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BABY LED WEANING AND BREASTFEEDING – ANSWERS TO ALL YOUR QUESTIONS

There will come a day when your breastfed baby will be ready to start eating solid foods. There are different ways to approach this new phase in your baby’s diet. One method is called baby led weaning and has become popular as a method of introducing solid foods. 

baby eating with baby led weaning method

This way of transitioning a child to eating regular food is also called BLW.

Keep reading if you want to know if you should try BLW. I will tell you everything you need to know about baby led weaning and breastfeeding.

WHAT IS BABY LED WEANING?

Traditionally the introduction of solid foods has involved first offering baby cereals mixed with milk or water. The bland concoction often ended up being little more than thickened milk that did not add anything new and exciting to an infant’s diet.

Baby boy in a green shirt looking bored resting his head on his hand
Portrait of a cute and pensive little boy support his head with hand, isolated over white

Typically the next foods offered are usually pureed vegetables, fruit, and meat. It is not until the final stage that finger food such as bread, crackers, pasta are offered.

The reason that pureed baby foods were invented was partially due to the fact that solids started being introduced at an inappropriately early age. Babies were not developmentally ready for them, and pureeing them made it less of a choking risk. 

The baby led weaning method of introducing solids skips the phase where pureed foods are offered to a child by an adult. The adult holds the spoon of food and feeds it to the baby.

With the BLW approach, babies instead eat regular foods from their own plates. They get more exposure to textures and flavors than babies who are fed purees. They also have better control over what goes into their mouth.

They learn to use utensils like a spoon or fork. The Bumpkins Chewtensils are designed especially for babies who are just starting to use these eating tools. They are made of silicone and are BPA free. They are perfect for your little one’s little hands.

There is no set time limit on how long you wait before adding new foods when beginning baby-led weaning. Some parents choose to introduce one type of food per week, while others introduce multiple types every single meal.

For example, some mothers may offer fruits first, then meats, followed by veggies, and finally grains. Alternatively, a mom may serve her baby the same thing that the rest of the family is eating for that meal.

IS IT REALLY WEANING?

You might say that the name, baby led weaning is a bit of a misnomer. It is more about introducing your child to solids than weaning.

However, there is the line of thought that introducing any food other than milk is the beginning of the weaning process. So once you introduce solid foods, you have essentially started the weaning process. 

Some use the terms baby led weaning interchangeably with child led weaning. Child led weaning actually refers to letting a child decide when they want to stop breastfeeding. That is an alternative to mother led weaning, where the mother chooses to end the breastfeeding relationship.

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BABY LED WEANING PROS AND CONS

Some of the benefits of baby led weaning include:

  • Your child gets exposed to all kinds of tastes and textures
  • They can make choices about which foods they would prefer
  • It gives children practice eating independently
  • Children learn self-control and independence
  • It helps your child develop their fine motor and oral skills
  • You don’t have to buy special foods
  • If your little gourmet doesn’t like what is offered, you don’t have to throw away a whole jar of pureed baby food
  • If you are thinking about pureeing the foods yourself, you will be investing both the food and the time preparing something your kiddo might not eat.
  • This results in less waste and money saved
  • Babies enjoy trying new things
African-American girl eating salad
Cute African-American girl eating vegetable salad at table in room

CONS OF BABY LED WEANING

Skipping directly to regular food is not endorsed by everyone. There are some concerns regarding this approach.

  • Safety is often presented as an argument against BLW. Giving certain foods to babies before they are able to eat them could lead to problems. This could lead to gagging, vomiting, and potentially choking.
  • Offering foods that have multiple ingredients can make it challenging to identify foods that have caused an allergic reaction or food intolerance.
  • There is also concern that giving too many different foods in too short an amount of time will cause confusion and overwhelm the digestive system.

The idea behind baby led weaning is to expose infants to lots of variety but not overload them. 

WHEN TO START BLW

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of age and continued for at least a year with the addition of complementary foods.

