How I discovered and embraced Baby-Led Weaning/Feeding (BLW)

A few weeks ago I sat at the dinner table and watched Clara furrow her brow as she focused on a centimeter square piece of omelet that was sitting on her dinner tray. She reached a chubby arm and closed her dimpled hand over the egg, raking it closer, before clutching it in her tight grip and transferring it to her mouth. It took some effort, but she succeeded, and thoughtfully chewed and swallowed the omelet before looking around for more. I actually blinked back a few tears in awe and pride.

Clara is not quite six months old and is eating on her own like a little champion. She is slow, messy, and doesn’t actually ingest all that much, but gracious me, she is not picky! In fact, quite the contrary, she wants to eat everything. In solid form, too.

How did we get here? No drippy rice cereal? Brown-colored puree? Well, while I was still pregnant with Clara, my doula tipped me off to a method for introducing solids called Baby-Led Weaning, or as I like to call it, Baby Led FeedingI have no intention of weaning Clara yet, but have been supplementing her diet for a month or so now using BLW.

Baby-led feeding is the common-sense practice of giving your baby soft, palatable whole foods and letting her feed herself her first ‘bites’, while continuing to breastfeed. The theory is that babies will experiment and discover food at their own pace, as well as develop new abilities including chewing and keen hand-eye coordination.

I’ve certainly seen firsthand the benefits of skipping purees and moving straight to solids. Not only is it less work in the kitchen, but Clara is continually astounding us with her early ability to chew and participate around the dinner table. And of course I’m hoping in the long run that she’ll be open to a much wider range of food than my boys were.

What are the advantages of BLW?

Skipping purees and going straight to solid food sure sounded attractive to me, as I never enjoyed the spoon-feeding days with my boys, but I have to admit, I wondered if it would really be a success. It only took a few days for me to observe that a baby who is ready and eager to eat, as Clara was, is completely capable of handling, chewing, and eating solid foods.

In brief, here are some of the advantages of BLW versus jarred baby food/purees:

  • Baby eats what you eat. So, no extra meal prep, dishes, etc.
  • Babies are in control of what they are eating. They stop when they are full, or continue when they are hungry. There’s no (less?) power struggles.
  • Babies are more likely to be better eaters as toddlers and young children because they have been exposed to such variety of taste and texture, and been in control of their eating, from such an early age.
  • Babies feed themselves, leaving you free to use a knife and fork of your own – while supervising, of course.
  • Babies learn to chew first, and then swallow, as opposed to just letting the puree slide down, which, in my opinion, makes for a difficult transition to chunkier food and real solids.

Getting Started

Whether Clara is a budding ‘foodie’ or not, I have to credit BLW for giving me the confidence to set whole foods down in front of my tiny little girl – and allowing her to swipe an occasional slice of tomato off my plate.

We started, unofficially, at 4 months, when she tucked into an ear of corn and proceeded to give it about 20 minutes of her time. From there we moved on to chicken bones, with shreds of meat attached. I had noticed the signs of early teething, so likely the corn and the bone felt good on those sore gums; still, she was obviously interested in food. I just wasn’t sure if her tummy was ready.

By 5 months she was holding a peach and sucking the juices from it. We moved on to vegetables, some braised meats, and pancakes and her chewing improved drastically. A favorite food was oven-roasted zucchini sticks.

Hand-eye coordination and dexterity already surprised us at (almost) 6 months. She now eats as if hungry, although food is still like a toy for her and she gets most of her ‘food’ from breast milk.

Tips for Baby-Led Weaning

Watch for signs that baby is ready.

We eat together as a family every evening as a way of creating a healthy family food culture. While sitting on my lap at the dinner table, Clara would take my hand and gently redirect my fork to her mouth. It doesn’t get more obvious than that.

Other signs we noticed were:

  • intently watching others eat
  • making little noises and sucking motions with her mouth
  • drooling

BLW and a Whole Foods Diet

Families that are striving for whole foods diets are already on the right track to Baby-Led Weaning. Most of the foods on your table are suitable for baby, too, meaning they feature organic ingredients, and are for the most part, unprocessed.

What a time-saver when the entire family can sit together and eat the same dinner!

