Baby Led Weaning 101

Traditionally American parents started off feeding their children either rice cereal, pureed fruit and veggies, or a combination of the two. In the US, ture solids or “finger foods” are often not introduced until closer to 9 months however that’s not necessary!

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While researching, I happened across the newly trending “Baby Led Weaning” on social media (Instagram to be exact, thank you #hastags). I was OBSESSED!

The idea of being able to introduce such a wide variety of foods, SAFELY, at just 6 months old has my nutritionist heart fluttering with joy! 

Jaxon at his first “solid food meal” where he ate scrambled eggs (allergen exposure), kiwi (previously eaten individually), and a “banana with a handle”.

When determining if your child is ready for solids it is MOST IMPORTANT to make sure they are physically ready rather than simply reaching a certain age (4months, 6 months, etc.) 

Signs of Readiness to Begin Solids

  1. Sitting with little or no head support.
  2. Reaching to grab things and taking them to the mouth.
  3. Loss of tongue thrust reflex.
  4. Interest in what caregiver is eating! 

Baby Led Weaning: Its name can be deceiving.

Many people think that it means the baby is “weaning from breastmilk” but in fact, it is referred to as  “baby-led weaning” because that’s what the premise is — letting your little one feed him/herself the healthy foods he/she wants to eat right from the start It allows babies to learn how to chew (or more accurately, gum) first, then to swallow. This differs from traditional puree feeding in which children first learn to swallow soft, mushy foods. Which works fine until they come across something solid that they have to chew. This inability to chew can lead to choking. This method also prevents parents from pushing food, since babies are in control of how much they put into their mouths.

Baby Led Weaning also mean that I only had to cook ONE MEAL that our entire family could enjoy together – no “short order cooking” for me! This part of it really piqued the culinary side of my brain! With exclusion of added sugar, added salt, and honey, I would be able to make what I was eating and share it with Jax. Of course, also making modifications for safety such as modifying choking hazards and altering some shapes to make them easier for little hands to hold.

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Here is an example of how I incorporated BLW into our everyday routine.

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Benefits fo BLW

According to advocates and some research, babies who start solids with baby-led weaning are:

  • Familiar with more different textures and flavors than babies who are fed purees, which may make them more likely to develop more varied and healthy food preferences in the long run. Plus a number of studies have shown that babies who eat a variety of foods (including peanut products and fish) may actually be less likely to have food allergies later in life.
  • Less likely to overeat than children who are spoon-fed. With spoon-feeding, the parent is in control (which may make babies eat faster and more than they really need, potentially leading to a habit of ignoring feelings of fullness) — but similar to breastfeeding, baby-led weaning allows baby to self-regulate how much she eats based on her hunger levels.
  • Developing manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination skills.
  • Learning how to chew, which aids in digestion.

First Foods for BLW

  • Grains, such as whole-wheat* spiral pasta, whole wheat* waffle or wheat* toast, quinoa, rice, oats
  • Healthy fats, such as avocados (eaten on their own or smeared on bread), egg*, nut* butters. Also cooking foods with avocado oil, olive oil, or grassfed butter.
  • Protein, such as black beans, lentils, tofu,  soft cooked chicken or beef, eggs*, nut* butter or fish *
  • Fruits and vegetables, such as a piece of banana or avocado; a ripe pear, plum, peach, or steamed apple; steamed broccoli, carrot, caulitflower, or green bean; or roasted sweet-potato, asparagus, butternut squash, brussel sprouts and beets (all of these are easily mashed by toothless gums and are either shaped like thick sticks or can easily be cut into thick strips, which are easy for baby to hold)
  • Dairy, such as whole milk** yogurt and soft pasteurized cheeses like ricotta or cottage cheese (if given the chance, babies can learn to spoon-feed themselves)

*top allergen: this food would be considered a “top allergen” and you should consult your pediatrician before exposure to discuss family history and your child’s potential risk level.

**whole milk should not take the place of breastmilk or formula however it can be used in small amounts in babies foods. See more here.

**There’s no need to add salt, sugar or artificial sweeteners to your baby’s foods, since they don’t add any nutritional value**

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Safety Tips for BLW

As long as you present food safely, baby-led weaning is completely safe for the baby even without any teeth! Just pull up a chair, stay calm (mostly speaking to anyone with OCD, you can clean up after) and follow these tips to ensure your baby stays safe when you start:

  • Avoid serving any foods that are choking hazards, including whole nuts, whole grapes/cherry tomato, raw carrot, tortilla chips, hotdogs/sausage, popcorn, sticky/chew foods such as taffy, large beans, large blueberries, dried fruits, apples with the skin and cherries. (however these foods can be safely modified to serve to babies)
  • Never leave a baby alone with food.
  • Keep baby sitting upright in the high chair while eating.
  • Watch for allergic reactions. That said, according to the Amercian Academy of Pediatrics, it is no longer recommended to hold back on certain foods to avoid allergies: early and often exposure is recommended to help reduce the likilhood of food related allergies. Read more about it here.
  • Explain baby-led weaning to everyone who takes care of your child (grandparents, babysitters, daycare teachers, etc.) so that they follow the same safety precautions you do. It is okay to do a modified version (like self spoon feeding) when leaving your child with other adults.

Food Related Allergies

A food allergy occurs when “the body reacts against harmless proteins found in foods”(1). The reaction usually happens shortly after a food is eaten however it can occur several hours after eating also. Food allergy reactions can vary from mild to severe. Because there are many things that can be confused with food allergies, it is important for parents to know the difference.

