Baby Led Weaning: An Alternative Approach to Starting Solids

banana 300x225 Baby Led Weaning: An Alternative Approach to Starting Solids

Our first food attempt at 6 months - clearly Callum was not impressed!

Before kiddo was born, I thought I’d make my own baby food; I even got one of the cute little food making kits as a gift.  But the closer we got to starting solids, the more I started reconsidering how we would introduce Callum to the world of food.  Somewhere along the way, I stumbled on some information about Baby Led Weaning (BLW; also known as Baby Led Solids).  It was only a blurb describing BLW as skipping purees and going to straight to table food, but it was enough to make me search for more information.

BLW appealed to me for several reasons.  It seemed like a more interesting way for kiddo to encounter new foods and to learn to eat.  It was also easier in that we didn’t have to purchase or prepare purees (although we did modify what we were eating a bit in the beginning).  Most importantly, it seemed like the most natural way to start the weaning process.   Starting solids is the beginning of the weaning process, even if one hopes to breastfed well into toddlerhood, as it marks the transition from breastmilk as the sole source of nutrition to incorporating a healthy range of solid foods.  BLW is called baby led because baby really does get to set the pace as far as when and how much solid food gets eaten.  Of course, one can also be sensitive to a baby’s cues while feeding purees.  For us, though, BLW was a better fit with our overall baby feeding philosophy.

carrot 300x225 Baby Led Weaning: An Alternative Approach to Starting Solids

Our second attempt with steamed carrot went much better!

Here are some things to consider as you make a decision about whether BLW is a fit for your family (drawn from my reading on the subject – see the resource list below):

  • When should we start solids? The AAP currently recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months (note: this recommendation comes from the AAP Breastfeeding committee.  The AAP nutrition committee still recommends 4-6 months as the age for beginning solids).  There are several arguments for delaying solids until 6 months; helpful info can be found here.  Obviously, all babies will develop readiness for solids at different paces.   If you choose to do BLW however, it is important that baby be able to sit well unassisted – if baby can’t support himself sitting up, he won’t be able to safely handle and swallow foods.
  • What about cereal? Most of us probably had rice cereal as our first “food” so it’s natural that we’d think this is a must do.  There’s nothing wrong with giving cereal if you choose.  But keep in mind that rice cereal has little or no nutritional value (or taste!).   There are other healthier (and tastier) cereal options – oatmeal and barely cereals for example – but these are still simply optional.   It’s ok to skip cereals if you choose!
  • What about vitamins and important nutrients like iron? If you are breastfeeding, baby will still get all the vitamins he needs from breastmilk.  It is true that by 6 months babies have mostly used up their iron stores they are born with (one reason why some feel cereal fortified with iron is a must).  But it is also true that the iron in breastmilk is far more readily absorbed by baby than iron from other sources.  If you are a formula feeder, formula is fortified with iron so extra isn’t necessary.  Making smart choices about what foods to feed baby also take care of his iron needs.
  • What’s the point of starting solids?That may seem like a silly question – to teach baby to eat, right?!  Maybe the better question is how do you want to go about teaching baby to eat solids?   Purees were developed when it was believed that babies needed to start solids much earlier in life and were incapable of handling solid food.  If you wait until 6 months when baby can grasp and bite food, you could skip spoon feeding and let baby go ahead and explore finger food.  If you choose to do purees, you are teaching eating in two steps – first swallowing and then later handling and chewing food when you begin finger foods.  Neither method is “right” as different parents will have different takes on what makes the most sense for them.

    sweetpotato 300x225 Baby Led Weaning: An Alternative Approach to Starting Solids

    Roasted sweet potato was a big hit; this was a few weeks in.

