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Baby-led weaning: Everything you need to know about BLW

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Baby-led weaning (BLW) is a feeding method where you let your child feed themselves from the very start of the weaning process instead of introducing them gently with purees and weaning spoons.

The method was originally created by Dr. Gill Rapley, a former health visitor and midwife, whose research concluded that babies were more than capable of deciding when to start solids all by themselves - provided they are given the opportunity.

The key difference between baby-led weaning and traditional weaning is the order the child learns to eat. If you start with purees and baby food, a baby will learn to swallow first which gradually develops into to chewing, which can present problems when they are presented with more solid foods.

With baby-led weaning, the baby learns to chew first and swallowing becomes second nature.

How do I get started with baby-led weaning?

While continuing with breastmilk or formula, encourage your little one with a variety of nutritious finger foods that are suitable for their age. This is best done at dinner time when the rest of the family are eating. Watching you and others eat will entice them to try for themselves.

Stick with simple finger-shaped foods that they can easily grip in their hands. They might take to it quickly or they'll play around with foods, sucking or tasting. This is normal. Keep at it until they get more confident with their food.

Recommended food for BLW includes cooked pieces of carrot, sweet potato, courgette, broccoli, potato, butternut squash and apple. You can also give your little one raw foods too including pieces of banana, cucumber, peaches, avocado, pears, melon.

Start 4 Life says that you can tell your baby is ready to feed himself if he can do the following together:
  • Stay in a sitting position and hold his head steady
  • Co-ordinate his eyes, hand and mouth, look at food, pick up food and put it in his mouth
  • Swallow food
Other mums like the best of both worlds and prefer to combine purees and add some finger foods too.

Never leave your baby unattended as there is a risk of gagging or choking. The gagging reflex is designed to move food away from your baby's airway, to the front of his mouth and he'll eventually spit the food out. Always be on hand to react if food goes down the wrong hole and he starts to choke. If you're worried, book a free ‘Save a Life' course through your local Sure Start Children's Centre to learn how to deal with a choking baby.

Baby-led weaning is a controversial topic and leading figures have strong opinions about whether it is the right method.

The argument for baby-led weaning



Baby-led weaning gives your child a chance to gain confidence, independence and explore different foods at their own pace.

Former health visitor and midwife Dr. Gill Rapley believes that BLW motivates a baby. In her BLW guidelines (2008) Dr. Rapley says; ‘This approach to the introduction of solids offers a baby the opportunity to discover what other foods have to offer as part of finding out about the world around him. It utilises his desire to explore and experiment, and to mimic the activities of others.

'Allowing the baby to set the pace of each meal, and maintaining an emphasis on play and exploration rather than on eating, enables the transition to solid foods to take place as naturally as possible. This is because it would appear that what motivates babies to make this transition is curiosity, not hunger.’

Read more of Dr Rapley's guidelines and research

The argument against baby-led weaning



Critics of the method say baby-led weaning is messy and wasteful as the child will pick and choose a lot of foods and won’t eat everything you serve up. Babies can find it hard to chew on some finger foods, such as well-cooked meat, which is an important part of their diet.

Baby food and weaning expert Annabel Karmel is against BLW and says; 'I am not a fan of baby-led weaning. I think that it is hard enough for your baby to learn how to chew without having to worry that they might bite off something they can't swallow properly and choke. I don't think it is safe.

'For hundreds of years we've fed our babies purees, which is a gradual way of introducing solids and you can give them almost any type of food in a puree to help them eat a varied diet. Young babies find it hard to chew finger foods like chicken and meat and I'd worry that they wouldn't get the nutrition they need. Whereas an iron-rich red meat puree is soft and easy to swallow.'

Should you try baby-led weaning?

One of the main points to remember when choosing BLW or the traditional weaning method, is that success rates will vary from child to child. The most important thing to do is to be in touch with your baby’s needs and cues. Every baby is different and will develop at a different pace.

Talk to your health visitor or GP before trying baby-led weaning especially if you have a family history of allergies, digestive problems or food intolerances or if your baby has special needs or was born prematurely.

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