Parenthood is blissful and stressful. You may feel 100% confident some days and like a total train wreck the next. You research everything and make the best choice for you and your family, but everyone has an opinion, and people aren’t afraid to tell you. It starts with breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, how to dress your baby, and how to put your baby to sleep. The list is endless.
If this resonates with you, you’re not alone. Most parents feel pressure from friends and family about how to raise their baby. Every baby is different, it’s true. One transition every family makes is how and when to start solid foods with baby.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is a natural and family-friendly approach to starting solid foods. BLW focuses on eating finger foods and age-appropriate utensils at an early age while skipping purees altogether. Many families find this method more convenient because baby can eat what everyone else is eating, which eliminates the work of spoon-feeding, pureeing or buying pureed foods, and allows baby to self-regulate their consumption which frees the parents’ hands during dinnertime.
My favorite utensils are from GRABEASE.
BLW may not be the right fit for every baby, so make sure to discuss this with your child’s pediatrician before starting. Many pediatricians find BLW to be a great opportunity to expand a baby’s dexterity, chewing skills, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and eating habits.
Signs that Baby is Ready
There are a few safety rules before beginning:
- Baby is at least six months of age.
- Baby can sit unassisted for at least one minute.
- Baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex.
- Baby can pick up objects and bring them to his or her mouth.
- Baby shows an interest in food.
If your baby doesn’t meet all these signs, he or she is NOT ready.
How often should my baby be eating solid foods?
The best answer to this question is "however much your baby wants it!" I recommend starting solid foods as a snack 45-60 minutes after their first bottle of the day in the morning, and another snack after their last nap of the day. This allows for ample milk, and the solid food is merely a snack, not a meal. My daughter started BLW around 7 months, and she was very interested in feeding herself immediately. She ate 2-3 solid food snacks a day after her milk. If your baby isn’t as interested, that’s perfectly fine. Follow your baby’s lead.
Breastmilk or formula should be the primary source of calories until 12 months of age. Solid foods before one year of age are for fun and exploration, and breastmilk or formula should always be given before solid foods.
Preparing and cooking BLW food
Steaming foods is usually the preferred way to cook most introductory foods. Make sure the food is firm but tender for gripping. Cut the food into finger-length pieces so baby can grab them. You may be tempted to cut them into teeny tiny pieces, but babies do not have the fine motor skills to pick them up until they are a bit older (eight months or so). Cut round foods like grapes and carrots in half length-wise. The esophagus is a round muscular tube that connects the throat with the stomach, and so long as no food baby consumes is round like the esophagus, air can still maneuver through the esophagus to prevent choking.
This crinkle cutter from Joie is one of my favorite ways to cut finger foods for babies.
Know that gagging is normal and healthy. It’s imperative to know the difference between gagging and choking and when to intervene. If you intervene during a gagging fit, it could turn into actual choking. It is best to look calm and let them work it out on their own when gagging.
Signs of gagging: Child may appear bright red, sputter and cough, will open mouth and thrust tongue forward.
Signs of choking: Child’s skin may turn blue or purple, may seem weak and have an ineffective cough, and may be unable to make noise.
Be sure to take an infant CPR and First Aid course so you really know how to intervene if necessary. One of the most helpful phrases for me when starting BLW was, “Loud and red, let them go. Silent and blue, they need help from you.”
Many families introduce one food at a time when starting BLW to rule out any allergies, but many doctors agree that allergies are unlikely unless there’s a family allergy to be aware of like eggs, dairy, etc. It is important to speak with your doctor about your dietary concerns.
There are a lot of products on the market that label food items as BLW, baby-friendly, or toddler-friendly, but please be conscious of the ingredients. Babies do not need added sugar, salt, and processed foods in their diet, so it’s important to keep that in mind when preparing food. There are several foods to avoid that include honey (until the age of one), popcorn, whole nuts, hard candies, marshmallows, and round-shaped foods.
There is a wonderful group on Facebook named “Baby Led Weaning for Beginners & Beyond (BLWBB),” which has an extensive Files tab with directions and visuals on how to prepare any food or meal you can think of. This is an excellent group to join if you’re starting BLW and looking for trustworthy visuals.
BLW is a fun new experience for both parents and baby. Do your research, talk to your doctor, and find the right fit for your lifestyle. BLW was such a perfect fit for my family, and I hope it is for you, too!
Jamie is a work-from-home Mom, former EMT/volunteer Firefighter, military wife, and competitive Powerlifter. She enjoys new adventures and traveling alongside her family wherever the military takes them.
Contact and follow Jamie on Instagram at @theladyjock