Baby-led weaning: your baby’s first taste of independence.
So what is baby-led weaning?
Well, it’s basically where baby gets to do the feeding!
(Well, kind of.)
If you’re new to baby-led weaning (what’s BLW??) or you want to refresh your knowledge as a veteran mama, we’re here for you.
In this article: 📝
- What is baby-led weaning?
- At what age can you start baby-led weaning?
- How do I start baby-led weaning?
- Is baby-led weaning dangerous?
- Baby-led weaning foods
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is all about putting solid foods quite literally in the hands of your baby.
It’s an approach that’s beautifully messy (a high percentage of that food is floor-bound) and very convenient.
Did you know that baby-led weaning has been around for centuries?
Yup ‒ even before the advent of the store-bought puree, mamas have been offering appropriate soft foods to their babies to keep them nourished and start their lifelong relationship with solid foods.
More recently, baby-led weaning has entered the realm of parenting chic.
Made popular in 2008 in the book ‘Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods-and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater’ by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, BLW has become a sought-after method to take the stress out of mealtimes and kickstart your little one’s culinary connections.
The baby-led weaning method is highly praised because it has two serious draw cards:
- The development of healthy eating habits. It allows your baby to develop their own relationship with food and eating, right from the get-go. This can mean they learn lessons in self-regulation early on, and tap into them when they are feeling full.
- It’s easier. For most (but not all) mamas, baby-led weaning may just mean modifying what you’re already having for dinner and not putting on a whole separate culinary show for the littlest member of the household. It also may mean skipping purees altogether.
BLW is all very enticing, but does require some patience.
Your baby has to be ready for the solids coming their way.
What is BLW?
Okay, so what does BLW mean?
Well, the BLW meaning is an acronym for baby-led weaning.
What is the difference between traditional weaning and baby-led weaning?
The ‘traditional’ method of weaning is to start with what’s also known as ‘spoon-fed’ weaning.
Basically, baby learns to feed themselves with a spoon before they learn to regulate and chew foods.
So traditional weaning is done with pureed baby foods and a baby-friendly spoon.
But with baby-led weaning, baby is fed ‘chunkier’ foods for them to chew as soon as they’re ready to wean.
Psst, if you’re after some fresh, frozen healthy baby meals directly to your door, you can get 25% off your first 3 boxes of Mamamade purees with the code PEANUT25. Shop here.
Can I switch from spoon-feeding to baby-led weaning?
Yes, you certainly can!
In fact, a lot of mamas choose to start with spoon-fed weaning to baby-led weaning.
Is baby-led weaning better than spoon-feeding?
There is no single ‘better’ method of weaning ‒ whatever works for you and baby is the best weaning method for you.
How do you mix baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding?
Yes, you can ‒ mixing baby-led weaning and traditional spoon-feeding can work for a lot of babies to help teach them more autonomy and how to make choices.
One method of mixing BLW and spoon-feeding is to give baby a choice of baby-led weaning foods and spoon-fed food during their mealtimes, to see which they choose and how they interact with both choices.
However, some say that mixing baby-led weaning and purees with spoon-feeding can increase their risk of choking ‒ the theory is that they’re not sure which foods are totally soft (pureed baby food) and which are BLW foods that need to be chewed.
Speak with your doctor if you’re unsure ‒ every baby is different.
What are the 4 stages of weaning?
Weaning, including baby-led weaning, is often split into three main stages, resulting in four stages:
- Stage 1: Between 4-6 months, starting to wean with soft solid foods.
- Stage 2: Between 6-9 months, introducing different textures and flavors.
- Stage 3: Between 9-12 months, eating more family meals (adapted to suit baby).
- Stage 4: From 12 months onwards, eating smaller versions of family meals, increasing the sizes as baby’s appetite grows.
It’s important to always keep an eye on baby when they’re eating, especially when trying baby-led weaning or spoon-fed weaning, as there is a risk of choking.
What are the advantages of baby-led weaning?
If you choose to try baby-led weaning, there are lots of benefits of BLW:
- Baby develops a more adventurous food palette.