Around six months is usually when your little one will start to show signs of readiness for solid foods (Source). The following are some common signs of readiness:

  • Your child has good head control
  • Your baby can sit up unassisted
  • She watches you very closely when you eat
  • He may try to grab food from your plate
  • She puts everything into her mouth
  • He no longer pushes things out of her mouth with her tongue – this is called the tongue-thrust reflex.
Baby in blue outfit sitting up looking up

MYTHS ON WHEN TO START SOLIDS

As I mentioned before, there was a time when solids were started inappropriately early. There remain some myths out there about when a baby needs solids.

  • A baby who has doubled their birth weight
  • Ther baby who is not gaining weight at a normal rate
  • Once a baby has teeth
  • A baby who is drinking a certain amount of milk per day

One of the primary reasons it is recommended that solids should be started at six months is that most babies are developmentally ready. If solids are not introduced, there is the possibility that you may miss that window, and a child may be less receptive when they are older

HOW TO START BABY LED WEANING

When you decide the time is right to introduce solids, here’s how to do it safely.

There are different ways to do baby led weaning. First, you must choose which approach you want to follow.

Some mothers just put some of whatever they are eating in front of their baby. Other moms prefer to start slowly.

If you want to start slowly, here are some guidelines:

  • Introduce just one food at a time. It is often recommended to start with vegetables instead of fruits. The thought is if sweet foods are offered first, then a child will be less interested in veggies.
  • The one food at a time method will make it easier to identify an allergic response, should one occur. 
  • Wait several days before introducing the next food.
  • The goal is to expose your child to a variety of foods.
  • Choose healthy foods. 
  • To make the process easier, you can use the foods you are preparing for yourself or the rest of the family.
  • Start with one solid meal per day.
  • Soft finger foods like ripe fruits, vegetables, or scrambled eggs are an excellent place to start.
  • Let your little one decide what foods they want and how much they want to eat. The baby will stop eating or may start throwing food on the floor if he’s had enough.
  • If your baby is enthusiastic about solids and tolerating them well, you can increase the number of times you offer them. 
  • Avoid hard foods or crunchy things. Raw apple pieces or sliced carrots are not good, but the same foods can be grated or cooked until soft. 
  • Make sure nothing offered is a choking hazard.

When starting solids, it is important to remember that all children develop differently. Some kiddos are enthusiastic about new tastes and textures. Others may be more hesitant.

BREASTFEEDING AND INTRODUCING SOLIDS

At six months, solids are not meant to replace breastfeeding. Nursing is still your baby’s primary source of nutrition. 

You will want to breastfeed first and offer solids either right after or in about 20-30 minutes.  This way, your little gourmet won’t get full-on solids and then not be interested in breastfeeding.

mother breastfeeding before baby lead weaning and breastfeeding
blonde two years age baby with pigtails breastfeeding woman mother white jersey sitting in restaurant table

CONTINUING  BREASTFEEDING WHEN BABY LED WEANING 

You will still be breastfeeding the same number of times each day when you start BLW. Over the next several months, this will gradually change. By about nine to twelve months, things will begin to shift. Solids will become a more significant source of your baby’s nutrition.

At around nine months baby has developed the “pincer grasp” and can pick up small pieces of food with his thumb and forefinger.  Foods like peas, blueberries, banana chunks, and diced carrots are ideal to help him master this skill.

Even as she starts to eat more solids, your breast milk continues to be a valuable source of nutrition through her first year.

Breastfeeding beyond a year continues to provide protection against infections, allergies, asthma, diabetes, obesity, ear infection, diarrhea, pneumonia, otitis media, reflux, colic, constipation. It also provides moms with protection. 

BEST FOODS FOR BLW

One of the benefits of BLW is to seamlessly transition your baby to what everyone else in the family is eating. When deciding what foods to offer, think about what you like to eat. Add those foods to your menus and cook them in a manner that will make them safe for your little one.

mother offering baby a banana
Happy and smiling mom makes your beautiful child baby eat banana for a balanced diet rich in vitamins and minerals, sitting at home between pillows and plush toys, healthy and cared for growth concept
  • Steamed or roasted cauliflower 
  • Roasted sweet potato wedges
  • Ripe mango chunks
  • Avocado chunks – you can progress this to avocado toast 
  • Shredded chicken or small pieces of roasted chicken
  • Ripe melon
  • Small meatballs
  • Scrambled or hard-boiled eggs
  • Steamed zucchini
  • Banana chinks
  • Sliced ripe strawberries

BLW FOODS TO AVOID

The types of foods to avoid will change as your baby gets older.

