Monday, 2 December 2013

Three times around Baby Led Weaning. Why, How, When!

'What's all this fuss about BLW?'

I remember reading some obscure article about Baby Led Weaning (BLW) back when I was pregnant with Lily. Way back when, in early 2008! Back then it was pretty much unheard of and rather 'radical/weird'... but something about the theory of it just clicked with me straight away. I mentally filed it away for 'when the time came' and I am so glad I did! I love that it's now gotten so popular and common it's just regarded as another valid option for introducing solids.

I get asked quite a bit about our experience with BLW, especially now I have gone through it with three kids, so I thought I would collate my thoughts and experiences into one long-winded handy post. Plus, it will be nice to have a collection of thoughts and images for me to look back on too. So here 'tis.... (warning.... it will be looooong!).

After reading the aforementioned article, I bought the book Baby Led Weaning by Gil Rapley as I wanted to fully understand the concept and theory before launching in. I am so glad I bought it, although it was very expensive back then and my dear husband did enquire whether the pages were lined with gold (sadly, no! haha). But it is a fantastic book explaining not only the theory and principles behind BLW but also includes lots of practical information. So if you are reading this, and interested in doing Baby Led Weaning with your little one, I highly recommend you get hold of this book! If you are anything like me, you want to really understand the 'why' of the method to commit to it fully. It really is about much more than just giving 'finger food' instead of purees.

Hooray for an excuse to post baby pics of Lily :) Here she is at 6 months, trying solids for the very first time!
Seriously, I could eat her right up. Nom, nom, nom.

I should add in a little disclaimer that I do not think BLW is the ONLY/RIGHT/SUPERIOR way to feed your baby! You can feed your little beloved however and whenever you feel is best :) This is a parents' prerogative :) This post is just what it's about, why it was right for us and how we decided to go about it. Just wanted to make that clear! 

Yes, two hands, Mama!

What IS BLW anyway??!

Baby Led Weaning is an approach to introducing solids to babies. The idea is basically that you trust the baby to feed themselves what they are ready to eat. You present food options to them, but let them work out how to pick it up, how to eat it, and how much to eat. It is starting off solids with only finger foods, no purees. 

I might add that doing a combo of purees and finger foods is a great way to have 'the best of both worlds' if you want to go that way (and many do!), but that would not really be called Baby Led Weaning. BLW is a whole philosophy and approach that means avoiding purees altogether for various reasons. Combining the two is an early introduction of finger foods.Call me a pedant, but I just had to clarify that :) 

While I am getting my 2 cents in, I will also say the name BLW is rather unfortunate and misleading as many think it has something to do with letting baby decide when to stop breastfeeding. But it was named in Britain where 'weaning' alludes more to introducing solids, rather than 'cutting down/stopping breastfeeding' as it's usually thought of in Australia and the USA. As a PR gal, I cringe at the misleading name and would much rather it was called Baby Led Solids or Baby Self Feeding but alas, the name has stuck and so we gotta roll with it :)

Little Lily making a mess!

Why we do BLW

The theory behind BLW just made sense to me. When starting solids at six months, (as is still currently recommended by AAP, ABA and WHO, etc), a baby is developmentally able to pick up, hold and chew their own foods. Purees were really developed for much younger babies (4 months or even younger!) so why bother 'going backwards' to purees if starting at six months?

After thankfully being able to exclusively breastfeed (EBF) all three of my babies, I also liked the way BLW continued that relationship - just as with breastfeeding, you don't force, control or even really know exactly what they are getting! You just present the food/milk at the times you think best and trust/let them decide how much they need. Which also aligns with my general family food philosophy of 'listening to your body' (but  that's yet another post!!). I know there are circumstances with both solids and milk feeds where things have to be watched more closely or done differently, but I am talking about in a generally healthy, happy, weight-gaining baby.

I love how it introduces real food, makes the child part of the family meal and keeps it simple (no stress preparing and spooning in purees etc). Other benefits of BLW can be reducing food allergies, a wide and varied diet, increased fine motor skills, and a healthy food relationship. It just suits our family so well for all these reasons and more.

Ahh, the nose scrunch face I remember so well :)

When we do BLW

I have always started exactly at six months on the dot. It doesn't have to be so precise - we just never felt like they needed to start earlier and it was a nice way to celebrate/mark that six month milestone by setting up the highchair and inviting bub to be part of meal time!

I do think there is some wiggle room of a couple weeks or so on either side of this date. It's a guideline but use your own judgement. I wouldn't start too much earlier than six months though, personally. Hand/mouth coordination will build quickly through practise so don't worry if your baby doesn't seem able to pick things up so confidently yet! I should add that there is no need to start much earlier just because your baby is staring in wonder at your food or even trying to grab it. That is a natural reaction to you (amazing you) interacting with basically any object! I guarantee if you were juggling knives or waving around burning matches they would also be fascinated and want to take part ;)

Eli delves into corn on the cob, on one of his first eating ventures at 6 months (right after we moved into our house - excuse the crazy mess behind!)

