Step 1: Give the baby milk.
Step 2: Give the baby cereal.
Step 3: Give the baby smooth purées.
Step 4: Give the baby lumpy purées.
Step 5: Give the baby finger foods.
Seriously? As if there weren’t enough steps that went into raising a child. Not that I mind, but wouldn’t it be simpler if we could just skip the cereal and texture-less, tasteless purées?
Well, with baby-led weaning (BLW) you can!
What is BLW?
Baby Led Weaning, quite simply, means letting your child feed themselves from the very start of weaning. […] * re ‘wean’. This is meant in the Brit sense, not the American. In the UK, ‘weaning’ means ‘adding complementary foods’, whereas in the States it means ‘giving up breastfeeding’.
Basically, you give your child adequately-sized pieces of food (a stick size that is long enough to protrude from your baby’s closed fist or chip size) and allow them to learn to grab it, put it in their mouth, gum (or bite) down on it, chew it, and swallow it. The basic idea behind BLW is that if your child is able to do all this, then it is a surefire sign that s/he is developmentally ready to eat that particular food.
We are told that it is important to follow our children’s cues. So why wouldn’t we take the same approach with solids? You see, BLW enthusiasts argue that since we trust our little ones to roll over, crawl, walk when ready that it goes to reason that we should also trust them to eat when ready because playing airplane to force a loaded spoon into a baby’s mouth hardly seems like following a baby’s cues.
Advantages and Disadvantages
According to Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, authors of Baby-Led Weaning, The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby to Grop Up a Happy and Confident Eater, there are many advantages to using this approach (pages 20-28):
- Learning to eat safely: by allowing your child to explore the food with their hands before it goes in their mouths allows them to judge size and texture and may contribute in lowering the chances for him/her to choke once it is in their mouth.
- Learning about his/her world: when the food is being manipulated by your baby, it becomes a learning tool that exploits all five senses. For instance, your baby can see the white and yellow part of a banana, can feel how easily it can be squished and how slippery the inside of it is, can smell its odor and taste its flavor and hear that there is no crunch.
- Trusting food: It would seem that BLW babies may be less reluctant to try out new foods because they are ultimately in control of what they put in their mouths. Quite amazingly, it has happened in many instances that a baby would reject a certain food (ie: not even trying it or trying it once but not wanting to touch it again) and his/her parents would learn later on that their little one had an allergy or intolerance to the particular food.
- Appetite control: Because your baby is in charge of what s/he wants to eat, s/he is also in control of how much s/he want to eat. In BLW, there is no forcing a child to eat “just another bite”. Because they are allowed to decide when they are done eating, it allows them to listen to their body’s cues and can be a contributing factor to reducing the risk of overeating and obesity in adulthood.
- Easier, less complicated meals: With BLW, there is no need to prepare purées in advance or heat them. Since your baby is included in mealtimes and their food doesn’t have to be reduced to mush, they can eat what the rest of the family is eating (plus, their food doesn’t have to be bland, it can be seasoned!). Because of this, eating out is easier as well.
As for the disadvantages, well, it would seem that BLW is a very messy process, especially at first when your baby is still exploring and hasn’t figured out that these new ‘toys’ actually serve to fill up his/her belly.
Of course, as with any method, there are always two sides to the proverbial coin. As such, some caution against using this method.
But, won’t my baby choke?
^^This, is the first thing that popped into my mind when I first started reading up on solids and came across the world of BLW. However, from what I’ve read (mind you, from the biased point of view of those who actually do BLW), the risk of choking is smaller than it is for babies who were fed purées.
Well, in a nutshell, babies who are fed purées learn to swallow before they learn to chew, whereas in BLW babies, it is the opposite. Furthermore, since the gag reflex is triggered further down the mouth as our little ones grow, they will have less time to push out a piece of food that is too large than a younger child..
But BLW enthusiasts warn that your baby will gag as s/he learns to move food from the front of his/her mouth to the back of his/her mouth. They also say that though it is alarming at first, that it is important to not panic and to allow your child to get the food out of their mouth themselves. It is also important to keep in mind that your baby has to be in control at all times because if an adult (or ‘helpful’ toddler) tries to feed your baby by bringing the food to their mouth for them, then the potential for chocking is multiplied (think about how you’d react is another person tried to shove a piece of food in your mouth).
This all makes sense to me and so I decided that this is the approach I wanted to go with.
When do I know that my baby is ready?
- Though some pediatricians give parents the green light to start solids when their baby is 4 months old, both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization caution against the introduction to solids (ie: anything other than breastmilk or formula) before the age of 6 months. Before 6 months, it would seem, the stomach just isn’t ready to process solids.
Furthermore, your baby should:
- Be able to sit up well without support
- Have lost the tongue-thrust reflex
- Attempt to grab food and put it in his/her mouth
- Be able to reach out, grab things and bring them to his/her mouth quickly and accurately
What do you think about BLW? Have you tried it, do you plan to? How did introducing solids with your children go?
– Little Foodie (theamazingmoores.wordpress.com)
– Drink (and food!) (stumblingthroughparenting.wordpress.com)