- Encourages healthy eating behaviors ‒ baby gets to choose what and how much they want to eat.
- Baby recognizes when they get full.
- Some studies have shown that BLW babies learn not to just eat food because it’s in front of them, but instead to eat it because they’re hungry.
- BLW babies are rarely overfed.
- Baby-led weaning can mean that baby is more likely to have a ‘normal’ weight range when growing up.
- Preparing baby’s food can be easier and quicker, especially when they’re able to eat smaller versions of family meals.
- BLW may reduce anxiety in mamas, too!
- Baby can develop their hand-eye coordination earlier.
What are the disadvantages of baby-led weaning?
Okay, so BLW sounds amazing, but are there any disadvantages of baby-led weaning?
Well, yes ‒ nothing’s ever cut-and-dry with this motherhood journey, after all!
- It’s messier ‒ a lot of food will end up on the floor. Although a splash mat under baby’s highchair can help with the clean-up.
- It can be tricky to keep track of exactly how much baby has eaten with BLW ‒ eating a pot of puree is easy to monitor, but if baby ends up smushing food and splatting it on the floor, it’s a little harder to monitor!
- The risk of baby choking is always something to be aware of.
- It’s possible to start BLW too early for baby, before they’re developmentally ready.
- Making sure baby gets the nutrients they need can be tricky.
At what age can you start baby-led weaning?
So when can you start BLW?
Well, there’s no single answer for when to start baby-led weaning.
Different babies will be ready for baby-led weaning at different times.
A very general ballpark age is to try BLW at 6 months—but your little one has to be ready for this kind of commitment.
Is 3 months too early to wean?
Generally speaking, 3 months is considered too early to start weaning ‒ whether it’s baby-led weaning or traditional spoon-fed weaning.
Is 4 months too early for baby-led weaning?
It’s worth talking with your pediatrician about whether you can start baby-led weaning at 4 months, but, if baby’s ready, you should be able to.
Just be sure to try small mouthfuls of soft food to reduce the risk of choking, and always keep an eye on baby while they’re eating.
It’s also worth remembering that baby’s stomach is still very small ‒ it doesn’t take a lot to fill them up!
Can I start baby-led weaning at 5 months?
Yes, if baby is ready, and you’ve checked with your doctor, you can start BLW at 5 months.
But how do you know baby is ready for baby-led weaning? Well…
What are the signs of readiness for baby-led weaning?
If you’re keen to try baby-led weaning, but you’re not sure if baby’s showing the signs of readiness for BLW, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s a quick checklist of the BLW signs of readiness:
- They can sit up in a high chair with their head held higher.
- They’ve reached a suitable weight. A good rule of thumb? If they’re double their birth weight, it’s likely they’re ready.
- They seem to be into the food thing. This may mean they watch you eat with longing in their eyes or they actively try to reach for your snacks.
- Food goes in more than it goes out. They have to get more of it down than they are spitting out.
Can you do baby-led weaning without teeth?
Yes, you can try baby-led weaning before baby has grown their first teeth.
In fact, the first teeth that baby gets aren’t really used for chewing ‒ that’s more the work for molars.
Baby’s gums should be able to work their way through most baby-led weaning foods.
🔎 Dig deeper: What are the Best Teething Foods?
How do I start baby-led weaning?
Right ‒ now that we know what baby-led weaning is and the signs of readiness for BLW, it’s time to find out how to start baby-led weaning.
Rather, it’s about introducing small and soft pieces of food to your baby when they are sitting upright in their high chair.
And it’s as simple as this: offer them food, and help out where necessary.
It’s important to remember the “baby-led” part.
When they’re not into it anymore, it’s time to stop.
How do I start a weaning schedule?
So what’s an example of a BLW schedule?
Let’s break it down into the different stages of baby-led weaning:
Stage 1 of baby-led weaning can be from 4-6 months (sometimes later).
A stage 1 BLW schedule could be swapping one or two feeding sessions with a soft baby-led weaning food, like a single slice of banana, orange wedges, or slightly overcooked cauliflower florets.
