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Baby Led Weaning (BLW), Explained

Baby led weaning, or BLW, is a way to introduce solids to your baby. It’s fun, it’s easy, and it’s credited with teaching kids to have healthy eating habits. No picky eaters here! But how exactly do you get started?

I did not really do BLW “correctly” with my first child; I waited until he was seven months old to introduce solids because I was so afraid it would make him want to stop breastfeeding. Now I know that BLW has nothing to do with that. The word “weaning” didn’t mean what I thought it meant (“inconceivable!”).

Like most of the concepts I preach about here on RealSimpleMama, BLW is super simple and extremely beneficial to both Baby and their parents. But it’s also essential that you do your research and practice BLW safely. Here are some of the best reasons to try BLW – and look to the end of the post for a succinct list of tips on how to get started, and a video of Tiny doing BLW in action!

I do have affiliate links here for products I’ve paid for and recommend to others.

Baby Led Weaning, Explained - RealSimpleMama

How do you know when Baby is ready to start solids?

You’re looking to your baby for readiness before starting any solid foods: can they sit up on their own? Do they show interest in the food you’re eating, and watch what you’re doing? You’ll want to start solids slowly and follow these steps: feed Baby their usual breastmilk or formula first, make sure Baby is awake and alert, and set them up to enjoy tasting and touching new foods. Note: Baby does not need teeth to start BLW!

Essentially I just give my baby pieces of things off of my plate – no extra baby food to make or weird stuff to buy. I look for things which are large pieces for her to hold (we started off with things like avocado slices, or zucchini sticks, which is what she has in the video). Eventually you’ll move to smaller things like grains of rice or squished peas; it’s so fun to watch Baby work on their pincer grasp as they “chase” food around their high chair!

This is all well and good, but how is this different (or better) than buying baby food at the store, or making my own purées?

First of all, it’s much simpler. No extra money spent, no extra time spent. I literally just keep Baby in mind as I prepare meals for the day. (If you notice the photo above, Tiny is munching away on a few large pieces of mango with the peel still on). This also means that BLW is less wasteful too.

It’s much better for Baby to explore color, texture, and taste of foods when they’re the ones in control. The stereotypical mush on a spoon and Mama begging “here comes the airplane” is bad for a few reasons: Baby can’t convince Mama to stop because they’re full, and they have to eat things they’ve already tried and don’t like. It completely removes Baby from the equation. You’re just ignoring them. This is causing some to wonder if that controlled feeding style is linked to childhood obesity – hey, you tell them to keep eating and don’t listen when they say they’re full. BLW lets the child control how much they eat, and when.

For more information, I just wrote “Why I Love Baby Led Weaning“, which goes into the benefits for our kids – and our family as a whole.

“But won’t my baby starve?!”

Not to worry, Mama. The old saying goes, food before one is just for fun. Baby needs to continue to get their main source of nutrition (and hydration) from breastmilk or formula. Honestly, they’re not going to be actually swallowing large amounts of food! And that’s totally fine.

But what about allergies?

There are various schools of thought here. Conservatively, there are two things you can do: only introduce a new food in the morning or afternoon (not at night, when they might have a reaction after bedtime), and only one new food every 3-4 days. This is especially important to adhere to if either of Baby’s parents have any history of allergies. You could always print a calendar and write each new food in on the initial date it’s given.

Liberally, just be mindful of the foods which universally are declared unsafe for little ones younger than 1 year of age, and not just because of allergies: nuts or other hard small foods which could be choking hazards; peanuts or peanut butter; strawberries and citrus (high chance of allergies, plus acidity can cause diaper rash… Who knew?); added salt, sugar, or artificial sweeteners; honey; cow’s milk; and shellfish. This article is great at explaining everything rationally when it comes to allergies and foods to avoid.

I usually give a new food two or three times within a few days, so I can be sure that there is no allergy. (Some people claim that the first time a child has a new food, it activates the allergy; essentially the kid has no reaction the first time, but then they do the second time. If that’s going to happen, I’d rather be acutely aware of the possibility). I also choose to not give new foods at dinner since it’s closer to bedtime, but I don’t really worry since hubby and I have zero allergies. There’s no way to be 100% sure that your child won’t have an allergy, but if you’re smart and organized about it, you can feel confident letting your little one explore new foods!

I’m a huge fan of doing what instinct calls us to do; this is simply what humans would have done 200,000 years ago. “Here kid, have some of this.” No need to blend and purée and make weird little unidentifiable ice cube trays full of mush.

Mmm, zucchini stick!

Mmm, zucchini stick!

BLW has this glorious side effect of inspiring (pressuring) me to eat healthier. I have to think about “what can I hand my baby off of my plate?” If I don’t have enough fresh vegetables, lean meats, or unsweetened fruit, then she has no healthy options and I feel like a jerk.

It also motivates you to try new things yourself. We’re a lot more creative with new spices and recipes – I’m cooking things now that my mom has never done! (And she’s an amazing and adventurous cook). It’s fun to play with new flavors, and it’s something that the whole family can enjoy. My three year old loves cooking and trying new things, and I know he’s a healthy eater because of how we view food in our home.

I’ve been hoarding some great ideas on my Pinterest board just for BLW. You’ll notice that the best part is the flavor combinations, but there isn’t a lot of time spent “preparing” the food. There’s no need to mash things up or try and squish it into little pouches. A lot of the recipes are just creative and healthy ideas.

