Baby-led Weaning for Beginners | Starting Solids Guide

baby baby food baby-led weaning Jan 24, 2024
A baby sits in a high chair with small pieces of food served through baby-led weaning. The baby is looking into mom's eyes and smiling.

Baby-led weaning is a great approach for starting solid foods with your baby. This guide helps you get started on BLW with the busy mom in mind

Baby-led Weaning for Beginners

Baby-led weaning (OR BLW for short) is all the rage these days. You can’t spend more than 10 minutes in a new mom's group without seeing someone showing their baby eating adult-style finger foods. Let me tell you…mom groups have VERY strong opinions on baby-led weaning (and they don’t have a problem telling you if you aren’t feeding your baby in the “right” way. I created this post to act as a beginner’s guide to baby-led weaning for busy moms.

Let’s dive in.

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What is baby-led weaning (BLW)?

Baby-led weaning (BLW) is one of the two main approaches to starting solid foods in infants. Its main premise is to empower babies to take charge of their own feeding journey from the very beginning.

Instead of the traditional practice of spoon-feeding purees, BLW encourages babies to feed themselves age-appropriate foods. This method encourages babies to self-feed and places a significant emphasis on the development of fine motor skills.

Baby-led weaning embraces the idea of allowing babies to lead the way in their exploration of food. By doing so, it sets the stage for a positive relationship between babies and solids right from the start.

In a nutshell, the main rule of BLW is that the parent decides what foods to feed the baby and how to safely prepare that food. The baby decides if they are going to eat the food or not. The baby’s job is to bring the food that is being served to their mouth. Parents never feed the baby foods as they do in traditional weaning with purees.

Why is baby-led weaning so popular?

There has been a surge in popularity of baby-led weaning over the last 5 to 10 years. Two reasons are because of the rise in acceptance of responsive eating and social media.

Baby-led weaning and responsive feeding go together like two peas in a pod. The BLW approach allows babies to have control over their food intake, which can help develop a healthy relationship with food. Moreover, baby-led weaning promotes the development of oral motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and the gradual mastering of chewing abilities.

Baby-led weaning may make offering food to babies a bit easier. By eliminating the need for separate purees, it can make meal preparation a bit easier. It allows babies to be more involved in family meals versus serving a puree separately from when you are eating.

Instagram and other social media platforms provide quick and easy resources for baby-led weaning. This is both a blessing and a curse. It is great because it gives us the knowledge to keep our babies safe. The downside is that it gives unrealistic expectations for what feeding looks like.

Baby-led weaning vs traditional weaning

There are a few critical differences between baby-led weaning and traditional weaning.

Traditional weaning typically involves the introduction of spoon-fed pureed foods to infants, usually between four to six months of age. In contrast, baby-led weaning completely bypasses purees, encouraging babies to self-feed appropriate finger foods.

While both methods share the common goal of introducing solids to babies, baby-led weaning places a pronounced emphasis on allowing babies to explore various textures and flavors at their own pace.

BLW gives babies autonomy to engage with food in a manner that suits their developmental stage, while spoon-feeding has a slower introduction to textures. Baby-led weaning is baby guided while traditional weaning or purees is mostly parent guided.

What is the best age to start baby-led weaning?

The “best” age to start solids and BLW completely depends on the baby.

Most research-based sources recommend starting solids “around six months” based on developmental milestones and signs of readiness.

These signs include the ability to sit up independently and an eagerness to reach for and grab objects.

The six-month mark aligns with the time when most babies no longer have the tongue-thrust reflex, allowing them to manipulate and swallow solid foods effectively.

Speak with your pediatric provider about your baby’s developmental milestones to see if it is the right time!

>>> Is your baby ready to start solids? Find out here <<<

What are the best foods for baby-led weaning?

Baby-led weaning allows you to have control over your baby’s first foods. That means you can choose nutrient-rich, age-appropriate foods.

There is a lot of information on the “best” first foods, but it is truly what is best for your family. You can start with soft fruits or vegetables, such as banana slices or steamed sweet potato wedges, to provide a gentler introduction with low choking risk.

Other great first foods with baby-led weaning include:

  • Avocado

  • Steamed carrot sticks

  • Steamed pears

I see many accounts recommend food like sardines or liver as a baby’s first food. Go for it if you want. In my opinion, the goal is to get baby to try and like eating. If you think your baby will like those foods right away, more power to your family!

Should I do baby-led weaning with my baby?

The decision to do baby-led weaning is very personal.

First, assessing your baby's developmental readiness is crucial, considering their ability to sit up, grasp objects, and show an interest in exploring different textures.

Your comfort level with this approach plays a huge role in making this decision. Not every family feels comfortable with solid foods and would rather take a gradual approach.

The pros are that it allows babies to decide how much and what to eat, and baby-led weaning promotes responsive feeding. However, BLW does come with its own set of challenges, including messiness, effort and concerns about choking.

Can you combine purees and baby-led weaning?

Here’s the great news. Baby-led weaning is NOT a diet. This means you can approach BLW or solids in general in whatever way feels comfortable for your family.

Many parents opt for a blended approach, offering both purees and age-appropriate finger foods. This approach provides a balance between the convenience of purees and the sensory exploration facilitated by self-feeding.

Remember…you can still practice responsive feeding while offering purees. Follow your baby’s cues and don’t force them to eat if they turn away.

The approach that feels good for you is the best approach, and it can look however you want it.

You also may be completely set on BLW but your baby has other plans.

Be kind to yourself if you aren’t doing what social media tells us we “have” to do to be good parents.

Do I have to make a separate meal for my baby with baby-led weaning?

One of the best things about baby-led weaning is that babies can participate more in family meals. Baby-led weaning encourages sharing family meals with your little one. This means that you can take what you are eating and adapt it to suit your baby’s needs based on development.

It DOES require more effort because you need to find meals that can be altered. It also relies on the assumption that families are making three meals and two snacks per day and having family meals. This is simply not the case for many busy families.

The goal is to feed your baby what you are eating, but this does not always happen.

How are you feeling about baby-led weaning? Are you nervous? Do you need more information or want to learn about a combined approach?  Starting Solids 101 is my self-paced digital course that provides bite-sized videos to keep your baby safe while starting solids. Most families choose a combination method, and that is great! The most important thing is finding the right approach for your family.

*Erin Moore, CPNP, CLC is a medical provider, but is not your baby’s medical provider. This information is for educational purposes only. All questions should be directed to your baby’s medical provider.

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