The key here is to try a BLW schedule only when baby is showing signs of baby-led weaning readiness.
If you’re unsure about starting a BLW schedule at 4-6 months, speak with your doctor.
Once baby’s more used to eating baby-led weaning foods, the next step is to introduce different textures and flavors for another couple of months (7-9 months).
At this stage, you can offer baby a BLW snack before their usual feeding time, then for bedtime, stick with breastmilk or formula as part of their bedtime routine.
Or you can alternate between milk feedings and BLW foods for their usual feeding schedule.
At stage 3 of baby-led weaning, baby will probably be between 9-12 months, eating more family meals (adapted to suit baby).
Here, you can start to swap out some of their normal feeding times for BLW foods.
The final stage of baby-led weaning can be from 12 months onwards, so baby could be a pro at eating BLW foods ‒ no more breastmilk or formula needed!
It’s also worth noting that the current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to exclusively breastfeed or formula feed baby until 6 months, then to start weaning (either spoon-fed or baby-led weaning), and continuing to include breastmilk or formula in their diet partially until 12 months.
How many times a day should you feed a weaning baby?
It depends on the age of your baby and what stage of weaning they’re at.
Here are a few suggestions of how many times a day you should feed a weaning baby (although it’s best to check with your doctor, as these are just suggestions):
- 6 months: 6-12 times per day (mix of baby-led weaning foods and milk)
- 7 months: 6-12 times per day (mix of baby-led weaning foods and milk)
- 8 months: 6-8 times per day (mix of baby-led weaning foods and milk)
- 9 months: 3-6 times per day (mix of baby-led weaning foods and milk)
- 10 months: 3-5 times per day (mix of baby-led weaning foods and milk)
- 11 months: 3-5 times per day (mix of baby-led weaning foods and milk)
- 12 months: 3-5 times per day (solid foods)
What baby-led weaning supplies do you need?
If you want to give BLW a go, it can help to get some baby-led weaning supplies.
Here are our suggestions for what you’ll need to start baby-led weaning:
- Highchair ‒ baby will need to sit upright in this for baby-led weaning to start.
- Baby-led weaning cutlery ‒ spoons are a must.
- Bibs ‒ it’s going to get messy!
- Splash mat ‒ did we say it’s going to be messy?
- Baby-friendly plate ‒ not necessary, but if you want to get baby used to using a plate, it can be a good idea.
- Baby beaker ‒ ideally a no-spill one (they’re going to put that to the test!).
What’s the best high chair for BLW?
So what’s the best high chair for baby-led weaning?
It’s easy to clean (simply remove the tray and wash it with soap and warm water, and put the seat pad in the washing machine), easy to put together, great for small and big spaces, and baby can use it for years, if they need to.
What BLW utensils do you need?
When it comes to baby-led weaning utensils, there are a few essentials that can make the process that bit easier for you and baby.
One of the highest rated, best spoons for baby-led weaning is the NumNum Pre-Spoon ‘GOOtensils’, which can be used for the early stages of baby-led weaning.
When it comes to the best bibs for baby-led weaning, the BIBaDO Coverall Baby Feeding Bib is beloved by mamas ‒ not nearly as much food on the floor!
Finally, the highest-rated baby-led weaning plate is the ezpz Mini Mat, which comes with its own built-in placemat with suction cups, so the plate itself won’t end up on the floor, too!
We love the smily-face design, too!
Is baby-led weaning dangerous?
Baby-led weaning is dangerous if you leave your little one in the kitchen with some ingredients and a hot stove, and hope that they’ll fend for themselves.
If, however, you start them at the right age, prepare appropriate foods (again, think small and soft!), and closely supervise their feeding times, it’s safe.
One of the biggest concerns is baby-led weaning choking, but this can be a concern whenever you’re introducing solid foods to baby’s diet.
A study in 2016 actually suggested that starting baby-led weaning doesn’t increase the risks of choking in babies.
Just be sure to always watch baby if they’re eating solid foods, and learn what to do if they do start to choke.