  • But how will he eat enough if he’s feeding himself? It’s important to remember that solids are simply for practice in the beginning.  They should not begin to replace breastmilk until much later.   Early solids aren’t so much about nutrition as they are about learning about the different tastes and textures of food.
  • Won’t he choke?This is probably the number one concern of parents considering this approach.   It’s no more likely (and some might argue less so) that your child will choke doing BLW than any other method of introducing solids.  A few things to remember:
    • The gag reflex is our natural protection against choking.  At 6 months, the gag reflex is further forward in the mouth than it is at 1.  That means a 1 year old could get something further back in his mouth before gagging kicks in than a 6 month old.  If gagging happens when the item is still forward in the mouth, it is far less likely to cause choking.    BLW proponents would argue that you’ll have more gagging (and a greater risk of choking) if you delay the introduction of finger foods.
    • Gagging does not equal choking.  Gagging babies make lots of noise and spit the offending item out.  Choking babies are silent.  So while gagging can be unsettling, it is actually a good thing.
    • Gagging is a natural part of learning to eat – all babies will gag some when they first encounter food whether it’s a puree or a solid.
    • When babies have control over the food going in their mouth, they are less likely to gag and choke.  Think about what happens when someone else places food in your mouth (or think about having the dentist poke around in your mouth vs brushing your own teeth) – which is more likely to cause you to gag?
    • All parents should take a course in CPR, regardless of how they introduce solids.
    • Foods that are choking hazards should not be used in BLW (see below).
  • How can he chew with no teeth? Babies chew with their gums (ever stuck a finger in a toothless baby’s mouth?).  Obviously, you will need to delay the introduction of some foods until baby has teeth but you’ll be surprised at what he can handle.
  • Is BLW all or nothing? Nope!  Many parents find that a combination of purees and BLW works best for their family.  What’s most important is that your child gets an opportunity to explore food and that you make meal time enjoyable.
spoon 300x225 Baby Led Weaning: An Alternative Approach to Starting Solids

Around 7 months we introduced a spoon (with thick yogurt and mashed banana). Note Oscar dog in the background stalking!

As I mentioned, these are primarily based on my own research into BLW; I’d encourage you to explore further if you think you might want to take this route to solids.  Some resources to check out:

  • Gill Rapley’s book – Baby-led Weaning Baby Led Weaning: An Alternative Approach to Starting Solids – is a good place to start.  You can also find some basic info on her website.
  • babyledweaning.com is another helpful site that also has a forum where you can chat with other parents going the BLW way.
  • WholesomeBabyFood is actually geared towards those who want to make their own purees, but it has lots of helpful info on starting solids in general.
  • KellyMom also has some info worth a read if you are breastfeeding and wondering how to best incorporate solids into your nursing relationship.

I’d like to end with some practical tips based on our experience with BLW:

    • Get a good high chair that’s easy to clean. We went with the Svan High Chair Baby Led Weaning: An Alternative Approach to Starting Solids because I wanted something wooden and small.  I also liked that it converts to a toddler chair and a youth chair.  We used the tray at first, but now kiddo sits right up at the table with us.  I’ve also heard good things about the Ikea high chair.
    • Enjoy meals as a family. I’m convinced that one reason Callum is a good eater is because we’ve always eaten with him.  This has meant that we’ve moved dinner time earlier than it used to be and breakfast is a much more involved affair than it once was.  But babies and toddlers learn best by example – they want to do what we are doing and eat what we are eating.  Family dinners in particular have been a nice way for us to all reconnect at the end of the day.
    • Don’t be afraid to let baby try “non-kid” things.In the beginning we did stick with giving Callum more basic foods; after the first month or two, we started giving him whatever we were eating for the most part.  He’s had spicy Indian curry, fancy sauces, and plain ‘ole veggies – and has tried everything because he wanted to be like us!  He hasn’t loved them all, but he has tried them.  And you might be surprised at what your kiddo ends up loving.

      small 300x225 Baby Led Weaning: An Alternative Approach to Starting Solids

      By 9 months, Callum was an old pro with small bits.

    • Be prepared for a mess. Learning to eat is a messy business – let it be!  I’m a strong believer that if you are uptight about your kid making a mess while he learns to eat, you are going to create negative associations for him with eating.  Food will be spilled; food will be smeared; food will be thrown!  As Callum has gotten older, we have taught him to use an extra plate or bowl for his “unwanted” items.  Of course, he still likes to feed the dogs (but they do clean up spills so I can’t complain).  If you have a dog, do watch out for foods that are dangerous for dogs like raisins, grapes, and avocados.  You might consider putting newspaper, a sheet, or shower curtain down on the floor if you don’t want to clean up spills – or take dinner outside for very messy things.  Invest in several full body bibs as well – trust me, you’ll be glad you did!
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Not a baby anymore! Enjoying some curry around 14 months.