Clara’s Diet:

I’m starting slowly with Clara, so although she’s been grazing for almost two months, her diet is still limited. I’m holding off on grains (difficult to digest) save for a triangle of French Toast here and there, as well as dairy, although I may try goat yogurt soon.

I’m also waiting on very sweet fruits such as banana, blueberries and pineapple. I’d prefer if she formed an attachment with vegetables and savory flavors before going ‘bananas’, as it were, on sweeter food.

  • chicken, usually braised until soft and tender
  • beef, some steak, some ground beef (easy to pick up and chew)
  • salmon
  • peaches, pears, whole or sliced, very ripe, peeled
  • strawberries
  • broccoli, whole steamed florets
  • sweet potato, zucchini ‘fries’, baked
  • avocado
  • corn on the cob
  • carrots, roasted
  • scrambled eggs & omelets
  • French Toast, pancakes

Right now we’re waiting for Clara to be a little stronger when sitting up, and then it will be time for a whole new menu! Squash, apples, beets – fall has so many lovely foods that I can’t wait for her to try.

Here’s what a few ‘real food’ mothers have to say about Baby-Led Weaning:

Nicole, Simple Homemade.

“BLW has been super fun. I’ve been amazed at the dexterity Hallee has acquired in less than two months. I like that with BLW I am teaching my baby to put food in her mouth and chew it (or suck/gum it to start), rather than teaching her to swallow first, which is actually a little backwards if you think about it.”

Katie, Kitchen Stewardship.

“Baby-led weaning may mean that my 12-month-old eats like a carnivore who loves fruit but I’m okay with that. It feels really good and natural to trust his instincts (except when he throws food overboard onto the floor), and I haven’t missed the special cooking and reheating of “baby food cubes.” My little guy hardly ate anything until 10 months old and then had 4-5 foods he enjoyed, and I’m so glad I didn’t feel like I had to feed him so much food and so many choices. Those power struggles over the highchair tray aren’t worth it.”

Brittany, A Healthy Slice of Life.

“Hailey eats what we eat! I make sure it’s modified to fit her needs (soft, long pieces with no spices), and we can all eat together. And if we’re out? She can eat off our plate- no spooning her food! So far, I love baby led solids.”

Looking ahead

I’ve been told to expect a bit of a lull around 7-8 months as babies get over the novelty of handling and eating foods, but pick up with renewed interest around 9 months. We shall see. I think once Clara discovers how her mama can cook she won’t want to leave the table! *wink*

For me, there is no haste to make and freeze cubes and bags of frozen puree. Clara will eat what we eat and celebrate the seasons and the variety they bring. I’ll definitely be reaching for the The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook along the way.

Now, if only we had a dog to take care of the mess under the high chair…

Resources:

Comments? Questions? Experienced BLW parents, I’d LOVE your input!

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites.

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Comments

  1. Lindsay says:

    I always fed my babies like this just intuitively. I don’t know if it prevented them from being picky. I have four and they are all varying amounts of food-brave. However, they don’t turn their noses up at things without trying them and they all enjoy a healthy variety of foods. I never thought to attribute it to the way they were fed as babies, but it’s possible..

  2. Thank y’all for writing about this. “We” (my friends but he’s a communal baby) have this baby and he eats everything. The parents don’t use bottles or sippy cups or any of the baby stuff (not from the US). He is 7 months now. At 5 months he was eating regular food, all he could get his hands on. His mom and dad weren’t worried (I was, I don’t know babies except for our 7 m/o sister ). He is exclusively breastfed. At my house Sunday he was eating pizza, Doritos, avacado shake. He drinks water like a parched animal. I was worried there was something wrong with him. I seriously breath a lot better now. The only concern now is choking. His sister wasn’t orally inclined like this at all. Our 7 m/o is polydactyl and had 1 surgery all ready. I was worried his eating like a hog was something developmental. Again, thanks for posting this. I’m really glad my little dude isn’t edocrinology different.
    Now, if we could get the 3 y/o to eat (or swallow). I call her ET, and she is just so curious. She’ll take a bite and hold it in her mouth until it more or less dissolves. I’m a slow eater, but she’s not following my lead. I almost croaked a few weeks ago, we were coming home from WT’s (7 m/o) f/u ortho, we were eating and the dad half chewed her food then put it in her mouth. Like a bird. (It didn’t help, she still held it in her mouth)
    Learning about babies, as well as how babies in diff cultures are raised is fascinating.
    Thanks guys!

