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Baby With Spoon In Mouth

What is Baby Led Weaning (BLW)?

According to the Academy of Pediatrics, “Baby-led weaning involves the practice of allowing children to feed themselves all of their foods from the beginning of complementary food introduction—rather than the traditional method of spoon-feeding pureed foods at the start of complementary feeding.”

This method of feeding was introduced in the early 2000s and made popular by British author Gill Rapley, PhD. The name of this feeding method can be confusing. It is not weaning at all; in fact, the infants rely on breast milk or formula for most of their nutrients. The self-feeding practice is to familiarize the infant with different tastes and textures. A common saying in the BLW community is that “Food is for fun until age 1.”

Is baby led weaning for you?

PROS CONS
Babies tend to get more protein and fat Small risk of choking
Less likely to be labeled as a “fussy eater” at 18-24 months by their parents Some risk of infant not getting enough calories
Babies regulate the amount of food eaten, rather than the parent or caregiver feeding a predetermined amount of food Some risk of anemia
Easier for parents, no special preparation of “baby foods” Messy and wasteful
Babies eat with families Studies show BLW does NOT decrease childhood obesity
Some indication that early introduction of common allergens may lessen the incidence of allergies later on

When should you begin BLW?

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization  recommends breast feeding or formula feeding only for the first six months, before introducing complementary foods. Children need to be able to sit up unsupported, bring food to their mouth, and chew and swallow the food. In BLW small pieces of food are offered to the baby who can then feed themselves.

What foods should you offer?

  • “Graspable” pieces of food that infants can pick up and hold themselves, typically in a “stick shape.” These can include a wide variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses and breads.
  • Parents offer these foods to the infant, and the infant chooses what to eat and how much from the choices offered.
  • It is very important that an adult is always present while the baby is feeding their self to monitor possible choking. Common first foods include cooked potato, cooked broccoli and cooked carrots, as well as avocado. Avoid hard foods, such as raw apples or nuts, and coin shaped foods, such as sliced hot dogs.

Ultimately, the decision to adopt the Baby Led Weaning feeding method is between you and your pediatrician.

Food Safety

Babies are considered high risk when it comes to foodborne illness (food poisoning). Since their immune systems are developing, they are more susceptible to foodborne illness pathogens (germs).

  • When preparing food in your kitchen make sure that you wash your hands and all surfaces that will touch food. Hot soapy water will make things clean, but if you want to go a step further you can sanitize countertops, cutting boards and high chair trays by washing first, then spraying a solution of 1 quart water to 1 teaspoon regular household bleach. More is NOT better. Chlorine bleach is toxic—that is why it kills germs. If your kitchen smells like a swimming pool, you are using too much bleach.
  • Also, remember to wash baby’s hands before they eat! The best way to prevent illness is to wash hands!

See Practicing Food Safety for more information on safe food handling.

References

Megan H Pesch, MD, MSSarah P Shubeck, MD, MS, CLCHeather Burrows, MD, PhD, (January 1, 2019). Baby-led weaning: Introducing complementary foods in infancy; Contemporary Pediatrics, volume 36. https://www.contemporarypediatrics.com/pediatrics/baby-led-weaning-introducing-complementary-foods-infancy 

Johnson, Mackenzie (December 7, 2017), Baby-Led Weaning—Just the Facts! Iowa State University Extension. https://blogs.extension.iastate.edu/scienceofparenting/2017/12/07/baby-led-weaning-just-the-facts/

Pat Benton, Michigan State University Extension, Mary Rozga, PhD student, (December 9, 2013), Baby-led weaning for introduction to complementary foods—Part 1 & 2. https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/baby_led_weaning_for_introduction_to_complementary_foods_part_1

Did you know?

The most important interactions you have with a child can happen through play. By engaging in play with your baby, you can literally help build stronger connections in the brain.

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