  • Offer different shapes, colors, and textures and a variety of foods. One big advantage of BLW is that kids get to see what food really looks and feels like right from the start.  Even when they aren’t really eating much, they are still learning just from handling food.  Some BLWers will still observe the 1 food every few days rule.  We didn’t as Callum was older and we have no history of allergies.  We did choose to wait on things like eggs and peanut butter until we got the ok from our pediatrician (who was on board with BLW by the way).
  • Start with big pieces and move smaller. 6 month olds haven’t mastered the pincer grasp needed to pick up small bites of food.  Instead offer finger shaped chunks that they can hold in their fist and bite off of.  Don’t worry, baby will quickly figure out what the right sized bite is.  You can go ahead and offer smaller food items as well – beans are good to start with.  Callum picked up the pincer grasp very quickly and I’m sure it had something to do with being offered small food items.
  • Avoid obvious choking hazards. Raw carrots, raw apples, nuts, and things with hard seeds or pits are big ones to avoid.  You can shred carrot or apple (or cook them).  Also, while it’s not exactly high risk for choking, un-toasted bread is hard for little ones as it turns to gummy mush in their mouths!
  • Remember it may be a while before anything gets down the hatch.We started offering food (for 1 meal a day) right at 6 months.  It was several weeks before I started seeing “evidence” on the other end that food had been swallowed (and don’t be alarmed by the appearance of the “evidence” – it takes time for babies to learn to chew fully and digest things!).
  • Take solids slowly. Once we felt like dinner was going well, we started adding in food at other times of the day.  Some days Callum ate a lot; others not much at all.  But he was still nursing well so we trusted that he knew what he needed – and apparently he did as he continued to grow.  Another advantage of BLW is that children learn from the start how to read their hunger cues.  We don’t eat the same amount every day so we shouldn’t expect baby too either.
  • Finally, our early favorite foods: Roasted sweet potato “fries”, roasted butternut squash chunks, black beans, green beans, and steamed carrots

Did you do BLW with your child?  We’d love to hear your tips!  Also, feel free to leave us questions if you are just getting started.  Happy meal times!

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15 comments to Baby Led Weaning: An Alternative Approach to Starting Solids

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  • Tripps

    I like the way you summed it all up. i’m reading the book by Gill right now. I can’t wait till DS is ready for BLW.

  • Katherine

    Great post! We just started a couple weeks ago and our little one is loving it. We are starting only one food at a time, so if there are things on our plates that aren’t on his, he stares longingly at them…so sad! I can’t wait until he can eat everything we can eat. I would love some more ideas of foods that would be okay to feed him at this point (he’s 6.5 mos) as the same 5-6 foods are always listed as the best starter foods…I guess I’d like to know what comes after the “starter foods” but before “everything else.” So far he eats: sweet potatoes, cooked carrots, broccoli, banana, avacado, toast, hummus, egg yolk, watermelon, and cantaloupe. Pears, oatmeal, and beans are up next, but after that I’m at a loss….Ideas? (We don’t eat meat or do milk products.) Thank you so much!

    • Meredith

      We started offering him bits of our stuff after about a month or so but if you wanted to keep it simple for a while longer you might try squash (butternut squash was a huge hit – and zucchini cakes if you are ok with egg). Quinoa is great – might be sort of hard at first unless you made quinoa cakes or helped him with a spoon. Rice is another fun one – if you use sticky rice it’s easier since you can make balls. Oh and tofu! Have fun!

  • Krista

    Great info. Meredith! After thinking I “had” to start purees with my first at 6 months I held of solids until about 9 months with my 2nd and pretty much just went straight to table food. It was sooo much easier for me than doing purees. I actually felt guilty that I was being “lazy”. Even though we didn’t know it had a name, it was BLW, and it’s how I plan to introduce solids to my future children too!!

  • We started a combo of purees & BLW at 6 months. My son had a hard time with the steamed carrots at 6 1/2 months – he gagged on pretty much every bite and never swallowed anything. I was silly enough to try that for the first time with my mom there, who was totally horrified! lol – any tips on carrots? I steamed them until they seemed soft enough to gum but hard enough to hold. He liked eating avocados & bananas but they were very hard to hold because he squeezed them to death, lol.

