The Complete Guide to Baby Led Weaning

What is Baby Led Weaning?

Baby led weaning (BLW) is the approach of weaning your baby onto solid foods by allowing your baby to feed themselves, rather than spoon feeding pureed foods. This method encourages your baby to develop essential eating and self-feeding skills, such as picking up food, bringing food to the mouth, and learning how to use their tongue and jaws to chew and eventually swallow food. It gives your baby control over what they eat, how much they eat and the pace they eat at, giving your baby the opportunity to respond to their own hunger cues.

When to start Baby Led Weaning – How will I know when the time is right?

All babies are different and will reach developmental milestones in their own time. It is important to look for cues that your baby is showing readiness to start solids. These cues include:

– Baby showing an interest in your plate and the food you are eating

– Baby’s tongue-extrusion reflex has disappeared – This is an involuntary response which prevents your baby choking when they are not yet capable of swallowing solid food. When the tongue-thrust reflex is still present, baby’s tongue thrusts forward and pushes any food or solid objects out of their mouth. It is sometimes confused with baby not liking first foods, when it is in fact a sign that they are not quite ready to start eating solid foods.

– Baby can sit upright without support and has good head and neck control

– Baby grasping objects and bringing those objects to their mouth

These physical changes occur around the age of 6 months, and they indicate that a baby is developmentally ready to begin self-feeding. There is no need for a baby to have teeth when starting solids, as gums work well for chewing and biting.

Only start solids when your baby is showing signs of readiness. It is necessary to focus on the developmental stage, rather than the physical age of your baby when determining if they are ready to begin solids using the BLW approach.

Your baby’s digestive system may not be mature enough to digest solid foods if solids are introduced too early, or there may be an increased risk of choking if your baby is not yet able to sit unsupported. Starting solids too late may mean missing the window of opportunity for texture progression for your baby.

Offer your baby solids when they are alert, comfortable and sitting upright. Avoid offering your baby solids when they are very hungry, distressed or tired, as this creates a less enjoyable experience for yourself and your baby.

Breastmilk or infant formula remains the main source of nutrition during this time and should be offered first.

How to start Baby Led Weaning

Your baby needs to have a safe place to eat solids and needs to be supervised when eating. Have your baby sitting upright in a highchair with a tray when eating.

Start by offering a small amount of solid foods each day, and follow your baby’s cues, let them lead the way. As they progress with their eating skills, your baby will begin to increase the amount they eat. It can be a slow and messy process, so be patient!

As your baby is self-feeding, offer foods in big enough pieces, cut into large strips or sticks, so they are easy to pick up. Foods to start with include:

– Iron rich foods such as slices of cooked meat and chicken. Beans and lentils, can be introduced as the pincer grip develops and baby is able to pick up smaller pieces of food

– Cooked vegetables such as potato, sweet potato, pumpkin, broccoli and carrot

– Soft fruits such as banana, avocado and very ripe stone fruits (with stones removed) or large pieces of cooked apple

– Well cooked eggs, such as a hard-boiled egg cut in half or an omelette cut into strips

– Strips of bread, or large boiled pasta shapes

For more food ideas, read Australian Breast Association, Breastfeeding and family foods.

Baby Led Weaning Foods to Avoid

While it is best to offer a variety of foods, there are some foods which need to be avoided.

– Honey should not be offered to babies under 12 months

– Foods with added salt or sugar

– Any food that poses a choking risk: Whole grapes/cherry tomatoes, whole nuts, raw hard fruits and vegetables such as apples, carrot or celery sticks

Foods that pose a choking risk can still be offered in the following ways:

– Small whole fruits or vegetables should be cut in half

– Hard fruits and vegetables should be cooked to soften

– Nut pastes (with no added sugar or salt) on bread or toast

This way, your baby can be introduced to these foods, but in a way which minimises the choking risk.

What are the benefits of Baby Led Weaning?

There are many benefits of using this approach to feeding. When following BLW, your baby quickly learns about new textures of foods, and learns how to adapt to these textures. BLW encourages the development of fine motor skills, such as the pincer grip, which is necessary when picking up food to bring to their mouths. It is convenient for both parents and baby, as there is minimal preparation needed, less stress around mealtimes and when possible, your family can eat the same foods at the same time as your baby.

This approach to feeding may not be appropriate for some babies, such as those who:

– Have developmental delays, such as premature babies or those with a disability

– Have oral or digestive problems, such as tongue tie, reflux or palate problems

– Are not showing signs of readiness

If this is your baby, discuss with your baby’s treating healthcare professional the optimal timing and best approach to introducing solids.

There are many factors to consider when introducing solids to your baby. Choose the approach that best suits you, your baby, and your family.

For more information, see Introducing solids to your baby  If unsure which approach is best for your baby, it is recommended to consult your healthcare professional.

 

Article written by Accredited Dietitian, Amy Stratford

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