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The Quick Guide to Baby-Led Weaning

Alright, you've seen the term all over the place, you've heard moms ask one another how baby-led weaning is going, so what's the big deal? And what is baby-led weaning?! Am I supposed to be doing it? I'm Alicia, a.k.a the Cardamom, and I've got the skinny on all things BLW!


What is Baby-Led Weaning?

Traditional feeding involves spoon-feeding infants puréed foods as an introduction to solids. Baby-led weaning (BLW) also known as baby-led feeding is the practice of skipping spoon fed purées as you transition your infant from breastmilk or formula to solids (complimentary foods). BLW instead promotes feeding your child whole, age-appropriate finger foods starting around 6 months. BLW supports early independent feeding and is shown to encourage the development of fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and healthy eating habits.

what is baby-led weaning baby eating


Ready? START HERE!


SAFETY IS PRIORITY #1! Your little's safety comes first, and starting solids can seem intimidating to any parent, no matter how experienced! Here are a few tips to help you feel the most confident as you begin BLW.

  1. Make sure baby is ready: There are a few signs of baby's readiness to watch for including: Sits up alone with minimal support, has good head and neck support, no longer has tongue-thrust reflex (natural reflex where the baby's tongue is pushed out of its mouth to help drink breastmilk), and baby is showing interest in food.

  2. Prepare food appropriately: Some general guidelines for preparing food: Prepare food the length and size of an adult pinky finger, serve foods that are soft and mashable in texture, and serve foods in a form that is easy for baby to grab using their palmar grasp.

  3. Never leave baby unattended with food: A parent or guardian should be supervising baby closely at all times when food is present. Baby should never be left alone or out of eyesight with food.

  4. Understand the difference between gagging and choking: Understanding the difference between gagging and choking is a game changer. While the sound of a baby gagging can be anxiety-provoking, if your baby is audibly making sounds that’s a good sign. Choking is a silent event and may involve baby turning blue, going limp, or silently gasping for air. Choking requires immediate intervention while gagging is the body’s natural protective mechanism doing its job. As an additional comfort, studies have shown there is no increased risk in choking for BLW babies vs. those fed with traditional purées.


tips to facilitate safe baby-led weaning moments at home

DID YOU KNOW?

Studies show that there is no difference in choking risk

for BLW infants vs. traditionally fed infants.



What foods are good for BLW?

I'm glad you asked! I am right in the middle of practicing BLW first hand with my daughter, Kobie (9 months old)! Some of my favorite foods to prepare for her include:

  • Bananas! I haven't met a baby yet who doesn't love bananas. Tips on how to serve here!

  • Mashed black beans

  • Toast strips

  • Avocado-Check out how I prepare them here

  • Eggs (cut into strips like this)

  • Tofu

  • Pasta with tomato sauce

  • My crowd-favorite peach muffins! Check out the recipe here!

  • Fruit like strawberries, kiwi, or the pit of a ripe mango

  • These Amara Smoothie Melts are an easy no prep option, great for on the go

What foods should my baby try when BLW

How much and how often?

You can start by offering a single food and as baby becomes more comfortable with new foods and more skilled at managing them you can advance to offer complete meals. There are general guidelines and recommendations by age, however, what is most important is for you, as a parent, to tap into your child's hunger and fullness cues and allow them to lead their weaning journey.


Number of Meals Per Day By Age:

  • 6 months: 1 solid feeding/day + breastmilk or formula

  • 6-8 months: 2 solid feedings/day + 32-36 oz breastmilk or formula

  • 10 months: 3 solid feedings/day + 24-32 oz breastmilk or formula

  • 12 months: 3 solid feedings/day + 2 snacks and 16-24 oz breastmilk or formula


Baby's Balanced Plate

The balanced plate is something I talk about a lot in practice. For infants, the balanced plate will look a bit different than it would for toddlers or adults because babies won't be getting 100% of their nutrient needs met through solid foods alone, since they will also be receiving a significant amount of nutrients from breastmilk or formula.


The baby balanced plate should consist of an iron rich food (especially if they are breastfed), a high fat, calorie-dense food, and a vitamin-C rich fruit or veggie to help with iron absorption. Examples of what this could look like are included below:

  • Iron rich foods: mashed beans, fortified cereals, meats, grains

  • High fat foods: crushed nuts, ground or milled seeds, high fat foods like avocado

  • Fruits & veggies: strawberries, kiwi, broccoli, or mango

While there are many foods that baby will be able to enjoy safely, there are also certain foods that should be avoided in baby's first year including: foods that are round hard or sticky, cow's milk or other plant-based milk alternative, foods high in added sugar or sodium, caffeinated drinks like soda or coffee, unpasteurized foods, honey, and high mercury fish to name a few.

What foods is baby not allowed to try with BLW

FAQs

  • My baby doesn't like a food, what should I do? Will they ever like it?

Even if baby makes a face or seems disinterested keep offering it! Studies show it

can take 10-15 (or more!) exposures for a child to accept a food. Remember, baby

is learning and because of that they need multiple opportunities to explore new

foods to familiarize themselves with the new tastes, textures, and smells that they

are experiencing.

  • My baby is having trouble with specific textures.

If your baby is having trouble managing specific textures then try modifying the

food to better accommodate baby's ability. Safety is always priority so make sure

the texture is safe for baby to explore. Continue to offer the textured food to baby

for exposure and if the texture sensitivity persists beyond what is developmentally

normal I recommend partnering with your pediatrician and seeking additional

support.

  • Does baby need something to drink?

In baby's first year breastmilk and formula should be the primary beverages of

choice. Per the American Academy of Pediatrics, a small amount of water can be

introduced around 6 months of age. I suggest starting with 1-2 oz in an open cup,

straw cup, or sippy cup to help develop oral dexterity and drinking skill. Water

intake should not replace breastmilk or formula and should not exceed 8oz before

age 12mos.

  • What about pouches? BLW can be SO messy!

Pouches and purées can still be introduced even if you are doing BLW!

  • How do I know if baby is full?

Signs of fullness may include a closed mouth, pushing food away, throwing food

on the floor, or turning their head away.

  • Does baby need teeth to chew?

No! Make sure the food is easily mashable between your thumb and index finger,

which holds about the same strength as the baby's gums.


When it comes to feeding baby, what is most important is to choose a feeding method that works for you, your family and your baby. Starting solids can be an exciting but overwhelming time-I get it because I've been there. You should feel comfortable and confident in your feeding journey. Make sure you are feeding responsively and paying attention to baby's cues. Remember introducing complimentary foods is a process that takes time. Continue to offer new foods without pressure and don't forget to enjoy the journey! You're doing great! I know you are!


What about allergens?

Stay tuned! Next week I'm diving into everything you need to know about introducing allergens. In the meantime, check out this post for more info! If you have more questions on starting solids, check out, Starting Solids 101.


Make sure to subscribe to my weekly newsletter: Let's eat! for more tips and tricks on feeding your family!


Sources: PMID: 29205569, AAAAI.org⁠, Healthychildren.org⁠, PMID: 28596930,. Tuck C, Rapley; Murkett GT. Baby-led Weaning. Helping your Baby to Love Good Food. British journal of nutrition. 2009;102(9):1386-. doi:10.1017/S0007114509991607, PMID: 34431920, What you need to know about baby tongue thrust. Colgate®. https://www.colgate.com/en-us/oral-health/kids-oral-care/what-you-need-to-know-about-baby-tongue-thrust#. Published January 9, 2023. Accessed April 10, 2023., PMID: 36109286,, PMID: 26563757



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