Gagging vs choking baby-led weaning
During BLW, gagging is very common ‒ it’s a totally normal reaction for babies to have when trying new flavors and textures.
But how do you tell the difference between gagging and choking?
Generally speaking, gagging babies will be louder, sticking out their tongue and making lots of noise, sometimes with crying ‒ they may also go redder in the face.
A baby who is choking may have an open mouth, but their tongue likely won’t be sticking out, they may not be making such noise at all, they might look more panicked than fussy, and they may start to go bluer in the face.
What happens if you wean baby too early?
Weaning a baby before 4-6 months, or before they’re ready, can have an increased risk of choking.
It can also mean that they’re not getting the nutrients they need to keep growing ‒ breastmilk and formula have everything a growing baby needs, especially as their digestive system is continuing to develop.
If you’re considering trying baby-led weaning before 6 months, it’s best to check with your pediatrician.
Do doctors recommend baby-led weaning?
Honestly, it depends on which doctors you ask.
Some pediatricians recommend baby-led weaning as it can build a healthy relationship with food.
Other doctors suggest traditional baby weaning with pureed food or weaning baby only from 12 months.
Ultimately, you can ask your doctor’s advice when it comes to baby-led weaning, but it’s yours and your baby’s choice, mama.
Baby-led weaning foods
So, ready to start baby-led weaning?
You’ll need some baby-led weaning recipes and BLW first foods ideas.
Whether you’re a first-time mom looking for recipes for BLW or you’re a veteran mama searching for baby-led weaning first foods, we’ve got some delicious ideas ‒ baby’s bound to love at least one of these!
BLW foods by age
Let’s start with baby-led weaning foods by age.
To start with, it’s all about the squishy, small, and soft.
Also, they have to be able to grab onto it with their hands.
BLW foods for stage 1 of baby-led weaning
Some favorites for stage 1 of baby-led weaning (around 6 months) include:
- Sweet potato or other cooked root vegetables
- Cooked chicken or tofu
- Steamed pear slices
- Steamed green beans
- Mozzarella cheese
Simply chop them up nice and small, give them to your little one at mealtime, and see what happens!
As they’re still getting sustenance from milk right now, you don’t need to worry about how much—or little—they’re eating.
BLW foods for stage 2 of baby-led weaning
The next stage of baby-led weaning can introduce some other textures and flavors of BLW foods, from around 7-8 months), such as:
- Peach slices
- Sliced strawberries
- Minced meat or ‘scrambled’ tofu
- Cooked beans
- Broiled fish (check all the bones have been removed)
- Cooked pasta
- Cheese cubes
BLW foods for stage 3 of baby-led weaning
The last stage of baby-led weaning can introduce smaller or more cut-up versions of some of the foods you’re eating, from around 10-12 months.
Should I give my baby water when weaning?
The UK NHS says babies don’t need water until they’ve started eating solid foods.
The key to remember is that tap or bottled water isn’t actually sterile, so it’s recommended to boil it then let it cool before you give it to baby.
🔎 Dig deeper: When Can Babies Have Water?
What do babies drink after weaning?
Do babies drink less milk after starting solids?
Yes, baby will likely drink less breastmilk or formula if they’re eating solids as well.
But if you’re concerned about baby not getting enough nutrients while doing baby-led weaning, speak with your pediatrician.
What foods should mothers avoid during weaning?
What about baby-led weaning foods to avoid feeding baby?
Well, anything that’s high in salt, fat, or sugar should be avoided.
Even in moderation, it’s worth remembering how small baby’s stomach is ‒ what’s not a lot of sugar to you could be a lot to baby.
So some foods to avoid during BLW are:
- Sausages (these tend to have higher fat contents)
- Salted fries
- Soft drinks
- Fish with high levels of mercury
Ultimately, when it comes to baby-led weaning, it’s all about experimenting and getting used to new foods.
What one baby loves as a BLW food, another might condemn to the floor.
For more support, information, and advice on your baby-led weaning journey, why not ask the mamas of Peanut?
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