Baby-led weaning (BLW) is an approach to introducing food in which the baby
is allowed to direct and control the process of eating solids foods from the very
beginning. Parents decide what to feed and babies decide when, how, and how
much they are going to eat.
Although weaning is in the name, baby-led weaning is often instead called baby-led feeding because it is not incompatible with breast or bottle feeding and does not mean that solid foods have to become the primary food source.
Other Key Components
- Baby sits at the table with the family at mealtimes.
- Baby feeds him/herself, first with hands then cutlery.
- Baby is offered the same (healthy) foods as the rest of the family, prepared in sizes that are appropriate to their developmental stage.
- Babies are continued to be offered breast milk (or formula), on demand, outside meal times.
Despite what is known, there is no consensus on what the definition of BLW is
and parental perceptions differ: among parents who self-identify as using BLW
with their own children, some will spoon-feed their child about 10% of time
while others use a more strict definition and offer ONLY finger foods. Neither is right or wrong. Do what works for your family.
What are the Benefits of BLW?
There are several benefits to adopting a BLW approach including that it:
- Shifts the focus from emphasizing the quantity of food consumed to experiencing and expanding the diet.
- Makes introducing solid foods easier and less costly.
- Allows baby to take part in family meals helps to develop important social skills.
- Promotes autonomy – independence and self-governance, which has been linked with a range of positive outcomes.
- Lastly, early exposure (before 10 months) to a variety of solid foods has also been associated with a reduction in“picky” eating.
Are There Any Concerns with BLW?
The most common concerns around BLW focus on one of three areas: nutrition, choking, and suitability. Perhaps one of the greatest concerns of parents (and health professionals alike) is that their baby is getting adequate nutrition to meet his needs and weaning is a critical period when many children—especially globally—experience sharp rises in illness and malnutrition.
Regardless of the feeding method used, solid food should be a supplement to, not substitution for, breast milk or formula, which should remain the primary source of nutrition. Iron insufficiency tends to be of primary concern, but since BLW babies tend to be older and their gut bacteria more mature (than a 4 month old), iron-rich foods can be offered from the outset. To date, the small body of research on BLW has does not support these concerns.
Although concerns of choking are common, the ability to chew develops before the ability to hold food at the back of the mouth for proper position for swallowing. Thus, what is most often experienced is gagging. With careful consideration of what is placed in front of baby, and with proper supervision, choking should not be of great concern.
There are some babies and families for whom BLW may be might not be feasible or suitable. This could especially be the case for infants with developmental delays or for whom another condition interferes with their ability to move food to their mouths, to chew, or to swallow.
What Should I Serve my Baby While Using BLW?
Quinoa with Butternut Squash, Scallions, and Parsley
Quinoa is an endlessly versatile grain and pairs beautifully with the earthiness of the roasted butternut squash and bite from fresh scallions.
Quinoa makes a great choice for your little one as well because it’s high in protein and one of the few plant foods that contain all nine essential amino acids.
Curried Butternut Squash Soup
This soup is perfect for crisp fall nights, served with crusty bread (cheat and buy a par-baked loaf you can finish cooking for dinner), and eaten with your favorite spoon [wink, wink]!
Squash is high in Vitamin A, C, and potassium, so you’re doing your body - and your tastebuds - a huge favor.
Blueberry Avocado Muffins
These muffins make a great snack - especially for kids. Avocados contain both soluble and insoluble fibers that will keep the digestive system running smoothly and they are great for brain function because unsaturated fats keep brain cell membranes flexible.
The muffins are sweet, but not overly sugary and are a healthful weekday “hurry we’re running late for school” breakfast! (Break into smaller pieces for easy finger feeding.)
The most magical part of this recipe is its simplicity - put halved unpeeled apples in a pot with a couple of flavorings and SIMPLY. WALK. AWAY.
This applesauce also has the benefit of being free of added sugar and is packed with Vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. And because it’s processed smooth using a food mill, it’s great for kiddos just beginning with solid foods.
That’s what we call a win-win-win-WIN!
Tropical Quinoa Breakfast Bowl
We love recipes that are versatile and flexible enough to appeal to every member of your household.
Ones that can also be prepped ahead of time to help make busy mornings less hectic are even better. This incredibly flavorful breakfast bowl from Sarah Hauser ticks both of these boxes. Can we get a high-five?
Do you want to save this entire guide for reference? We've got you covered! You can access the full Guide to Baby-Led Weaning here.