Baby-led weaning (BLW) is an approach to introducing solid food to your baby that skips the step of traditional spoon-feeding. Throughout the US and Europe, BLW is becoming a popular “first food” approach to feeding babies.
Baby-led weaning was founded by Gill Rapley on the theory that letting baby “lead the way” by eating whole foods from 6 months on is a natural way to improve baby’s feeding skills, while allowing the baby to regulate his or her own appetite.
BLW has two phases: the first phase is exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life; the second phase is from six months on, when baby begins to eat solid food. At this time, baby is given whole, unmodified food the family eats, in graspable pieces. First foods tend to be fruits like avocado and banana, soft-cooked vegetables, well-cooked eggs, breads, meat, cheese, pasta and fish.
Baby-led weaning is appealing because your baby is able to set the pace with eating, while naturally progressing through different foods and flavors. It also lets your child eat the same meal as the family, easing the burden of making separate food items.
The research on BLW so far has shown that baby is more satiety responsive (stops eating when full), less fussy at mealtime, and less likely to be overweight as a toddler. Other results show that not all babies are ready to start solid food at 6 months. A 2013 study found 56 percent of babies were reaching for solid food before 6 months, while six percent were still not reaching for food by 8 months of age. Readiness for solids is a key factor in BLW’s success, as starting solids too early may cause choking in some babies.
Baby-led weaning studies have also looked at food preferences of BLW babies compared to spoon-fed babies. A 2012 study in the British Medical Journal found BLW babies preferred carbohydrate-rich foods while spoon-fed babies liked sweets more. Overweight was more prevalent in the spoon-fed babies, and underweight was seen in some of the BLW babies.
One area of research that is currently lacking in BLW is the nutrient content and adequacy of the BLW diet. That is, are babies getting the nutrients they need using the BLW approach? While diet and nutrition knowledge will vary greatly depending on the parent, especially in infant nutrition, it is an important consideration when choosing the BLW approach to solid food. For example, babies still need critical nutrients for brain growth (total fat, DHA, and iron), bone development (vitamin D), and overall growth and development (zinc). If nutrition knowledge is lacking, babies may be at risk for nutrient deficiencies and growth disturbances that may have long-term impact.
- Baby-led weaning (BLW) is a popular alternative to traditional spoon-feeding in the transition of baby to solid food.
- Not all babies will be ready to begin self-feeding at six months of age, so pay attention to your baby’s developmental readiness.
- Offer nutrient-rich food when transitioning to solid food, whether you use BLW or traditional spoon-feeding.
- Provide foods containing iron, zinc, vitamin D, total fat and DHA, as these are important nutrients during the first two years of life.
I agree with Holly. We have pretty much done a mixture for my now 18-month-old son. He usually eats well on his own, and he is always right at the 50% percentile for weight, so I think we’re doing just fine there! 🙂
The biggest thing I would tell any parent about BLW is to be prepared for gagging and know the difference between gagging and choking. There is a very obvious difference, but first-time parents, especially, sometimes have a hard time distinguishing! I had to try BLW during the day when my husband wasn’t home because he freaked out every time our son gagged on something. Gagging is a natural part of learning to eat and swallow. But definitely also be prepared if they do start choking! We have never actually had a real choking episode, but I know the baby Heimlich maneuver just in case!
I think this is one of those times where a mix of both works best. Obviously spoon-feeding and the BLW method have good qualities, so why not take a little of both? I think a parent-directed approach is common sense here, incorporating any method that works best for their child.
Agreed. Some babies aren’t ready for a hunk of meat at 6 months, and others get bored with purees quickly. Best to know your baby and tune in to what’s going on, and proceed based on that.