effortlessly.
- Breast milk (or formula) is always given before an offering of solids until about 12 months old. There are no expectations to consume her food because she should receive virtually all of her nutrition at this point from breast milk (or formula).
- Baby is allowed to reject food. There’s no pressure to ‘like’ certain foods. They can be offered again at another time.
- Baby eats flavorful foods in their natural states. This method skips the unnecessary, bland, processed, plastic-wrapped purees. It allows the child to enjoy real food from the very beginning, and no need to ever put anything in her mouth.
- Foods are chosen depending on the baby’s level of mastery at eating. First,you can offer fruits and veggies that are naturally soft as is (banana, avocado) or when cooked tender (steamed carrots), then you can offer harder foods (bell pepper, toast, apple) later on.
- Sips of water or breast milk in a cup may be offered at meals.
- Baby sets her own pace. She isn’t rushed or forced to hurry up at mealtime.
- Baby eats at the same time as the rest of the family. She observes as you chew, swallow, put things together on your plate, use silverware, and interact with each other.
- Safety measures are consistently followed to prevent the rare risk of choking. The risk of choking is real for any method of solid food introduction. (See the section on safety protocols in the next post).
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
This sounds really messy. Tell me the truth — is this going to be really, really messy?
I won’t lie… BLW is pretty messy! At first the carrot-flinging might seem cute enough for Kodak capturing, but your humor tank only gets so many miles before running on empty. Inevitably, there will come a time when you stop breaking out the camera and start breaking out into almost-tears as baby smashes hummus behind his ears…again.
To lessen the mess, you can put a floor cover under the high chair so you can return any ejected provisions back to the tray unmolested by lint, and use a cover-all waterproof bib or let baby eat in the nude.
Remember, BLW babies move more quickly toward mealtime independence than spoon-fed babies, so this phase won’t last forever. You can unleash your inner Martha Stewart upon the kitchen some other day, I promise.
My baby still has no teeth. Doesn’t he need something to chomp with?
Nope! Teeth aren’t required to gum food — gums, it turns out, are what gum food. Chew on this: To stay on the safe side, our infant CPR instructor advises parents to avoid giving solids until their babies have any teeth, another compelling reason to delay solid introduction.
So mealtimes take forever with a BLW baby, right?
Any infant feeding should ideally occur at the baby’s self-regulated feeding pace, whether nursing, bottle-feeding, spoon-feeding, or BLW. A baby who’s learning about eating via the BLW method will be more engaged in, interested in, and thoroughly experiencing the meal. This means it can last longer than you’d like if you’re trying to squeeze in a meet-and-greet with a new food between errands and appointments. Or the experience may wrap up sooner than you’d expect if the baby is more interested in other things. The point of BLW is to take it slowww because the emphasis is on learning, not consuming.
Aren’t my babysitters going to be confused about BLW?
Theoretically (and realistically), BLW should really be a whole lot easier to manage than measuring out portions and spoon-feeding (though you should prepare them for the potential mess ahead of time). Cut or cook foods in advance so they don’t need to figure out what your baby considers manageable and tolerable to explore. Let your sitters watch you give the baby solids a few times so they’ll be comfortable and confident when it’s their turn.
Oops, we already started spoon-feeding purees! Is it too late to switch to BLW?
No, you can give up the purees and start with BLW at any time! In fact, many parents get frustrated enough with spoon-feeding that they quit once they realize their babies prefer to feed themselves anyway. So the sooner you switch, the better!
Okay, we’re ready… but we’re not sure about the ‘order of operations’ …
Check out these super-helpful tips for getting started!
Why Ditch the Blender, Jar, & Spoon ‘Airplanes’?
- Bland food can lead to a pickier palate.
Did you ever notice how ethnic restaurants typically don’t have a separate ‘Kids’ Menu’? That’s because the idea of ‘kid food’ and ‘adult food’ is a special Western concept. Case in point, there’s really no need to figure out what counts as ‘kid-appropriate’ — food is food!
- Think about all the supplies you need to feed processed edibles (blender, utensils, measuring spoons, special ingredients just for baby).
With BLW, baby eats what you eat. She participates in meal times from the start, which helps her learn table manners and how to manipulate her own utensils. No need to prowl the baby food aisles scanning all the nutrition labels with sleep-deprived, bloodshot eyes like some mommy zombie. Just buy healthy food for yourself, make a wholesome dinner that you’d be proud to eat (or to post on Instagram), and offer some to your child. She’ll take a few licks, bites, or swallows, and thus your grocery budget avoids inflation.
- Prevent that common complaint of infant ‘food battles.’
If you want your child to eat healthy food independently, offer only healthy food. And allow her to figure out how to eat it… independently.
