Baby Led Weaning
As a registered dietitian, and more importantly as a mom, I absolutely couldn’t wait for the moment I was able to start feeding my child solid food. This was a moment of great uncertainty, not only for our child, but for us as parents. I wondered what food was best to start with, what’s the proper cereal-to-breast milk ratio (it doesn’t say on the label!), what amount my baby should be eating, and how frequently do I do this.
With my first child, I did it by the book. I started with infant cereal, gradually thickened it, then spoon fed my son, and he loved it. I then introduced pureed lamb, chosen for its iron richness and low potential for allergy, but it also happened to be the very first time I ever bought or cooked lamb (the things we do for our children, right?) I stayed on this for three days, then introduced homemade applesauce, which he once again loved. Every three days, I introduced a new food and carefully monitored for allergy. He didn’t eat the same food for three days, but he ate the new food along with previous anti-allergenic foods. I pureed everything. He had his own section of the freezer. My son progressed beautifully and to this day continues to be a great eater.
Then, along came my second son and I learned about baby-led weaning (BLW). It’s a mind-blowing experience in trust. Specifically, trust in MY baby! Trust in YOUR baby! Trust that over the past six months of breastfeeding and bottle feeding my baby had developed the skills needed to protect himself. Trust that he will learn to self-regulate what he eats. Trust that he wants to eat the same healthy foods the family eats. And this is the astonishing piece … he did!
This movement originated in Europe with Gill Rapley, a public health nurse who challenged contemporary infant feeding practices. After conducting her own research and observations, she realized that pureeing foods resulted from cultural and marketing shifts at the beginning of the 20th century, not from evidence. She found that historically, babies were fed finger food solids at around eight to nine months and she decided to bring it back.
BLW is only recommended for those who are developing appropriately. The baby must be able to:
- Sit up with little or no support
- Have good head control
- Reach out to grab things and bring them to his or her mouth
- Begin to practice chewing (i.e. gnawing on everything)
If your baby doesn’t meet these cues by 6 months, then delay utilizing this method until your baby does. When ready, offer baby soft, healthy, pure finger foods. My second son’s first food was lamb as well, but this time it was offered as a large strip that he could pick up, which he did! Then he explored it and eventually brought it to his mouth, tasted it, sucked on it and gnawed on it. He was doing it!
After that, he was offered papaya. Hard veggies were steamed, then cut into sizes he could grasp. Plain pasta was presented. Avocado and bananas were gobbled up. My son ate the same foods as the family. Sometimes he played with his food. Our dog caught on pretty quick to the “playtime.” There was no more pureeing and my freezer was all mine this time around (except for the outside freezer that housed frozen breast milk—THAT was his!).
The most difficult piece of BLW was letting go of that control; letting go of that desire to literally feed my son and to intervene when it wasn’t going right. By trusting that his body had the reflexes to handle a piece of food going the wrong direction, my son learned the boundaries of his mouth and he learned what he could handle. Together, we learned to trust each other, build confidence and enjoy food. Feeding your child should be, and can be, fun. I encourage you to explore all the various ways to feed your child. If the different feeding options are unknown to you, have a talk with your pediatrician or registered dietitian. There isn’t only one way, there’s just the way that works for your family.
Rapley, G and Murkett T. Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater. The Experiment, LLC. New York, NY. 2010.