If you guys follow me on Instagram then you might have seen a very messy Luna feeding herself breakfast, lunch and/or dinner. That's because we decided to introduce solids to Luna using the baby led weaning (BLW) method taught to us by local heroes, Feeding Littles.
Per the recommendation of our pediatrician and Feeding Littles, we started when Luna was able to sit up on her own and was showing interest in our food, which was at six months. We started with one meal a day at six months, went to two at seven months, and are starting to give her three meals a day now that she is eight months. But we have been getting A TON of questions about BLW, so I turned to the experts, Megan and Judy, to share more info and give you guys the low-down in case you're interested in learning more and giving it a go yourselves.
I will say that it's actually been awesome for Luna. Not only does she eat what we eat (no extra work making purees or buying heaps of baby food), she absolutely LOVES feeding herself (and hates when I even attempt to hand her something haha). She wants to be the one to pick it up. And she has so much fun with it. Like, a huge smile on her face and shaking her arms up and down excitedly every time we put her in her high chair. I honestly haven't found anything yet that she didn't LOVE (except Salmon haha, but she must get that from her mama I think).
Anyway, read below to get all your BLW questions answered. And, as always, if you have any more, please leave them in the comments below.
Who is Feeding Littles?
Feeding Littles was started by dietitian Megan McNamee MPH, RDN and occupational therapist/feeding therapist Judy Delaware, OTR/L to help parents and caregivers worldwide teach their babies how to eat real food, prevent or reverse picky eating behaviors, and learn to love all sorts of foods via their online courses and social media accounts/groups. Megan lives in Scottsdale, Arizona and has two young girls. She works with clients via phone all over the world and helps adults and children with various nutrition concerns, including pregnancy and breastfeeding nutrition, food allergies/sensitivities, chronic dieting, and disease management. Judy lives in Louisville, Colorado and has two young adult children. Judy works with 30-40 private clients a week in their homes or via telehealth and helps kids 0-3 with developmental, medical, oral-motor or sensory issues around eating.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
When you think of starting solid foods with your baby, you may imagine making your own baby food or buying small jars of pureed food at the store to spoon-feed your sweet baby. This method of feeding is called “Traditional Weaning” (TW) and is how most babies have been fed for the past century or so. In the last decade, many parents have chosen to start their babies on solids by using a technique called Baby led Weaning (BLW), whereby baby feeds herself strips of soft food and is in control of how much food she eats. The term “weaning” is the European use of the term and means the “introduction of solid foods.” Thus, to those of us in the United States, Baby led Weaning means “infant self-feeding.”
With Traditional Weaning, parents transition to other textures and finger foods within weeks to months. Thus, BLW is simply skipping the spoon-feeding step. It doesn’t mean that baby doesn’t eat pureed textures like mashed potatoes, guacamole, and hummus – it just involves offering foods in a way they are usually eaten. Instead of making pureed broccoli baby food, whole cooked broccoli is served. Inherently pureed foods like hummus can be served via a loaded spoon, as a dip, or just dumped on baby’s tray for an amazing (and messy) sensory experience.
While some people think BLW is a trend, it’s actually how babies have been fed for millennia. Baby food is a relatively recent phenomenon that became popular when physicians recommended feeding infants at just a few days of age to prevent iron deficiency when infant formula wasn’t iron-fortified. As a practitioner who seeks evidence-based information, I was stunned to learn that there is no data or research to prove that babies need to be spoon-fed purees to learn how to successfully eat. It’s simply what was “traditionally” done, and the literature uses terms like “customarily” and “traditionally” when describing why babies have received baby food. Read more about common feeding myths, including why food before one is not just for fun and why you can switch from puree/spoon feeding to BLW-style feeding here.
Why do Parents Choose Baby-Led Weaning?
Offering whole foods from the start allows your baby to learn to lateralize food in her mouth with her tongue, chew with her strong back gums, and eventually to swallow food. It teaches safe, skilled eating from the start, as we don’t want baby to learn to just swallow solid foods. Teeth aren’t necessary – babies usually only have a few front teeth (or none at all) in infancy, but we don’t chew with our front teeth anyway. Many parents like that BLW allows baby to come to the table and eat what the family eats, so mealtimes are for everyone to feed themselves. Some data suggests that it may prevent picky eating and allows babies better self-regulation, although we are still waiting for more research to confirm the benefits of BLW. If you talk to parents who have done it, they will likely say how fun it is to watch their child explore new textures and flavors and be part of what the family is eating. After all, babies watch us and want to model what we do, so it’s very natural for them to want to pick up food and put it in their own mouth.