HOW we do BLW

First of all - the set up. Yes, it gets gloriously messy, so you want to have a good set up to minimise that! Our winning combo, streamlined after three kids is thus:

  • Ikea highchair. Cheap, easy to clean, simple to set up. It's a winner!
  • Ikea highchair insert. A padded rectangular piece that inserts into chair seat and 'fills the gaps' for little babies. This is fantastic for little ones as it keeps them steady in the chair and has the added bonus of stopping them being able to drop so much food down their front or sides! We throw ours in the wash regularly. My mother in law made us a second one with foam covered in material, or you could also just used a folded up towel
  • Smock (Ikea or similar) - this protects clothes, especially sleeves! We don't use that much these days, but can be handy.
  • Scoop Bib - The smock is optional but the scoop bib is essential. Using both, just put the scoop bib over the smock. The scoop bib catches lots of dropped pieces and an older baby soon works out how to fish those out for a second course ;)
  • Drop sheet - Food will fairly regularly be accidentally flung or dropped to the floor. If you are lucky enough to have a dog, let them help with clean up! ;) Some people use plastic 'splat mats' and we started off with shower curtains too but ultimately found sheets were best. I used a collection of flat cot sheets (cos I had no other use for them!!!) and also cut up old bed sheets. I preferred these because it meant that dropped food still in good shape could be quickly picked up and put back on the tray. After a meal (or at the end of the day, let's be realistic!), any mess could be flicked outside or into the sink, and when the sheet gets grubby, it gets tossed in the wash. I prefer a washable sheet over a plastic mat I had to get onto my knees to wipe and clean - but that's just my preference!

The idea with BLW is that you simply place good, appropriate food choices on the high chair tray. And that's it. Haha - but seriously, that is it. Let them decide what to eat, how to eat, and how much to eat. Initially they may ignore it, knock it off the tray or even devour the lot in one go. But you kinda just trust that if they are hungry and developmentally ready to eat - then they will! Some kids will just play/explore for days or even weeks. Some start actually consuming (as evidenced by the nappies/diaper the next day) from the first opportunity. Every kid is different but it's a matter of stepping back and letting them lead. Try not to stress, coax, hover or feed. Just enjoy your meal and let them enjoy theirs! Soon they will start picking up the food and working out how to get it into those tiny mouths. It is truly fascinating and wonderful to watch. Clever babies! 

Hungry boy needed plenty of options ;)
PS Wow, these old photos are reminding me how many changes we have made to this house - old wall
heater and fireplace are now long gone!

But won't my baby choke??

Some parents get concerned about choking. Again... the book explains this in better detail, but basically, if a baby is allowed to control the food themselves, they actually do a great job at not choking themselves! A baby's natural gag reflex - which pushes food out of the airway - is easily mistaken for choking but they are not the same thing.

There is a BIG difference between choking and gagging. As the mantra goes - red is good, blue is bad. If they are red faced, gagging, spluttering and spitting - DON'T WORRY (or at least, try your best to not LOOK worried as they will surely pick up on your stress even if they aren't actually in danger!!!). Just watch closely but try to look cool about it ;) Numerous times I have seen my kids gag, spit something up and then happily continue eating without missing a beat. Unphased. This is because babies gag reflex is actually MUCH closer to the front of the mouth at this age. Not right at the back of the throat like an adult's is. God is pretty clever with His design, huh? ;) So they gag when the food is only half way down, which is teaching them to safely manage food in their mouths without being in actual danger of choking - it's just an inbuilt safety mechanism they were designed with. As an aside, purees actually over ride this safety control, because they are sucked to the back of the throat from a spoon. 

Anyway, gagging is fine, just part of them working it out. Actual choking is when the airway is blocked - they go blue in the face, SILENT - because their airways are blocked. This is serious and urgent and you immediately realise the difference between choking and gagging - two horrifying worlds apart. This is when you grab them out of their highchair (if they aren't coughing it up themselves), put them face down and upside down over your knee and give a few firm blows to the back. (I am no medical expert - see here for method).

This only happened to me once, when Lily was about a year old (so, when she would have been on finger foods anyway even if she had done purees). It was super scary but she was thankfully fine. 

All in all, a child who can confidently learn to manage their own food is going to be less likely to choke because they so quickly become adept at managing their food safely before the gag reflex moves to the back of the throat.

Miles was so excited to tuck in!

