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Parenting is a never-ending learning process. No matter what age our kids are, we’re always learning how to care for and protect them. When it comes to your little one reaching the age where they can start eating solid foods, there are many ways you can start to introduce solids into their diet. In this post, you’ll get an introduction to all things baby-led weaning, including tips and the best baby-led weaning foods for your infant.
What Is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning, or BLW, is a technique of introducing your baby to solid foods that allows your baby choose what to eat. It’s a technique coined by parenting expert Gill Rapley, who has written the book Baby Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Food.
The premise of baby-led weaning is a simple.
You let your baby start to eat solid foods on their own terms. Of course, they’ll still be having breast milk or formula alongside eating whole foods. It’s different than the traditional approach which relies more heavily on baby food purees. Typically baby led weaning foods involves you providing your baby with some finger foods, and baby food that they can start to eat, suck (and often play with!)
The idea is that your baby is introduced to solid foods in a way that allows them to explore and have fun with food. As parents, we know just how curious infants can be, and food can also be an adventure for them. Keeping things fun and stress-free, which is totally possible with BLW, can make weaning your baby off breast milk or formula that much easier. It’s a great way to naturally transition baby to solid foods on their own terms.
When Can I Start Baby Led Weaning?
The best time to start introducing solid foods is around 6 months of age, but a good rule of thumb is when they can sit up unsupported and move their jaw up and down. Enjoy family meals while baby joins with the rest of the family during mealtime!
Signs of Readiness Include:
- Baby is interested in food and in watching you eat
- When you give them food, baby’s mouth is able to move the food around and gum the food instead of spitting it out (the tongue-thrust reflex is gone)
- Your baby is growing well and weight gain isn’t a concern
- More developed fine motor skills and a developing pincer grasp
Benefits of Baby Led Weaning
It Creates a Positive Relationship with Food
Although it might seem premature, it’s never too early to think about your baby’s relationship with food. BLW helps your little one familiarize themselves with different tastes and textures early on, helps make kids into more adventurous eaters, and makes food a positive, fun experience from the beginning!
They’ll Still be Getting All the Right Nutrients
Making sure your baby gets all the nutrients they need to grow up strong and healthy is an understandable concern for all parents, but as BLW will be happening alongside breastfeeding or bottle-feeding, they’ll have all the nutrients they need from that. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is safe, and healthy to follow this feeding technique.
Takes the Pain Out of Family Mealtime
BLW is not just great for your baby, but it’s also easier on parents! By letting your baby take the lead, you won’t be stuck in cycles of trying to convince them to eat if they don’t want to. It’s also helpful in preempting any picky eaters / picky eating habits that might develop in the future since you’re following baby’s cues and giving them a variety of foods from the start! It can be frustrating, but each baby is different and it’s important to let them set the tone with food.
Tips For Making Baby Led Weaning Easy
Choose Manageable Healthy Foods
Babies of around 6 months can’t pick things up with their thumb and index finger in the pincer grasp that older kids and adults can. This means you need to choose age-appropriate foods — the finger food you give them needs to soft, and be cut into shapes that they can easily pick up in their whole palm. It’s a good idea to give small pieces, and a small amount of food to start. Try different textures and flavors. Place on the tray of your child’s high chair, so they have easy access to their food.
Don’t Panic if They Gag
No parent wants to see their child in distress, but if your child gags while getting used to solid foods the first time, it really isn’t as bad as it looks or sounds. Infants need to learn how to eat solid foods properly, and with them feeding themselves and getting used to the sensation of solid foods and them having to chew and swallow it themselves, it’s inevitable that they might gag. But this is actually a crucial part of them understanding how to eat properly.
Know Your First Aid
Although your infant will be fine as they explore the world of solid food, it’s always good to be prepared. Knowing infant first aid such as the infant version of the Heimlich maneuver will ensure that you can help your child in the event of them choking on food. However, this is most easily avoided by providing them with soft, cooked foods so that they don’t choke.
It’s also important to note that while you might want your child to start eating solid foods, they might not want to! And that’s okay, because each child is different, and they’ll come around eventually. So if they seem frustrated or uninterested in solid foods, it’s nothing to worry about. Simply take a break and reintroduce the process a few days or weeks later. Eventually, it’ll take and your baby will be eating solid foods before you know it!
Although BLW is great for your baby, this isn’t to say you can’t also feed them puréed food alongside solid foods. I like to make homemade purees and smoothies that are packed full of nutrients.
Don’t Leave Them Unattended
This is an obvious one, but it’s still worth mentioning. Make sure you’re sitting with your baby while they eat to ensure they’re safe. Plus, you can see what they prefer and enjoy.
6 Best First Foods for Baby-Led Weaning
The following are great soft foods baby can handle, swallow and digest for your baby. Choose real food, and stay away from the processed foods you’ll see in the baby aisle of the store. Using a crinkle cutter is a simple way to chop foods into bite sized pieces perfect for baby to grasp!
Vegetables are perfect for babies as they’re full of nutrients and vitamins. Some of my kids’ favorite first foods were soft, sweeter veggies! Veggies like broccoli, green beans, butternut squash and carrots cut into smaller pieces are great to start with. Of course, just make sure any vegetables you use are steamed or cooked until soft. Avoid slippery foods that can make it more difficult for baby to grasp.