  3. Sorry,quick add…I know Doritos and pizza aren’t exactly amazing (or even good for him).

  4. I want to try this with our seven month old but am so concerned about choking…. Can you calm my fears?

  5. I’m so glad I stumbled upon this post! As a first-time mom, I had no idea there was another method of feeding other than jarred or homemade “baby food”. My son is 9 months old and loves to eat and is constantly trying to get his hands on whatever I’m eating. This post has given me the confidence to let him try feeding himself “real foods”. Thank you!

  6. Kerry, I saw your comment and thought I’d offer the information I have come across. We are doing BLW with our son, have for about a month now, and it’s going great. One thing that might help ease your mind is knowing about the difference between gagging and choking.
    When you allow the baby to put the food in their own mouth and start learning to chew, they will sometimes gag. This is part of the learning process and it actually helps keep them from choking. It’s like a built in safety feature. :) Other things you can do in order to prevent choking would be things like making sure really crunchy foods are softened (baked, boiled, etc), making sure the pieces of food are big enough for them to grab, and making sure you smush down any round foods so they aren’t as slippery, and are less likely to get away from them.
    Hope this helps! :)

  7. nicole murawski says:

    Im not sure how I feel about this feeding style. Im.concerned that the introduction of foods too early increases the risk of allergies. I’ve noticed a lot of moms focusing on the time to make baby food or prepare it and I wonder why we have to always find the quick way to go. Fast isn’t always better. I’ve always believed in doing what feels right for your family and don’t judge. I feel that babies and small kids arent small adults. They require certain foods and food prep for a short while and can’t we leave well enough alone.

  8. Have used blw with both my babies (now 3 and 1). Loved it. They both eat everything and our only problem is encouraging them to use cutlery! If you look at you tube there are videos of babies eating and you can see the gag reflex.

  9. Vanessa Santiago says:

    How do you know your baby will not take off a huge chunk and not choke?!!! Please help! I’m dying to try this but terrified he will choke! Of course he will be supervised!!! But how does it work?!!! If they take a big bite off? Do the try to swallow it? Or what! Your babies must have had choking instances! Please educate me!!!

  10. nathania says:

    Hi Aimee, thank you for sharing this.. this is the first time i know about BLW.. my baby is 9 months old, from 6m he eat puree, now he still eat puree with a texture, i wonder how to intoduce him this BLW method? Do you have any suggestion to start it? Because i don’t want to make him so much surprised with the changing of his food, i’m afraid he won’t eat because of the different texture.. but i think this BLW method is really fun :)
    Thabnk You!

  11. Don’t mean to nitpick, but it’s called baby-led weaning for a reason–giving your baby anything other than breast milk is a form of weaning. Whether that is a good or bad thing for a mom will depend on your baby’s age, your nursing relationship, and baby’s health.

    Calling it something different just because your baby isn’t completely weaned could be confusing to other moms and cause moms who have no intention of beginning the the weaning process to think this isn’t weaning when it is.

    Kellymom.com has great information on baby-led weaning. Be informed before you start–the weaning process can vary greatly between children.

  12. We tried this eith both my kids ( and others in the family ), sadly both my girls are picky eaters at 4 and 8. While young under 1 to 2.5, they would happily try and explore any food, but not all inquisitive eaters stay that way. As kids grow their pallet changes, they also be one more assertive about choosing their own foods. My 4 year old is dead set against eating noodles and cheese, but will eat Chinese noodle soup and cheese pizza. I don’t mean to be a Debby Downer, but I wanted to make sure those reading know that baby led feeding, doesn’t always guarantee a child who’s a great eater.

  13. This is the first time I’m hearing of this. It’s a bit scary but awesome. How were you sure she won’t choke?! Does she even have any teeth yet? I can’t imagine how she can possibly eat things like chicken and steak or corn on the cob without teeth!

    My six month old is very interested in food but I give her homemade purees. Never even thought of letting her have the stuff she tries to grab off my plate!

  14. Thank you! I was wondering about that. This sounded too good to be true. I’m curious about this method but still couldn’t understand how it might help in the long run

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