What is baby led weaning? When should I start? What are the benefits? Here’s a recap of a registered dietitan mom’s baby led journey with her son.
I started out on this blogging journey as a registered dietitian on a mission to share nutritious and delicious recipes that are easy to prepare and wallet-friendly. I took a break once my miracle baby, Caleb, came into this world. I thought I may shut this little space of mine down because so much of my time was devoted to raising him. Then we started introducing solids, and once again, I found myself exploring in the kitchen, this time w/conjuring up healthy recipes for my little human. Nowadays, when developing recipes, I aim to make fruits and vegetables the star, while staying away from refined sugar and processed foods as much as possible and being mindful of the sodium content.
When it came time, we decided to skip the purees completely and dive straight into giving him finger foods and promoting self-feeding. Hello, baby led weaning (BLW)! I know this is not for everyone, but it is what felt right for my family.
What I love about BLW, to name a few:
- The baby can join us at the table and feed himself (I found that I had zero patience for the airplane spoon game)
- teaching the baby to self-regulate as he gets to choose what and how much to eat
- allows the baby to explore different textures, flavors, colors, smell, which may prevent or lessen picky eating later on down the road
- helps develop babies’ hand-eye coordination
- baby will learn to chew first before swallowing
So when can you and your baby start? The conflicting advice from public health and professional organizations make this topic quite confusing. The World Health Organization and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 6 months while the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology recommends starting between 4-6 months. The American Academy of Pediatrics once recommended starting at 4 months but has updated to 6 months for exclusively breastfed babies with no mention of formula-fed babies. What is absolutely certain is not to introduce solids before 4 months as a baby’s system is still immature.
Keep in mind age is just a guide and paying close attention to your baby’s cues is what’s most important. In recognizing that every child is different, it’s up to you and your physician to determine whether your child is developmentally ready for solid foods. Some major developmental signs to look for include:
- can sit up with little or no support
- reaching out and grabbing things
- Putting everything into mouth
- showing great interest when you’re eating
- loses tongue thrust reflex which automatically forces food out of the mouth
It so happens that these signs usually appear at around six months. There’s no reason to rush into starting as breastmilk (and/or formula) can meet ALL of baby’s nutritional needs up to 6 months of age. Around this age is when the gastrointestinal tract is ready to process solid foods. It’s also when babies will develop the skills needed to self-feed, including sitting up unassisted, bringing food to their mouth, and chewing and swallowing food. Therefore, if you’re starting out with finger foods, I’d recommend waiting until 6 months.
Also, keep in mind you don’t want to delay the introduction of solids much beyond 6 months as it can make the transition to real food more challenging, put the child at risk for iron-deficiency anemia, and increase the possibility of allergies.
I exclusively breastfed my baby until he was 6 months old adjusted age (he was born prematurely at 35 weeks). My baby wasn’t all that interested in food so I made it a priority to eat in front of him so he could observe. Slowly but surely, he started reaching for the bowl and smacking his lips.
I started to keep a daily food diary on Instagram (as well as videos of him eating) to not only keep track of all the foods I’m introducing him to, but most importantly, to keep myself accountable. I wanted to take FULL advantage of this narrow “window of opportunity” when babies are most willing to accept new foods. Early and frequent introduction of a wide variety of foods is critical as research shows that early childhood food preferences and experience predict later childhood and adult food preferences and dietary range. I hope this inspires you to step out of your usual food repertoire and enjoy a wide range of flavors and textures with your child!
It sure motivated me to continue and persevere as the beginning stage of this journey was rough. The baby wasn’t eating hardly any food (which is to be expected), and I kept questioning my decision to do BLW. But consistency and persistence played a vital role in our success!