From mango to avocado and banana, fruits are wonderful foods for your baby to get familiar with. Opt for softer fruits, and if you want to give them harder fruits like apples, remember to cook them down until soft and cooled.
You can give your little one turkey, chicken and even meatier flaky fish like salmon, so long as they are cooked, soft and shredded. These proteins provide healthy fats baby needs!
Go for larger pasta shapes that won’t be a choking hazard, such as tagliatelle or ravioli with a simple tomato filling. You can also choose wholewheat or spelt pasta for a healthier option.
Eggs and egg yolks are super versatile and are great as baby-led weaning first foods. You can boil them and cut them in half, or make omelet strips, which you can find out how to make in the baby-led weaning recipes section below!
Sweet potatoes and regular potatoes alike are a good option for your baby, and can be fashioned into fries or wedges.
What to Avoid
There are a lot of great BLW foods, but there are still some that pose a threat to your baby and should be avoided. The most important thing to avoid when choosing which foods to offer your baby is choking hazards. This includes anything that is hard and small that could get lodged or stuck in their throats that they could potentially choke on. This includes:
- Raw vegetables
- Hard, uncooked fruits such as apples
- Large amounts of nut butters
- Whole nuts and seeds
- Round foods like whole grapes
- Sticky foods and anything with sugar
- Plain cow’s milk (cow’s milk yogurt or cheese are ok though!)
You should also avoid giving your baby anything with added sugar and cooking with salt if you’re making dishes yourself.
How do I introduce new foods with baby led weaning?
As with the traditional introduction of solid foods, you’ll want to introduce one new food every 2-3 days, to check for any food allergies or reactions before adding a new food. Be sure to offer water with your baby’s meals as well. Typically, I recommend spacing your baby’s meals in between milk feeds – to ensure they’re hungry and ready to eat!
What if my baby looks like they are choking or gagging?
The key is don’t panic! Baby led weaning will often cause your baby to gag because a piece of food triggers their gag reflex and they’re not expecting it. Make sure you are trained in baby CPR just in case your baby is truly choking (this is very rare though).
Gagging just means your baby is attempting to chew the food and move it around in their mouth – which is a good thing! If you are concerned about gagging, I recommend mashing the foods for your baby to pick up and eat, or offering purees first.
How Do I Cut Foods For BLW?
You’ll want to cut everything into pieces of food that can be easily gummed or palmed (or as your baby gets older, picked up with the pincer grasp). But you don’t want the food to be so small that your baby can put the entire piece in their mouth.
A good rule of thumb is giving pieces of food about 3-4 inches long and 1/4 inch thick. The bigger the size, the less likely your baby will choke on it since they will have to bite it to get small pieces into their mouth.
Will my baby get enough food with BLW?
The BLW method is more focused on exploring and tasting food than quantity of food. And in the first year, breastmilk and/or formula is still going to be your baby’s main source of nutrition. The key is to just let your baby eat at their own pace, following their cues to indicate when they are full.
Do I have to exclusively do Baby led weaning, or can I use purees too?
You can absolutely use purees, in fact, I recommend it! I like giving babies a mix of finger foods (BLW) and purees (to get more food in them and for more nutrition) when they’re starting to eat. That way they get the experience of both textures, and can experience being fed with a spoon and self-feeding with their hands as well.
How do babies chew without teeth when starting baby led weaning?
Interestingly enough, babies don’t need teeth to chew! Their gums are super strong and can be used to “chew” just about any soft food!
How do I know when my baby is full?
Your baby will let you know by pushing the food away, blocking their mouth with their hands, playing way more with the food (vs. eating it), or becoming restless.
A lot of baby-led weaning starter foods don’t need much cooking, apart from steaming or roasting. And the best part is, you can turn just about any regular recipe into a BLW recipe, which means you won’t have to cook different meals for each person in your whole family! You’ll just need to cut up the “adult” sized portion into a mini strips or chunks for your baby to eat.
Once you’ve introduced single foods to your baby – via baby led weaning or baby food purees, you can start the introduction of complementary foods, and then put together mini meals for your baby! Here are some of my favorite meal ideas for baby led weaning.
In addition to fruit purees, and “baby smoothies”, I love making pancakes, oatmeal, and healthy muffins/cookies for breakfast!
Here are some great baby led weaning breakfast recipes to choose from:
Mashed veggies on toast is one of my favorite lunch recipes for babies! Avocado is a great option since it has healthy fats and sticks to the toast well. You can just slice the toast into strips before giving it to your little one.
Other fun lunch recipes for BLW include:
Snacks for BLW
I love roasting veggies for baby led weaning snacks! Some of my favorites include:
You can pretty much give your baby anything you’re making for dinner! Just make sure it’s either mashed up, pureed or cut up so your baby can chew and eat it without choking. My kids loved this taco casserole and these chilaquiles when they were little (and they still do!)
Other great options include dahl, different curries and pureed soups!
And there you have it – everything you need to start choosing baby-led weaning foods for your infant! I hope this helps you decide how to introduce your baby to new foods!
More Baby Food Recipes!
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