BABY LED WEANING: HOW TO GET STARTED
It’s almost Thanksgiving here in the U.S., and if you have a young baby at home, you may be wishing they could take part in your Thanksgiving feast! Looking back, this was always the day of the year my kids leaped ahead in their eating competence. There really is something to watching the adults in their life dig in that inspires young babies (and kids) to want to do the same!
If you have reservations about letting your kids eat real food at your Thanksgiving table, I’d love to introduce you to the basics of Baby Led Weaning. This is how we introduced all of our children to solids, and if you’re looking for something that is easy and natural, this is the method for you!
We naturally gravitated toward this style of introducing solids primarily because I’m lazy and cheap. (Hint for new parents: if you let lazy and cheap define most of your parenting decisions, you’ll actually end up pretty happy with your parenting – haha!) When I was a new mom, I was really concerned about only getting the best food for my baby, with no chemicals or preservatives, etc. A lot of mamas I knew were making their own baby food, or buying expensive “organic” brands. I was working full time and, well, there was no way in hell I was going to concoct my own baby foods. When I learned that he could eat whole foods that we had already prepared for the family, that sounded like a win!
WHAT IS BABY LED WEANING?
Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is a child-led method of introducing foods that puts the baby in the driver’s seat. When your baby is old enough to sit on their own and use their pincer grasp to grab things, you gradually introduce foods that they can hold in their hands. They are allowed to play with the food, explore textures, and, eventually, put it in their mouth. The food is usually some version of what the family is eating.
BENEFITS OF BABY LED WEANING
Besides adorable pictures of hummus-faced babies, here are my favorite benefits of Baby Led Weaning:
– It’s less work for parents! You feed your baby whole foods, and they are able to share in family meals. There is no pureeing or separate meals. There is also no spoon feeding since your baby moves food to his/her mouth on their own! You are able to enjoy your own meal along with your baby.
– Children learn to tune in to their own likes and dislikes, as well as their hunger and fullness signals. Since they are feeding themselves, they are responsible for *what* and *how much* they eat – which is KEY to learning to be a competent eater as an older child (and adult!).
– They are able to eat with the family at restaurants. Honestly, I’ve never been a parent that remembers to bring snacks (or even water sometimes). One of the things I loved about BLW is that we could almost ALWAYS find something the babies could eat wherever we were eating out. So if we forgot snacks (and we almost always did), we were all set!
– They learn to take bites that are appropriate for them, and they learn this early. Since they are putting food into their own mouths, they decide how far back to take the bite, and whether to swallow. By the time they are toddlers, when most kids are learning to eat “regular” food, your baby will be competently handling anything you put in front of them.
The biggest disadvantage of Baby Led Weaning? The MESS! And it is very messy. But honestly the cleanup is worth it for all the benefits. And I think messes happen with spoon feeding too, right?
So…how do you get started with the basics of Baby Led Weaning? Here are my top tips:
– Wait until your baby is sitting confidently on their own. This coincides with their being able to competently move things around in their mouth, and use their pincer grasp. Do NOT prop them in a high chair!
– Start with foods that are easy to hold – cooked vegetable sticks, strawberries, a spoon with yogurt or hummus, and yes…even meat on the bone. This little girl in the picture started with chicken wings and LOVES ribs!
– Know that your baby may not actually “eat” anything for a LONG time, and that’s totally okay! If you think this might stress you out (or you don’t want to deal with the mess), it’s totally fine to delay the introduction of solids until they are 9 or 10 months old. Remember, food is “just for fun until age ONE!”
– Continue offering milk (breastmilk or formula) on demand outside of table feeding times. This is their primary source of nutrition until (and maybe through) toddlerhood.
– Prepare for mess. We had some bibs to catch the bulk of the food (and the stains), but those didn’t always contain it. Some people purchase a cloth or plastic runner to put under the high chair until the baby gets a little more motor control. Plan to change their clothes after every meal. :)
BEST FOODS TO START
Honestly, pretty soon your baby will be able to eat almost anything, except for obvious choking hazards. Here were our favorite foods that nourished our babies and helped develop their palates toward a variety of different tastes:
– Fruits – banana pieces, strawberries, kiwi, anything that can be cut into larger pieces that they can pick up. We didn’t do blueberries or halved grapes until they were a little more confident in swallowing larger pieces of food.
– Yogurt and hummus, served in a shallow bowl with a spoon so they could practice scooping. I would help a bit with loading the spoon, but honestly this is a great activity for them to do on their own, and they’ll get the hang of it really quickly.
– Scrambled eggs – can add Parmesan cheese, vegetables, anything you like.
– Meat on the bone! Our kids loved chicken legs and ribs. Also meat sliced large enough for them to hold in their hands. This is how our babies learned to love rare steak!
– Avocados! Slice to hand size.
– Soft-cooked vegetables – sliced sweet potatoes and carrots, broccoli florets, zucchini. Just make sure it’s large enough to hold in their hand.
– Water in a plastic cup – yes, an open-top plastic cup, NOT a sippy cup! The sooner they get started with this the better. They will spill most of it down their fronts at first, but they’ll get it sooner than you think. We have not owned a sippy cup – ever.
OUR FAVORITE PRODUCTS
Honestly, the whole process is so simple, I can only think of a few products we used in the years of feeding our babies this way. In a pinch (and I have done this), you can feed your baby sitting in your lap with no utensils whatsoever. Here were our favorite products that we used with all 3 of our kiddos:
– The Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair. We never purchased the baby seat option since all of our kiddos were sitting confidently on their own by the time we started (but it looks like that’s the only way you can get the harness now). This pic is Sawyer just starting on solids at 8 months in that chair. (As you can see, he didn’t need any solids before that – he was a chunk!) Our chair lasted through all 3 of our kiddos, and I even sold it to someone for a great price when we were done. A solid investment!
– Small spoons. We liked metal utensils that were small versions of real utensils from the start. (Plus, they double as great cheese spoons/knives or oyster forks when your kids outgrow them.) We got all of ours from MontessoriServices.com.
– As I mentioned above, you can introduce water in a cup right from the start. (Or smoothies for that matter – my kids LOVED these!) Our favorites were the small clear plastic cups from Montessori Services, but something similar might be available elsewhere. While you’re ordering these, pick up some of the smaller glass ones, which you can start using when your baby becomes a toddler. (We are still using these in our house – the tiniest ones as shot glasses!)
And…that’s it! No special kitchen equipment or pouches or nets or other baby “products” to clutter up your kitchen! This really can be taken anywhere with very little prep. Our kids were able to sit down to eat with us anywhere, high chair or not!
I hope you enjoyed this post!
Would you ever consider trying this with your babies? What was your experience introducing solids?
Hi, I'm Meagan.
I'm a full spectrum doula and childbirth educator helping you thrive through birth, baby, and beyond. Learn more about me here.
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CERTIFIED DOULA (DTI), HBCE
Meagan is a full spectrum doula and certified HypnoBirthing® educator helping families follow their intuition to discover balance in family life. With her focus on ancestral practices, relaxation, and self care, she guides her clients to a calm, confident, and connected birth and postpartum experience.