Some parents are worried to try BLW with their first baby, but I have noticed that many of the moms who did TW with baby 1 want to try BLW with subsequent children. It’s easier than making or buying special foods, and many times a baby with an older sibling only wants to feed herself, just like big brother of sister. Plus, since many toddlers become particular about food by around 12-24 months, many moms hope BLW will help prevent some of the particular eating they experienced with their eldest.
As a dietitian who works with clients with eating disorders and those who are chronic dieters, I love BLW because it teaches self-regulation and listening to fullness cues from the start. It can be easy to overfeed a baby if not responding to her cues (think when parents coerce a baby to open her mouth for the spoon, a la “here comes the airplane”). While it makes baby eat in the short-term, it may teach her to eat beyond her body’s cues of fullness. If you are doing some spoon-feeding, please check out these common mistakes most parents make during this process.
What about Milk Feeds?
Baby will continue to nurse or take bottles as usual. Food is complementary at first, and usually babies don’t decrease milk intake until at least 9-12 months. We want babies to drink at least 24 ounces of breast milk or formula until at least 12 months of age. Your baby probably won’t eat a lot of food at the beginning, but with practice and exposure (we recommend 3 meals by 9 months of age) she will likely increase how much she ingests. It’s a messy, fun, explorative process that helps develop her palate and exposes her sensory system to all sorts of flavors, textures, and visual inputs.
What foods can I offer?
As long as baby can pick up the food and it doesn’t contain honey or excess salt (or isn’t a choking hazard), it’s likely fair game. Parents like to start with strips of avocado, sweet potato, and banana. Meat, poultry and fish are also recommended as early as 6 months because they are bioavailable sources of iron, which your baby does need more of in the second half of infancy. Remember, at 6 months of age (when it’s recommended to start any food), babies do not have a pincer grasp and cannot pick up small pieces of food. Longer strips are easier for them to pick up, but they also allow them to place the food in the right spot in their mouth – that back molar space where they should be chewing – so it helps teach them how to eat right away. Babies can have some salt, but with their immature kidneys we recommend avoiding adding salt to their food more than what’s already in it.
Won't baby choke?
Your baby’s gag reflex is very sensitive and is about 2/3 of the way back in her mouth. If she tries to swallow food without lateralizing it and chewing it, she will gag. Gagging and choking are not the same thing. Read more about gagging here. If you take our online BLW course (see coupon code below), you’ll watch exactly what gagging looks like and learn all about measures to keep mealtime safe. The current research comparing BLW to Traditional Weaning suggests that BLW does not increase the risk of baby choking as long as choking hazards are not offered. Choking hazards include uncut grapes or cherry tomatoes, popcorn, uncut hotdogs, chips, marshmallows, hard candy, raw apples and raw carrots. Our online course includes an extensive choking hazard printable.
What about allergenic foods?
The AAP and AAAAI used to recommend avoiding specific allergenic foods like eggs, fish, peanuts and tree nuts until 1, 2, or 3 years of age depending on the allergen. Unfortunately, those recommendations dramatically increased our incidence of food allergy in US children. Those recommendations were changed in 2013, but some parents still hear that they shouldn’t give baby any allergenic foods. Unfortunately, avoiding these foods not only doesn’t help prevent allergy, but it can actually increase a baby’s risk of developing an allergy to that food. Of course, we have no idea if a baby will be allergic to a given food as in Luna’s case, but waiting to offer allergenic foods, unless specifically advised by your pediatrician or pediatric allergist, may increase your child’s risk of developing an allergy. If your child has a higher allergic risk due to parental allergy or a history of allergic conditions (eczema, difficulty tolerating components of breast milk or formula), please work carefully with your pediatrician and consider a referral to a pediatric allergist if you need allergy testing.
How do I get started?
Our fully online, self-paced, video-based course Infant Feeding: the Baby-led Way will help you learn exactly what to feed your baby (including a Meal Plan and Shopping List) and will show you videos of how to do BLW in a safe way that is comfortable for your family. It has been used by thousands of families to teach BLW in a flexible, fun way and integrates both nutrition and feeding therapy techniques to help make the process as successful as possible. Plus, in purchasing the course you can request to join our private Facebook group for clients only.
Use code CAITLIN2018 for $10 off through July 20th, 2018.