What are the signs and symptoms of a allergic reaction?

  • Skin problems
    • Hives (red spots that look like mosquito bites)
    • Itchy skin rashes (eczema, also called atopic dermatitis)
    • Swelling
    • Breathing problems
    • Sneezing
    • Wheezing
    • Throat tightness
  • Stomach symptoms
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting
    • Diarrhea
    • Circulation symptoms
    • Pale skin
    • Light-headedness
    • Loss of consciousness

If several areas of the body are affected, the reaction may be severe or even life-threatening. This type of allergic reaction is called anaphylaxis and requires immediate medical attention. (1)

If your child shows signs of a severe reaction, call 911 and seek immediate medical treatment.

If you are noting mild symptoms, such as an itchy/runny nose or a few hives, know that suspected food allergies should always be evaluated, diagnosed and treated by a qualified medical professional. Visit your pediatrician and ask them to refer you to a board-certified allergist. To find a pediatric allergist near you, search the physician directories maintained by the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology or the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. (2)

Do not diagnose a food allergy on your own. Self-diagnosis can lead to “unnecessary dietary restrictions and inadequate nutrition, especially in children”. An allergist will take a thorough medical history, asking questions about overall health and eating habits to determine if food allergy may be causing your child’s symptoms and to identify the culprit food(s). The allergist will also perform a physical exam. Keeping a food and symptom journal prior to your visit can be a helpful tool to assist the doctor in establishing your child’s medical history. (2)

The allergist may decide that further testing is needed before a diagnosis can be made. You can learn more about food allergy diagnosis and testing at www.foodallergy.org/diagnosis-and-testing. (2)

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Favorite Products for BLW

When it comes to baby-led weaning, it is not surprising that it can get pretty messy. But that is okay because I have found the most amazing, completely natural, all-purpose cleaner! It can even scrub off sticky prune, peanut butter, tomato sauce, you name it- this cleaner can clean it! 

A important part of learning to self feed is becoming comfortable with utensils! Learning this skill can begin as early as 6 months old using a preloaded utensil. These utensils (fork and spoon set) from eZtotZ are our favorite because they have a “choke guard” that prevents your child from sticking the spoon too far into their mouth. Reducing this occurance helps to keep meal times positive for your baby as it will reduce the likilhood that they gag while self spoon feeding.

Once you progress out of the “long & stick shaped food” stage and you begin experimenting with new fruits and veggies, these shape cutters are amazing! They clean so easily and can cut through all most anything. I love to use these to make cute lunchboxes for when he goes to Mother’s Day Out.  

LENK Vegetable Cutter Shapes Set,Mini Pie,Fruit and Cookie Stamps Mold,Cookie Cutter Decorative Food,for Kids Baking and Food Supplement Tools Accessories Crafts for Kitchen,Green,9 Pcs

When it comes to highchairs, I highly recommend selecting one based on two things.

  1. How easy it is to clean.
  2. If it adjusts to grow with your child.

BLW can get a little messy so being able to clean your high chair properly is essential. I love the one we have because the top tray comes off for easy washing and sanitizing! To be honest, all of the backing and straps also come off easily for cleaning which is great because I seriously gag at those crusty looking high chair straps at restaurants! This chair also has a foot rest for your little one. Having their feet planted rather than dangling (as some chairs without a foot rest) will make your baby more comfortable.

Ingenuity SmartClean Trio Elite 3-in-1 High Chair – Slate

This is a product image from Target.com however I wish it was our kitchen haha)

When introducing solids it is important to remember that you also need to offer water with every meal. It is very common for babies to experience constipation when first having solid food (see our all natural remedy here) so the best way to prevent that besides eating fiber rich foods is consuming WATER! We choose to start with a “straw cup” as advised by Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP at Parenting.com.  Babies between 6-12 months should be offered between 2-4 oz of filtered water per day.

We decided to go with this cup because the straw is weighted at the end meaning no matter how they turn it – the straw stays in the liquid. GENIUS, right? 

Munchkin Click Lock Weighted Flexi Straw Trainer Cup, Orange, 7 Ounce

The most important part of BLW is patience

Just remember: It can take little ones between 15-30 times of being offered a specific food before they will begin to eat it! 

References:

(1) Food Allergies and Your Child (Copyright © 2007 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 11/2010) https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/feeding-nutrition/Pages/Food-Allergy-Reactions.aspx

(2) https://www.foodallergy.org/about-fare/blog/what-to-do-if-you-suspect-your-infant-or-toddler-has-a-food-allergy

The author of this site encourages you to consult a doctor before making any health changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition. No information on this site should be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. For more information please read our full disclaimer here.

Published by snackswithjax

Sarah is the creator and mom behind "Snacks with Jax", a social media community of over 85,000 parents/caregivers, where she shares her son's meals, nutrition information, and evidence-based tips for feeding children. She is a Certified Health Education Specialist with a Bachelor's degree in Nutrition emphasizing in Wellness from Texas Woman's University and years of experience as a culinary instructor working with ages 2+. She has coached hundreds of parents & caregivers through the journey introducing solids to babies and also navigating picky eating with toddlers and older children. Her focus is on establishing a life-long healthy relationship with food for children while also empowering, encouraging, and educating their adult caregivers.

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