Other Tips

The most important thing is to keep it safe for Baby: that means you’re actively parenting while they’re playing with food. Put the phone down and really be aware of what they’re up to! Besides, you won’t want to miss a minute of your kid trying baby led weaning, anyway.

I definitely recommend a bib, and no clothes when Baby is experimenting with food! This type of bib is my favorite because it’s an easy-to-clean plastic (it’s even dishwasher safe!) and it has a food-catching pocket.

It’s also unnecessary to mess with utensils or plates – the best thing to do is just put a naked, bibbed baby into an easy-to-clean high chair like ours (look for plastic, easily removable pieces which are machine washable). As you get comfortable, you can let your baby have a spoon just for the heck of it – I prefer spoons like these since the handle is shorter, and thus less likely that Baby will gag themselves by shoving the whole thing in their mouth.

You can check out my full comparison reviews of the Best Gear for Baby Led Weaning here.

You always need to check that the food is in a big enough chunk so Baby can hold it and gnaw off little pieces. For example, in the video below, you’ll see that Tiny has a long slender zucchini stick with the skin on; this helps her hold it and gum a little bit, and the skin helps keep it from totally falling apart. I shamefully admit that I tried giving zucchini sliced the other way (in circles) and it was too small; she could have inhaled a whole piece. So the rest of us ate those instead.

Food also needs to be the right consistency: soft and squishable. I use a microwaveable steam basket like this one all the time (in 5 microwaved minutes, it’s made 2 heads of broccoli or 3 banana squash perfectly cooked for us all!). Or you can use a slow cooker to cook whole potatoes in a few hours: I make at least 4 sweet potatoes a week because both kids love them!

Also, be warned: your baby’s poop will never be the same. It will start to get thicker and more solid once they’re eating food, and I’m sorry to say that it will begin to stink. If you cloth diaper like I do, time to invest in a diaper sprayer. (I just got one and will review it soon so you can see if I liked it or not).

Speaking of, don’t be surprised if Baby gets a bit constipated. Their digestive system is mature enough by 6 months to tolerate solids, but it’s still a transition. I feed Tiny about 80% veggies (the fiber keeps her pooping regularly and without discomfort), 15% fruit and 5% grains. I fed her rice twice in a few days and it took her bowels a few days to move normally again, so I try to be aware of that.

I’ve also read that giving too many sweet-tasting fruits too early will ruin your child for veggies – like, they will only want sweet foods and will refuse the broccoli. I haven’t found that to be true, but like I mentioned I do give a lot more veggies than anything else.

Gagging is normal, don’t freak out! A glob of avocado is going to move differently in their mouth than a squirt of milk. Babies need to learn to use their tongue to move food back towards the throat. They’ll also instinctively start a chewing motion as they gum things and work food back. So consequently, they’re going to gag sometimes. (Gagging is tongue out coughing, with some drool. It should only last a second or two, and may involve a dry heave, but then will resolve). Let them work it out on their own, and never try to intervene by sticking your fingers in their mouth. If you feel they may be choking, make sure you’re trained on infant safety. 

Here’s a basic timeline of what I did with my second child (I feel like I was a little overly cautious with my first child):

  • Birth – six months: Breastfeed on demand
  • Six months: Start solids – avocado, green bean, sweet potato, etc. STILL NURSE ON DEMAND.
  • Seven months: Start seasonings and spices – garlic, chili powder, oregano, etc. STILL NURSE ON DEMAND.
  • We usually fed her 1-2 times a day, but she always nursed to satisfaction first.
  • We also sporadically fed her with food on our fingertip, and with a spoon, but never forced her to take food she didn’t want.

See Tiny in action!

Other Helpful Links

Baby Led Weaning – Wikipedia

Baby Led Weaning.com

Real Simple Mama – all BLW articles!

I hope you’re excited to let your little one try new foods! Baby led weaning is really fun, really easy, and sets your child up to be an adventurous and healthy eater for life!

2 Comments

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this and I’m glad you warned me about the gagging. My daughter used to do this and I’d react immediately, so I’m going to try and be calmer this time around. I love the idea of focusing on being healthy yourself in order to share it too. No excuses now! Your little one clearly is a foodie so I’ll take that as inspiration as I get going. The only downside to this method is that I was hoping my baby might start sleeping more through the night when I start weaning and it sounds like it won’t be the case. I’m feeding him twice a night still – however o take this as a good sign…I’m sure he’s going to like his food! 🙂

    • The Mama

      October 6, 2016 at 3:42 pm

      I’m so glad that this was helpful! About the gagging: this sounds gross, but I can always tell if it’s a dangerous gag (which is really rare especially since she’s an expert now) because it sounds closed off, like no air is really getting through. If it’s an open cough, then no need to worry. Keep an eye on them but I bet you’ll notice him “working it out” with his tongue and jaw movements.
      I don’t think there’s any method (which is in Baby’s best interests anyway) which makes your kid STTN. That’s honestly not developmentally normal – they’re instinctually programmed to wake in the night. Formula-fed babies, and babies who were given rice cereal in bottles (which is an old technique – now deemed unsafe) slept longer because those things are much harder on their digestive systems. But not waking throughout the night means your baby is at higher risk of SIDS, etc. I know you’re tired – hell, I haven’t STTN in 4 years! But nothing to worry about. 🙂
      Let me know how it’s going and if I can help more!

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