Over the next few posts, I’m going to get into baby-led weaning (BLW) for beginners. It’s a topic I’m passionate about because we’ve had so much success with it. Our kids are fabulous eaters and food has been fun, not stressful, in our parenting lives. Read on for my five reasons to LOVE baby-led weaning!
First Things First: What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning is starting your six-month old baby on solid whole foods, rather than purees. By doing this, they gain exposure to a variety of textures and tastes. They also decide themselves when it’s time to start eating more food and less milk because they are the ones in charge. They decide how much food goes in and when it’s time to stop.
1. It’s SO Easy!
I know, it probably doesn’t seem like it’s easy. I mean, a baby can’t actually feed themselves, so won’t you have to help them all the time?
Oh no, not so.
It’s so dang fun for them, because after having you tell them to take certain things OUT of their mouths, they now have the chance to put allthethings in their mouths. And, yeah, they might miss, but they’ll get better in a hurry (I promise).
But really, it’s so simple. In the early days of baby-led weaning, you’ll want to focus on exposure and likely serving just one food at a time. Within a few weeks, though, you’ll simply serve your baby what you’re eating at mealtime. No more needing to spoon feed your baby in between bites of your own supper or while you’re trying to cook supper (all while simultaneously wrangling your other kids, if you have them, during the “witching hour”). Instead, you get to enjoy your meal while they enjoy theirs.
Which leads me to my next point on baby-led weaning…
2. Family Dinners!
When your baby is a mere six months old, family dinners probably seem like they’re not overly important. But forming the routine and habit of sitting down together can serve your entire family for years to come. For starters, you’ll gain a closer relationship with your kids. One study done even showed kids are at less risk of depression and drug use if they enjoy regular family meals. What’s more, they are at less risk for obesity and have better grades than kids coming from families who don’t share meals.
I realize grades, drugs and depression are far from your mind at this age, but you’re laying groundwork and forming habits now for what’s to come later. By letting your baby feed themselves, they get to pull a seat right up to the supper table and be a part of the family dinner. And that’s so awesome for all of you. Not only are they being socialized, learning the ins-and-outs of polite conversation, taking turns and using appropriate behavior at mealtime, but imagine the amount of language their little brains are being exposed to. In the process, they are also watching you feed yourself, so they can imitate that expertise (as long as you’re more like Belle than Beast).
3. Fine Motor Skills
As mentioned in my first point, babies are a mess and never hit their mouths initially in BLW. However, it truly takes just a short time before their skills vastly improve. Not only can they aim for and nail their target, but they’re also suddenly able to pick up small pieces of food. And THAT is a mega-win on its own!
If you haven’t done this stage of life with your baby yet, let me tell you: the moment your baby can pick up a puff or a yogurt melt is life altering. Once this happens, it’s like you’ve unlocked an entirely new world with the greatest parenting hack of all time. Suddenly with this simple skill at hand, you can cook supper with two hands free again while your baby snacks happily and looks on.
Aside from that mom-win, you can just feel so good about knowing your baby will practice that pincer grasp at every single meal. It’s so good for that hand-eye coordination! Just imagine when your baby is on the Olympic softball team or is a star MLB player someday. They’ll be quoted saying, “I owe it all to my mom for that baby-led weaning!”
Okay, so maybe that won’t happen.
But still, that hand-eye-coordination practice is plentiful at every single meal.
4. It Teaches Safe Eating
Hands down, the biggest concern people have with baby-led-weaning is its safety. When I first told my mom about my plans to feed my baby whole foods, she looked at me like I was crazy. And rightfully so! This is a pretty new concept, and if you’re not up on the research, it can seem like a scary idea. Can you say, “choking hazard”?
But let’s get anatomical for a moment, shall we? Around the age of six months (the age at which one would begin solids with their baby), the built-in gag reflex of a baby is more toward the front of their tongue. This means it’s very easy to trigger. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Instead, this helps a baby learn about taking the right size bites when eating because gagging is not a comfortable sensation. It also provides them with the opportunity to learn about gagging when the reflex isn’t so close to the throat. This means the threat of choking is also less.
On the other hand, a baby who has been spoon-fed purees doesn’t get this practice. In fact, a provider can tend to put the food beyond the gag reflex. This means a baby is just swallowing their food rather than chewing it… which is kind of the whole point of learning to eat solids, isn’t it?
Gagging vs. Choking
And to directly address choking, let’s talk about what choking looks like. There is typically no sound, no breath coming through, and a very scared look on a child’s face. By contrast, gagging is noisier and includes some coughing. It’s also important to recognize and accept that gagging is naturally going to happen; it happens in spoon-fed babies as well. The way you, their trusted caretaker, reacts will impact how they react. It’s important to remain calm in both your actions and words
5. It Is So Dang Healthy Now…
So you know that yummy-looking rice cereal all of our parents talk about giving us that they swore helped us “sleep through the night”? Mmmm, colorless mush… so appetizing.
Turns out, it’s about as healthy as it is appetizing.
There’s pretty much zero nutritional value in cereal, aside from the milk it’s mixed with. Plus, as the person behind the puppet strings, you are choosing how much your child eats.
In contrast, when you put your baby in the driver’s seat, they decide when they need more or when their belly is full. This is another very important life skill we’re teaching here. Obesity has been a large issue in the United States, and helping your baby learn that “stop when I’m full” notion is one of the best things you can do for them, food-wise.
And as far as being healthy — because you want to avoid all added sugars and sodium, you should be giving your baby a mostly whole-food diet. This means the vast majority of their foods are fruits and veggies. Plus they’re exposed to a very wide variety of textures — something that will serve them well in the future as they head into toddlerhood and become more choosy about foods.
… and Later
My kids are now at the ages of six, four and almost two. They eat very well: one son will sit down and eat an entire sliced green pepper; another will eat a mini-cucumber like a giant pickle. The kids happily accept carrot sticks as a snack option before meals. I’m not mentioning any fruit here because fruit is like a dessert in our house: offer it and it’s gone. It’s not uncommon for one child to sit down and (try) to eat an entire bag of frozen peach slices in one snack time. We very, very rarely have a food issue at mealtime. If we do, it never centers around the fruits and vegetables being served. In fact, there are times when we have to give each other looks across the table after we say, “You may have more strawberries/broccoli/beans/blueberries once you eat three bites of pizza”. Really?!
The whole foods, low sodium approach is also is a benefit to you; in our house, we noticed a big clean-up in our own eating habits when we started BLW with our first. In fact, (dirty secret) I literally (literally) ate zero vegetables myself at that time, aside from a delicious plate of french fries. Now, I’ve found ways to prepare veggies so I love a number of them.
Have I Convinced You Yet?
Next in my series on Baby Led Weaning, I’ll cover some of the challenges you should anticipate but be easily prepared for with my suggestions. I’ll also highlight some “must-haves” — including my favorite bibs and high chairs (spoiler: they are super budget friendly!).
If you’re interested in learning more about baby-led weaning ASAP, check out this book! It’s my holy grail resource and BLW bible! Super quick read and simple to reference when you need it.