WHAT we eat with BLW

Of course, the BLW answeer is 'anything' ;) but generally we have started off the first few weeks with fairly standard 'first foods' in easy to eat finger-food style. As a sentimental mama, all three of my kids have started off with the same first foods - sticks of steamed broccoli and avocado! 

The key is to initially offer food in long stick/wedge shape so it's easy for them to hold and eat. At six months they developmentally can't yet open their hands to eat what's held inside (awww, so cute), so if they hold longish sticks of food, they can more easily munch off the top, like with a broccoli stalk.

My kids quickly got introduced to other foods like sweet potato, potato, steak and chicken strips, watermelon, rockmelon, banana, rice cakes, roast carrots, and so on. Once the pincer grip develops (around 8-9 months), a whole world of other foods open up too like sultanas, pasta, etc. Pretty much, whatever we are eating can be offered - and as is my general way - I try not to judge what they would or wouldn't like - just offer it and let them try it and decide for themselves! (and yes, that includes spicy stuff too). I just avoid sugar and processed foods. 

'Mum, can't you see I'm eating here??'

Any downsides to BLW?

Ummm, the mess :) It can get messy when baby is experimenting and accidentally dropping and squooshing and so forth... but I promise you the cuteness and the sheer delight in seeing your baby explore and enjoy food is well worth it!

The Benefits of BLW

One of the core foundations of BLW is starting off a healthy, happy 'real' food relationship for life. I really think it does help create an adventurous eater with a diverse palate. Now having a 5 yr old, 3 yr old and 10 month old, I can say that it looks to be working out that way so far! My three are great eaters. Their palates do tend to naturally narrow and expand through certain phases as taste buds develop (and they have a couple foods they don't prefer), but they still eat widely and happily. We don't do 'kid food' - they have always just eaten what we eat - and often more than we eat, haha! 

Watching them explore, taste, and relish a wide range of food options from a very young age has been a wonderful thing to watch unfold! We have been thrilled with BLW as part of our baby days and can't imagine doing it any other way! (Ummmm, probably just because I haven't actually done it any other way, haha). Other benefits have been great fine motor skills practise, dexterity and a general independence in eating. Not to mention all that time saved from having to sit and spoon feed (and blend!). 

I love having our babies welcomed as part of family meal time. They eat when we eat, and they eat basically what we eat. No stress, no fuss, no pressure - just a happy, easy, part of family life. This really gels with how our family usually rolls, so that's I guess why it's worked so well for us. Again, BLW is obviously not the only way and may not even work so well in every family or for every kid... I am not speaking for all! But for our little three, it has been a really wonderful way to introduce the wonderful world of food to little hands and tummies!

Well, this is long-winded without doubt, but just wanted to record all the ins and outs in one place. If I have forgotten any salient points, I will add to it over time, so feel free to ask questions if you have any! I keep thinking of extras to add but this will be longer than War and Peace: The BLW Edition, if I don't wrap up for now!!!

All in all, in case it's not kinda obvious, we love BLW :) Easy, messy, food-loving fun which in my experience leads to adventurous, non-fussy, stress-free eating!

Have you tried it in your family? How did it go for you and your baby? Or are you thinking about it for your little one? Do share!


  1. Great post, Kate! After reading I realize we used BLW with Matilda but I didn't know it had a name! At 5 months she became curious about the summer fruit we were enjoying, would grab it from me or stick her face on it!
    This was her first food experience and I recall my Dad thinking it was just beautiful and my Mum getting very stressed about me not doing things in the "correct" order. But it just sat right with me. Since then she has just gone for what she's interested in, really ;)
    Interested to know if any of your kids skip a meal now they are older?
    Matilda often skips dinner, although it's always offered. And totally pigs out at breakfast. I have little doubt this is due to her food upbringing...

    1. that's awesome Annika :) yes i think a LOT of people just naturally fall into BLW bc it just feels instinctive, right or what the baby simply insists on!!!! well done to you for following her lead and your own amazing instincts! the 'trend' is recent but the concept has been around forever i think.

      as for skipping meals... yes, sometimes. and VERY common for little ones to eat heaps at brekkie and little at dinner - after all, they have often been eating all day! especially the younger they are, it doesnt phase me at all and I dont make a big deal of it - no coaxing or stressing. Just offer whatever you planned for dinner, let them eat or not eat... and if they don't, i dont offer anything else and am pretty sure they will extra enjoy dinner haha. Usually just a phase or random thing. if it became frequent in an older kid I might do things a bit different (eg cut back on snacks in the day time etc). goodness, Matilda was looking super cute today too! xx

  2. A fabulous post! I've pinned it!!

    1. you pinned me?! *blush* that's like the ultimate bloggin' compliment, heehe - thanks! :) so glad you found it helpful x


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