You will want to avoid foods that are a choking hazard:

  • Hard foods like raw apple chunks
  • Hot dog slices
  • Nut butters
  • Nuts

Some other foods should be avoided until the first birthday.

  • Honey can be dangerous for a baby under one year of age.
  • Before a year, any milk should be breast milk or infant formula.

BABY LED WEANING FOODS BY AGE

Start with soft foods that your child can pick up by themself. As they master these types of foods, you can start to offer firmer foods.

Let your baby be your guide. If you offer pieces a saltine cracker and they gag, wait a few weeks before offering something like that again.

As baby gets older and has tried more things you can start combining foods. Pasta in marinara or a tender beef stew are some options.

The beauty of BLW is that you don’t have to prepare special recipes for your child. However, if you are looking for some kid-friendly recipes The Baby-Led Weaning Family Cookbook has some excellent family meal ideas.

BABY LED WEANING AND GAGGING

In the first few weeks of baby-led weaning, gagging is not uncommon as your baby tries to maneuver the pieces of food in her mouth. While it can be scary, remember that gagging is a safety response when foods have moved too far back into the mouth. It is not the same thing as choking.

A baby who is gagging is managing the situation. If a child is choking, they will look panicked, and they won’t be making any noises, or if they can make sounds, it will be a gasping or wheezing sound. They will probably put their hands up to their neck. 

Whereas a child who is gagging can cough and may make noise.

If your child is only gagging, give him time to handle the situation and get the food in a more comfortable place. 

If gagging occurs a second time with the same sized piece of food, you might try a softer food or cutting it into smaller pieces.

Avoid or cut up foods that are choking hazards.

  • Nuts
  • Whole cherries
  • Whole grapes
  • Whole cherry tomatoes
  • Chunks of raw vegetables
  • Raw apple slices
  • Dried fruit
  • Hot dogs sliced into rounds
  • Popcorn
  • Snack foods like chips, pretzels, or granola bars.

OTHER BABY LED WEANING PROBLEMS

When you start introducing new foods, there is the possibility of an allergic reaction to any new food.

Things have changed over the years in terms of attempting to prevent food allergies. They no longer recommend holding back certain foods.

If you have a strong family history of food allergies, have a discussion with your baby’s health care provider about introducing solids.

Signs Of A Food Allergy

  • Hives – red bumps or welts on the skin
  • Swelling of the skin
  • Swelling of the tongue
  • Sneezing,
  • Wheezing
  • Throat feels tight 
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If your child has any of these signs, you should call their health care provider or 911.

There are also symptoms that indicate a food intolerance. Some of these are the same as food allergy symptoms. 

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Rashes, including diaper rash
  • Fussiness

If you have any questions or concerns about your child’s reaction to a new food, don’t hesitate to call their health care provider.

BABY LED WEANING SAFETY

In addition to avoiding foods that are choking hazards, these are some additional safety guidelines for BLW.

  • Feed your baby only when he is sitting upright in his high chair.
  • Don’t let your baby eat alone. You want to always to supervise your little one’s mealtimes.
  • If your baby is in someone else’s care for a meal, make sure they know what foods and what form or preparation they can eat. 
Baby sitting in high chair feeding himself pasta and vegetables
Baby sitting on his high chair eats by himself with a tasteful face.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON BABY LED WEANING AND BREASTFEEDING

Most parents look forward to this new phase of having a child. You get to introduce your favorite foods. You get to experience your baby’s different reactions to this novel experience. 

Often with solids, it can be two steps forward and one step back. Whether you have a gourmet or a picky eater, it will be an adventure. 

If you start this new journey at around six months of age, breastfeeding is still essential for your baby’s nutrition. 

Good luck as you enter this new and exciting phase of your baby’s nutrition journey!

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