    • Meredith

      I never had much luck with carrots early on since you have to cook them to death to get them soft enough for beginners. Raw grated carrot works once kiddo is able to pick it up. Or you could try roasting. We found roasted veggies were easier for him to hold at first because the roasting gave them a little grip on the outside but still made them really soft on the inside. Bananas and avocados are definitely messy – guess that’s part of the fun ;-)

  • We’re doing Baby Led Solids too and Libby is now 7.5 months. She still hasn’t injested much but enjoy smelling, tasting and feeling the foods we give her. Her favorites are roasted sweet potato and carrot sticks, baked apple slices and steamed broccoli. She is still VERY gaggy and almost always gags to the point of vomiting. I offer breast before solids and I think that may have something to do with it. So I may try reversing that and seeing how it goes. That said, I feel BLW is so much more respectful than shoveling in mushy foods by the spoonfuls.

  • Terri

    This is a great article! I’m reading the book now and have already started my son on a few things (I got excited and jumped the gun!). I have a question (it may be answered in the book…but I figured I’d ask anyway just in case): his first food was actually honeycrisp apple. He chose it by starting to gnaw on a piece of apple I was holding. He was thrilled so I didn’t stop him, and he has had honeycrisp apples twice more since then (it has been about 1.5 weeks since we started, since he is just hitting 6 months). I know some apples are really hard, but honeycrisps are soft and he has done really well with them. Is it just the potential hardness that we need to watch out for, or is there another reason apples are bad first foods? Today was the first time he has actually made progress toward “eating” apples (or anything) and he used his gums and two little teeth to gnaw parts of the apple away bit by bit. He never gagged or had any problems with it really.

    My son has allergies so we are starting things very slowly (1 new food every 4 days, eaten on days 1 and 3, then whenever if no reaction), so I definitely want to be careful with what foods we offer him.

  • I’m glad I found this as I have some friends to forward it to! When my baby insisted on food, we started giving her everything. We were not worried about allergies, and didn’t space out foods. We just started sharing. I’m not sure why carrots or apples would be a problem. My daughter (who started at 6 months) eats them just fine. If she bites off a piece that’s too big, she coughs and spits it out, but since she’s used to BLW, this doesn’t happen often. She’s already learned how to feed herself :-)

    We’ve never had any choking or even alarming gagging. Just coughs it up and takes another bite. She’s 10 months now and eats apple slices all the time. Also she gets a lot of cooked carrots from stews, stir-fries, etc. I don’t prepare things for her separately. She likes our dinners with all the spices and flavors better than plain veggies, usually. We let her have fruit, veggies, meat, dairy and all with no problems.

    To the person asking about beginner foods, I can’t advise if you’re looking to avoid allergens because we ignored that, but it seemed for us the only point of starter foods was food that she could handle with her motor skills. So we cut things in spears, left the peels on the spears (because a kiwi peel is much less slippery than the flesh), etc Green beans and pea pods are easy to hold onto, as are carrots and apples. At ten months, she’s eating pears, plums and peaches whole (she has teeth so doesn’t need me to “start” them anymore). She can feed herself scrambled eggs and toast, too. Oh, and homemade pizza’s a good one. Pancakes, french toast (I leave off the syrup for her), fish sticks (or the vegan equivalent). She LOVES noodles which are a relatively clean finger food. She also does yogurt or rice by the handful. Messy propositions.

    • Meredith

      Glad you had a good experience with BLW too :-) I think cooked or shredded carrots or apples are fine even for beginners, but personally think that raw they are a choking hazard for beginners because they are so hard. But after you’ve been at it for 4 months, you certainly have a better sense of what your kiddo can handle.

      I definitely agree on the spices – kiddo loves food spicier than I do even! I’m pretty sure it’s because we’ve always given him everything so he never had time to decide not to like it.

  • Arelis

    Love all the information and your writing.

  • […] Little B is growing up. I think she’s ready to start baby led weaning (a fancy name for skipping purees and letting baby feed herself and eat at her own pace). […]

  • Cecilia

    After a few months of purees, I’ve decided to start tranisition to letting my daughter feed herself solids at her own pace. She eats the baby mum mums with no problem, but I’ve tried bananas a few times and each times and she has vomited each time. When feeding, I hold the banana and she nibbles and sucks on it. She’s just about 9 months, so I wonder if she is still not ready or if the vomiting is something that we have to endure as part of the transition process. No vomiting with the mums or even little pieces of angel hair pasta, but chunkier purees and the banana make her sick. Ideas or suggestions? Thanks!

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