When my daughter (Nest) was born both myself and my husband were really quite clueless about babies and so we did a lot of research. One of the things that we came across initially was Baby Led Weaning (BLW) which seemed a very logical way to wean and fitted in with our general ideas of how we wanted to bring up our daughter. But it was soon forgotten amid the sleepless nights, feeding sometimes every hour, mountains of nappies and rivers of dribble. When Nest was about 4 months old some of the parents in our babygroup started feeding their babies baby rice and purees. So after having forgotten about the whole thing for the first hectic and tiring four months, the question of weaning came up again. We were living in Durham in England at the time and the British National Health Service (NHS) guidelines promote weaning from 6 months onto solid foods and where possible favour exclusive breast feeding until this point. So we really wanted to get to the 6 month point before we started weaning. We were also lucky as my little girl was sitting unassisted at 5 months and picking everything up and putting it into her mouth (mainly car keys and mobile phones). So we started to let her self-feed firstly with soft boiled vegetables cut into fist sized chunks or vegetables with a handle such as broccoli and cauliflower. It all went in and mostly all came out again but it was an enjoyable experience for both of us,her squashing and mashing foods a lot of the time into her head and for us watching her having fun with food. After about a month she really got the hang of it and was eating three meals a day with a couple of snacks in between. She ate what we ate and we were soon all sitting down to meals together.
Our experience with our son (Caio) three years later was slightly different to that with our daughter. Although he was born in England we were living in Italy at the time and returned shortly after his birth. He had been born premature, had been quite ill and was on the 9th growth percentile so we were more concerned about his development then we had been with Nest’s. Our Italian Paediatrician had recommended weaning from 4 months, but he just wasn’t ready and so we decided to follow the NHS guidelines for premature babies to wean between 5 and 7 months (uncorrected age) and so started to wean him at 7 months (uncorrected age). He was not sitting up unassisted very well and slumped to the side in the baby chair, he also was not very good at putting things into his mouth. So we went down the purees and spoon feeding route, because he just wasn’t anywhere near as developed as his sister had been at that stage. But he hated it, mealtimes were a nightmare and he screamed and clamped his mouth shut, getting a couple of tablespoons into him was a real achievement. So we persevered with the spoon feeding and also continued to give him finger foods too, but he really just wasn’t into eating food at all. After about a month he had begun to sit better and was putting the food into his mouth it mostly came back out again but there was no struggle to get him to open up and no screaming and crying. He seemed to be really ready to eat and wanted to self-feed. Soon he was digging into his food and really enjoying it, it made mealtimes so much easier. He was like his sister squashing food between his fingers mashing it all over the wall and into his head. Caio is now nine months old now and eats, pasta, rice, vegetables, fruit, meat, basically the same food as us and really enjoy it. A lot does end up on the floor but a lot goes in and we share at least two meals a day as a family where we eat the same thing and enjoy it. There is always mess and maybe I have been lucky to have bald babies so there is very little hair to rub food into but from both of the experiences which have been very different BLW has been perfect for us. I would recommend investing in a floor mat and coverall bibs but mostly I would recommend BLW.
What is BLW?
Just like it sounds the baby leads the weaning process. You provide them with a variety of soft finger foods which make up a healthy, balanced diet from around 6 months and let them experiment, explore and self-feed.
- Exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months (though it is possible to BLW with formula fed babies).
- The baby is offered a variety of food and allowed to reject it and breast feeding continues on demand for as long as the baby wants.
- Meals are relaxed family oriented and stress free and the baby is not spoon fed nor is food put into the baby’s mouth. BLW allows babies to explore taste, texture, colour and smell as they set their own pace.
- Food is cooked well so it is soft but also easy to hold, food with a handle such as broccoli or cauliflower florets work well.
- The baby can be given a spoon to play with and self-feed (splatter across your face) soup or yoghurt.
- Cooled boiled water or filtered water can also be given at meals.
- The baby needs to be sitting up well in a high chair or unsupported and putting things into their mouth.
- The process is tailored to suit each individual baby and their own personal development and it is thought that the baby will choose foods with the nutrients they might be slightly lacking, guided by taste.
- All general food safety guidance is followed such as no honey before 12 months, no peanuts etc…Choking is less likely as the baby is not capable of moving food from the front to the back of their mouth until they have learned how to chew. Also babies don’t learn to chew until they have learned to hold things and put them into their mouths so BLW follows a baby’s development.
- BLW promotes development in many ways: a baby learns by watching and imitating others, and so eating the same food at the same time as the rest of the family promotes further development; self-feeding helps motor development (hand-eye coordination and chewing); it also encourages independence (though not sure this is such a good thing!).
Some good places to look into BLW further are