- Babies are totally capable of feeding themselves at their own pace when they’re ready.
Think about it: the human species wouldn’t have survived if primitive societies needed to devote constant attention to spoon-training their infants how to chew, swallow, eat, self-nourish.
“[It was] suspected that children’s bodies instinctively ‘knew best’ what the individual child should eat. [The experiment’s] intellectual model, a view that would later be called ‘the wisdom of the body,’ likened a child’s instinctive appetite to the way various autonomic body systems effortlessly adjust themselves to compensate for external challenges — think of sweating on a hot day, and breathing faster when you start to run.”
- Did you ever consider that it’s a little weird to have to ‘trick’ a baby to eat (the old spoon-is-a-plane thing)?
BLW runs with a child’s own natural interest in food and allows these first experiences to be positive. A BLW baby has the confidence to try different foods without feeling as though he’s being manipulated, leading to positive, confident associations with self-nourishment.
Dr. Sears explains how a baby’s first association with eating (breastfeeding) is cozy and cuddly, so spoon-feeding is by contrast quite jarring (pun intended):
“The change from a soft, warm breast to a cold, hard spoon may not be welcomed with an open mouth. Feeding solid foods is a less intimate and more mechanical way of delivering food.”
NATURAL DEVELOPMENT STAGES
- Traditional stage 2 purees can be confusing and frightening for a baby.
Because the reflexive suck-swallow-breathe pattern is instinctual in infancy, a baby assumes that a puree will act like a liquid in his mouth, risking inhalation. Stage 2 purees with lumps can be scary for a baby to swallow before he’s physically and mentally ready, leading to negative first experiences with food that can persist later on.
When a baby is ready for solids, he’ll have gained the ability to lift and lateralize (move side-to-side) his tongue to mobilize food in his mouth and chew it, rather than simply suck and swallow.
- Around the middle of the first year, a baby’s fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination are both typically developed enough to be able to manipulate, grab, and lift foods by himself.
Allowing a child to handle his own food promotes independence, understanding of autonomy, and confidence. It also results in lots of projectile berries and tossed plates, but you know, it’s all part of the learning process!
- Allowing a baby to approach solids on his own can provide clues about his development that are otherwise easily missed by spoon-feeding.
It also prevents his natural oral development from getting out of whack. From birth to about six months, his only reflexive oral skills are suckling, sucking, and swallowing. Next, his suck will get stronger, his gag reflex will start moving backwards, and he’ll begin to make chewing motions. Then, he’ll progress to biting and moving anything in his mouth by lateralizing his tongue. From about 12-24 months, he’ll gain the skill of rotary chewing movements and jaw stability.
NUTRITION & HEALTH
- Purees replace healthier breast milk or formula.
For the first year, a baby simply cannot get nearly enough vitamins and minerals from solid (or pureed) foods. If one must liquefy previously solid food thoroughly enough for a young baby to consume, it suggests that the baby isn’t physically to eat these solids or nutritionally ready to subsist on them. The best nutrition for a baby under the age of one is breast milk or formula, to which additional foods should always be complementary and supplementary, not replacing.
- Portion control and natural appetite are not learned by coaxing a baby to clean out her jar of baby-food.
A case-controlled recent study suggested:
“Infants weaned through the baby-led approach learn to regulate their food intake in a manner, which leads to a lower BMI and a preference for healthy foods like [healthy] carbohydrates.”
Babies fed solid finger foods rather than purees are more likely to avoid obesity later in life and have mechanical self-portioning habits.
- A baby who’s always been allowed to choose from a variety of foods will follow his nutritional instinct to fill out a balanced diet without forceful guidance.
Theoretically, the baby will choose foods with nutrients that he’s lacking according to information gleaned by using his own body’s senses to analyze the food.
- Baby rice cereal is unhealthy. So is commercial baby food.
Baby rice cereal is a starchy carb that became a standard first food because it can be easily added to bottles. It’s been frequently noted in research that the kinds of carbohydrates and starches in baby cereals are difficult to digest for a baby and can contribute to a myriad of intestinal problems.
Plus, the AAP recommends to avoid it for safety reasons too (risk of inhalation into lungs, choking, allergies).
The UK government states that “[h]ome cooking should always be encouraged over using commercial baby foods.” Given that commercial baby foods contain GMOs, thickening agents, are diluted with water, have high sodium levels, preservatives and so on, is it any wonder?
- Baby-Led Weaning web site
- “Cultural Aspects of Starting Solids” – Michelle Brode
- “Finger Foods” – Kellymom
- Solid Foods and the Breastfed Baby – Kellymom
- “The Truth About Baby Food Jars” – The Alpha Parent
- “What to Feed the Baby when the Mother is Working Outside the Home” – Jack Newman, MD