Baby-led weaning (BLW) means forgetting purees and weaning spoons, and simply letting your baby feed himself.
Many parents follow BLW without even thinking about it. This is particularly the case with second or later children. Babies love to copy their older siblings. They often try to grab food from other children's plates, happy to feed themselves just like their big brother or sister does.
If you would like to try BLW, offer your baby a selection of nutritious finger foods suitable for his age. The best time to do this is when you and your family are eating. It's a great way for him to join in at mealtimes.
The easiest finger foods for young babies are those that are chip-shaped, or have a natural handle, such as cooked broccoli spears. This is because when your baby first tries solids, he won't yet have developed a pincer grip. The pincer grip enables him to pick up food between his thumb and forefinger, and he'll develop it in the next few months. But for now, he can only clasp foods in his fists.
At first, your baby may just play with the food. He may grab pieces of food with his fist and start to suck on them. Carry on giving your baby breastmilk or formula milk in between mealtimes. As your baby gradually eats more solids, the number of milk feeds will start to decrease.
BLW gives babies the chance to explore foods for themselves. It means they can cope with different food textures from the beginning of weaning.
Parents who have tried BLW are generally passionate about its benefits. They say their babies will eat anything and everything, which helps to take the worry out of starting solids. But although there's plenty of anecdotal evidence about BLW, not much formal research has been done.
However, one study did find that babies who are allowed to feed themselves from the beginning of weaning are more likely to:
Another study found that BLW encourages babies to choose healthier foods, which could protect against obesity in childhood.
We do know that, as long as your baby is ready, it's important to give him foods with soft lumps for him to chew. Babies who are given lumpy food later on, after they're 10 months old, are more likely to reject the food. They may be less open to trying new textures and tastes as they grow.
BLW will save you preparation time, too. You won't have to spend time making up purees.
Even the most ardent of BLW fans agree that the process is very messy, and there is a lot of waste. If most of your baby's food ends up on the floor, there may be a limit to the number of nutrients he can get from his food.
Babies may find it hard to chew on some finger foods, such as well-cooked meat, which is a good source of iron. From six months, your baby starts to need iron from food, as breastmilk alone won't give him enough.
Puréed or well-mashed food is an obvious bridge between liquid and solid foods. It's easy for you to see how much your baby is eating if you spoon-feed him. By six months, babies can take food off a spoon using their upper lip, rather than sucking the food off. By eight months, babies can chew and swallow foods with lumps.
The official advice is to give your baby well-mashed or pureed foods at the beginning of weaning, as well as finger food. The Department of Health, the European Union, and the World Health Organisation all recommend this.
Dietitians also tend to think it's important to give your baby a variety of textures, which includes sloppy foods as well as finger foods.
It's perfectly understandable to worry about your baby choking or gagging when he is trying to eat whole foods. Supporters of BLW argue that as long as babies can sit upright, they should be fine.
The fact that babies can handle and control the amount they eat, and move it to the back of their mouths when they're ready, means the risk of choking is minimal. Remember that babies should never be left alone when eating. It’s important to offer soft foods to your baby and avoid hard ones, such as chunks of raw apple, until he's older.
Most parents who have tried BLW have breastfed their children and see it as a natural extension of the breastfeeding process. If your baby is breastfed, he needs to work hard at it, using his jaw and tongue to latch on properly and get at your milk. The muscles he uses to breastfeed may give him a head start at learning to chew.
Another factor that may make breastfed babies take more easily to BLW is to do with feeding on demand. Babies who are breastfed on demand are able to regulate their calorie intake as and when they need it. BLW is simply an extension of this nutritional self-regulation.
However, there does not seem to be any reason why a bottle-fed baby couldn't start solids in this way. Offer your baby drinks of cooled, boiled water in between milk feeds and at mealtimes.
Talk to your health visitor or GP before trying BLW if any of the following apply to you: