What is Baby-Led Weaning??
Baby-Led Weaning (BLW, or baby led solids) is the term for skipping purées with your baby and going straight from breast milk or formula to solid foods. The weaning in Baby-Led Weaning doesn’t mean what we in the U.S. typically think it means – gradually taking your baby off nursing or formula. Rather, it comes from the British meaning for weaning, which has to do with gradually introducing foods to your baby’s diet.
There are a few safety guidelines that are important to follow, but once those are in place, all you do is share the food you are already eating with your baby. No expensive jars of baby food, no mashing and puréeing fruits and veggies, no tricking your baby with an “airplane” spoon.
Just bring your baby to the table with you and let them explore food.
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Why should I consider doing it?
Baby-Led Weaning is the cheapest & easiest way to begin solids with your baby, just what this frugalazy mama needs. Here are the main reasons why I recommend it:
Jarred baby food adds an extra $90 to the average family’s grocery budget each month (~3 jars of baby food/day at $1.00/jar). This isn’t including extra baby food items like teething biscuits, puffs or cereal. If solids begin at 4 months (and they shouldn’t – more on that later), the average family starting solids in the traditional way is adding $720 in baby food in the first year of life!
That’s not to say feeding baby food prepared at home won’t add to your food budget. Our grocery spending has increased maybe $20/month since Baby Bear started solids. I would imagine this increase would be pretty consistent if you do BLW or make your own purées at home. With purées, however, you need so much extra equipment. The cost of food, plus the cost of a baby food maker, and a bunch of storage trays can easily set you back at least $300 over the course of baby’s first year.
The extra money we spend each month on food doing Baby-Led Weaning is mainly due to purchasing higher quality, fresh and organic ingredients for family meals. Our family only spent an extra $120 in food for our baby’s first year, and our whole family is eating a lot healthier now.
I love the idea of making homemade baby food. Really, I do. But you have to steam and cool and mash and freeze and then DO ALL OF THE DISHES. Who wants to spend their time doing that? If you conservatively plan on spending an hour and a half each week making, blending, preparing, and cleaning up after homemade purées, you are looking at 48 hours over the course of baby’s first year. When you have a little one at home, that precious time could be spent doing so many other things.
Even feeding store-bought baby food adds time to your day. Warming it up doesn’t take much time, but then you are either spoon-feeding your baby while you try to eat your own meal, which is often frustrating for both of you, or you are having two separate meal times – one for you/your family and a separate one for your little one. If you eat separately from your baby at each meal time, you are adding about an hour each day to your routine. Add it up over the course of eight months (if you start solids at 4 months) and you’ve spent 225 hours along baby’s first year spoon-feeding. And who has time for that?!
Baby-Led Weaning really doesn’t add much time to the daily routine in our house. Baby Bear eats what we’re eating. Occasionally, I’ll steam up some extra veggies for her while our dinner is cooking. Mountain Papa and I spend most our time during meals chatting and reconnecting and Bear chimes in. Our mealtimes are very smooth and simple. The most time-consuming task when it comes to BLW is cleanup. I would estimate I spend maybe 5 minutes per day, total, doing Baby-Led Weaning.
Introduces Healthy Eating Habits
Babies who start solids using BLW are less likely to be overweight/obese in early childhood and are more likely to show a preference for healthy foods, according to this study. The idea is that when babies are able to control their own intake of food, rather than being spoon fed, they are more in-tune with their internal hunger and satiation cues and are better able to stop eating once they feel full.
Control Over Ingredients
I like Baby-Led Weaning because, as the parent of a kid with food allergies and sensitivities, I know exactly what Bear is eating at all times.
Good for the Planet
It is less wasteful. If a baby eats 3 jars of store-bought food per day for the first year of their life, beginning at 4 months old, that is 720 plastic or glass jars of baby food that end up in the landfill each year for each child. That is a load of garbage (see what I did there?). Even puréeing your own food requires a lot of “gear” – blenders, steamers, storage containers, etc, that will only serve a purpose in your home temporarily. Here at simplemountainmama.com, we are looking to declutter and simplify.
All of the waste produced from BLW in our house has gone into our compost or to feed our dog.
Lastly, it has pushed our family into even better eating habits. Mountain Papa and I were pretty good about eating healthy before our girl started solids. Now we have an extra push to really eat more healthy fruits and veggies, as that is mainly what we give to her.
OK, I’m ready to start.
Wait! Is your baby ready? Remember this is Baby-Led Weaning. You’ll want to make sure that your baby is showing these signs of readiness before you begin to offer them solids:
- Able to sit independently,
- Reaches to grab things and is able to bring them to his/her mouth,
- Noshes on his/her toys & makes chewing movements,
- Is interested in the food you’re eating and starts to put it in her mouth
Watch your baby for signs of food readiness. As we know, all babies follow a different course of development. Just like babies start to walk at all different ages, there is a range of normal for food readiness – typically 5-9 months but could be even later.
My baby is 4 months old and I think he’s ready to eat my food!
Your younger baby is showing all the readiness signs for solid foods? That’s fantastic! It sounds like you have an early developing baby on your hands. I would still urge you to play it safe and wait until your baby is at least six months old to begin, and so would the World Health Organization, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians.
Serving the Food
If you’re starting right at 6 months, chances are good that your baby hasn’t developed the pincer (thumb and forefinger) grasp yet. Most babies at this age are grasping objects in a fist, called the palmar grasp. To accommodate this, cut food into ~3 inch long sticks so your baby will have a handle to grip on to while they eat. Think of a french fry – baby holds one end in their fist and chews on the other.
Some ideas for great first foods that can be served this way include:
- green beans,
- sweet potato fries,
- broccoli (they can hold the stem and chew on the crown),
- penne pasta,
Once your baby develops the pincer grasp, which typically happens closer to 9 months, you can begin to cut food into smaller shapes and introduce small foods like blueberries, peas, corn, or rice.
Learn the Difference Between Gagging and Choking…
…and what to do in each situation:
- Gagging is when a piece of food is in the back of the throat and the baby is actively trying to move it forward.
- A gagging baby makes noise – you’ll hear your baby cough and/or sputter.
- Do NOT try to sweep the food out with your finger! This can push it down into the airway and lead to choking.
- Wait and let your baby clear the food out on their own.
- Choking is when a piece of food is lodged in your baby’s airway.
- A baby that is truly choking typically does not make noise but you can see them struggling to get air.
- I highly recommend that all new parents take an infant first aid/CPR class. I’ve done BLW with three babies and never had to use it, but having the knowledge in my back pocket always made me feel more secure.
This is a rule for all babies under one, whether BLWing or not, just want to remind you.
No Added Salt
Don’t add extra salt to your baby’s food! Their kidneys have a harder time metabolizing it.
What about allergies?
We introduced one new food at a time, and typically waited 2-3 days to introduce something new. Our doctor actually told us that this wasn’t necessary, but I am glad we did it. Baby Bear broke out in hives one morning after breakfast, despite no family history of food allergies. The only new food she was given that morning was eggs, so it was super easy to pinpoint and avoid the culprit while we waited to get into an allergist for formal testing.
More Baby-Led Weaning Tips
Get Ready for a Mess
Yes, there will be a mess. A pretty big one. If you have a family dog, this is when they really earn their keep. I highly recommend purchasing a long-sleeved bib or two (and yes, buy the Bumkins ones over the Ikea ones – the Ikea bibs aren’t waterproof and resulted in a lot of stained clothing). Some parents skip the bib and feed their kids in just a diaper. And throwing a sheet or tablecloth under the high chair can help with cleanup, too – just shake it off outside, wash and reuse.
Make Healthy Choices
Start with real, whole, single-ingredient foods like fruits and vegetables. Use this time to improve your family’s diet so you are modeling health eating habits for your baby. Stock up on frozen fruits and vegetables for those times when you just don’t have enough healthy foods on your plate to make a meal for baby. Steam them up while you’re preparing your dinner; it’s an easy way to get something healthy on the table for your baby in a pinch.
Food is Fun
It will seem like your baby is hardly eating anything at all for the first few months of Baby-Led Weaning. It takes a while for babies to realize what food is and get used to the different tastes and textures of it. Eventually they figure out that eating food helps the tummy feel full. Initially, the food will go everywhere but in baby’s mouth. This is OK. Babies gradually become more and more successful at eating throughout their first year. Breast milk will provide the necessary nutrients and calories until baby gets the hang of eating solids.
Try New Things
Every flavor is new to your baby now. The first year is the best time to introduce various flavors, textures, and spices to your baby before the pickiness of toddlerhood sets in. In fact, exposure to different foods this first year may prevent toddler pickiness altogether. Just remember to use salt sparingly.
Be Careful with Apples and Grapes
When I hear of a choking scare with babies doing BLW, it almost always involves grapes, apples or pears. These are harder foods for babies to mush and swallow. Steaming or shredding apples or pears with a cheese grater is a quick and easy way to reduce the likelihood of choking. Cut grapes in quarters before serving to make them easier to swallow.
Keep a Plate in the Freezer
Take it out and put baby’s food on it a few minutes before serving. The chill of the plate will help cool baby’s food enough to eat.
Offer a Drink
Once your baby starts to join you at mealtime, it is fine to start offering them a couple of ounces of water (1-2) with food. This cup helped Baby Bear become an expert at drinking from an open-top cup by her first birthday.
Overwhelmed by everything there is to know about Baby-Led Weaning? I created a one-page printable with all the information you need to know about BLW. It’s perfect to stick on your refrigerator or to pass along to your child care provider.
Baby-Led Weaning and Daycare
First, let me say it is completely fine to do Baby-Led Weaning part-time. If you or your daycare provider is uncomfortable with the thought of BLW at daycare, you absolutely can have them do purées while you do BLW at home. As with all interactions between care providers and parents, communication is key. Stay inside both of your comfort zones. For those of you who’d like to try to do BLW 100% of the time, including at daycare, read on for some tips:
If you’ve read this far you’ve already done a good job of educating yourself. Most daycare providers will have only served purées to babies. You are the advocate/point person for your child. The idea of offering solid foods right off the bat might concern your provider. It is your responsibility as a parent who wants them to try something new to educate them and be able to answer their questions and address their concerns. Share this post with them!
Make Sure Your Daycare Provider is CPR/First Aid Certified
There is a 0% chance I would ever consider asking a child care provider who does not have an up-to-date CPR/First Aid certification to try Baby-Led Weaning with my child. Actually, this is something I would require before I left my child with someone for any amount of time, regardless of doing BLW. For those of you who forgot to screen for this when choosing a care provider – ASK. Choking is rare, but can happen, and you want to be sure the adult in charge of your child will know what to do if it happens.
Start by sending just one type of food for one meal for a week or two, and gradually build from there. This will help build the confidence of a less-than-eager provider and give you both time to troubleshoot any issues that may come up.
Always Try New Foods at Home First
I mentioned earlier that Baby Bear had an allergic reaction to eggs the first time we gave them to her. I am so thankful that this happened on the weekend when Mountain Papa and I were both home with her. It would have been scarier if I had been alone with her and multiple children to care for. It would have been even more terrifying if it were happening to a child who was in my care who wasn’t my own. So, please, no matter improbable an allergic reaction is, only send foods to daycare if you’ve tried them at home first and waited 24-48 hours for a possible reaction to occur.
Mind the Mess
Please be kind to your provider and only send foods that require nothing more than a quick wipe of the hands and face with a warm wash cloth to clean. If you want to be extra nice, send along a long-sleeved bib and floor covering for them to keep with them to use during meal times. Chances are your baby is not the only child in their care… you don’t want to add to their distractions.
Frozen Fruits and Veggies are your Friends
I always try to have 2-3 bags of different frozen fruits or vegetables on hand. I can quickly steam them up in the evening in case we’ve run out of fresh produce. These epitomize the trifecta of a frugalazy mom: cheap, easy, and healthy! Steam some up in the evening and send them to daycare in the morning.
Respect your Provider’s Limits
If you’ve educated your child care provider and done your best to help keep cleanup simple and they still feel uneasy with the idea of Baby-Led Weaning, don’t push it. They have the enormous responsibility of your (and probably a few other) children’s lives in their hands. Don’t push them to go too far outside of their comfort zone.