Beginning Baby-Led Weaning
Updated: Nov 16, 2018
Starting your weaning journey with your baby can feel like such a difficult task. First you need to decide which route you’re going to take. For me BLW was the route I’d chosen for my children, long before they were born. Having seen a few friends choose this form of weaning I knew it was the right choice for me.
Once you’ve decided which form of weaning you like to do with your baby, you then have to make decisions on what solids you will introduce to your baby first, how and when to introduce them, what foods are unsafe, what times of day are best for your baby to eat. The list of concerns you may have about weaning can be endless.
It’s totally normal to feel nervous and apprehensive about introducing solids to your baby. After all, milk and relying on another human for their food source is all they’ve known up to this point.
I’ll just make it clear from here on in, the advice I’m providing is for parents choosing to BLW. Unfortunately I have never weaned any of my children with purees, so I’m unable to help with any queries related to this form of weaning.
How and When to Begin
I’ve found the information for BLW can often be a little confusing, so here’s some top tips I followed both times I weaned:
· Hang fire on introducing solids until your baby is over the age of 6months, also able to sit unaided for a short amount of time, without support. Once they are sitting unaided & aged 6months or over, make a start when you’re ready.
· Don’t try to drop any of their normal milk feeds; keep their feeds exactly as they are and they will guide you when they want to reduce them. Milk should stay as their main source of nutrition until aged 1yrs, so don’t worry if they’re still big milk fans during early weaning.
· An average meal portion for anyone, be that baby, child & adults, is the size of your own palm/clenched fist. If your baby is eating a portion the size of their own fist, then they’re eating a very good amount. Initially your baby may only nibble at foods you offer.
· In the first couple of weeks, try to offer you baby just 2-3 different foods per meal. I found that anymore and they become overwhelmed and actually uninterested in what’s been placed on the tray.
· Try to eat with your baby for each mealtime, especially during the early months, so they always have someone to imitate.
· With BLW you don’t need to worry about introducing foods gradually, their first meal could literally be a portion of whatever your family is planning on eating that day. Let them dig into Spaghetti Bolognaise for their very first meal if you like!
· Introduce them to plates, cutlery and beakers/cups right from the off. The more exposure to all these items they have, the more familiar they become to your baby and you will find they pick up using them correctly, very quickly.
Before weaning Begins
Before I started weaning either of my children, I chose to let them sit in their highchair with some toys to play with at each mealtime, in the month before starting weaning. This isn’t a necessity, but I’m certain allowing them to observe mealtimes helped both boys get the idea of how food was consumed. I occasionally offered them raw veggies & fruits to pick up, play with and chew on. Foods they’d be unable to break up with their gums, such as large chunks of raw carrot, broccoli, apple, cucumber.
What to expect from the first 2 months of Weaning
So often I have parents with babies only a week or so into weaning message me to say they’re concerned that their babies aren’t eating enough food & seem to only play with it.
It’s vital to remember that eating solids and learning to self-feed is a totally alien concept to your baby and it’s going to take them some time to master the skill of eating. Just like it takes a baby practice and patience to master the skill of walking, weaning is just that: another skill that requires practice and patience.
So often babies haven’t long mastered their grasp and some still have a long way to go at perfecting this skill alone, so trying to grasp foods and put them to their mouth is going to take time.
Here’s a breakdown of what to expect:
Week 1 – Expect nothing at all, it’s most likely your baby will stare down at the food on their plate in total wonder about what you’ve put in front of them. They may poke at it with their fingers, pick it up and squash it, then throw it.
Week 2 – They may make regular effort to pick the food up and mush it with their hands. They may start to put food to their mouths and have a taste. When they do this try to offer them lots of praise and encouragement.
Week 3 – Will begin to pick up the food almost as you place it in front of them, often putting it to their lips, maybe having a little taste or chew of the food. Some may swallow the food, but don’t worry if they spit it back out, this is totally normal.
Week 4 – Will now be chewing foods, but most likely spitting them back out. Swallowing will still be rather unsuccessful. You may find they gag a fair amount too, again totally normal, and not something to fear.
Week 5 – You’ll probably find your baby starts to show excitement for mealtimes, showing they’re becoming aware of the process. They’ll be starting to show a lot of interest in food and will be consuming some foods, again still only consuming a very small amount. With the majority of food still being thrown, mushed and spat out.
Week 6 – Your baby may now be becoming rather confident with food and consuming most of what you offer. Please don’t worry if your baby isn’t at this stage yet some take much longer. In fact my first son was almost a year before he became confident a t eating.
Week 7 – 8 – Your baby will most likely be moving onto 3 regular meals a day by this point. Enjoying and showing interest in each mealtime. Regularly consuming foods. They may still spit foods out and play with them. This is all fine, please try to embrace the mess and wastage, it doesn’t last for very long and you’re allowing them such an invaluable learning experience.
Tips for Success
· In the early weeks of weaning it's best to treat weaning as more of a learning activity, so it really doesn’t matter if you can only squeeze one mealtime into your baby's day. Try not to see it as a time for them to eat and replenish their bellies. Treat the mealtime as more of a playtime for baby. One relaxed meal, where baby is free to explore and make a mess, is better than 3 rushed ones.
· Try to plan this ‘weaning activity’ around an hour after their usual milk feed and when they’re fresh from a nap. Babies are a lot more willing to participate when their bellies are not rumbling and they’re not tired. Learning to self-feed is tiring work. I used to feed my boys, put them down for a nap, then once they woke I would plonk them straight into the highchair and eat my lunch whilst they ‘played/ate’.
· Try to set aside an hour for baby to explore a mealtime, it's best that mealtimes aren’t rushed occasions in the early days. Try to make them as relaxed and fun as possible. I find when baby feels relaxed they consume much more. Make sure there aren’t any distractions that will avert your baby’s attention from the mealtime. We don’t have a TV in our kitchen and tend to talk and listen to the radio during mealtimes.
· You’ll know when baby is done with the mealtime as they often become restless and fidgety and start deliberately firing food across the room.
· Avoid the temptation to pick baby's food up for them and offer it to them or feed it to them. It can be hard, I know, to sit there watching your baby staring at the food in front of them, not touching it. But they will learn so much quicker if they’re allowed the freedom and time to figure it out for themselves. You could help them to figure it out, by showing them how your food gets from your plate to your own mouth. Praise them every time they’re successful at picking food up and putting it to their mouths.
Gagging can seem so scary and often people mistake it for Choking. But Gagging is totally normal and all part of the weaning process. Your baby will experience gagging whether you BLW or traditionally wean as it’s simply their body attempting to reject this new foreign object.
It’s the process of swallowing the food which makes a baby gag. A baby’s gag reflex is much further forward then ours are, meaning their tongues are able to move food back into the mouth much easier than us. When you see your baby gagging, it’s best to allow them the time to resolve it for themselves. You could try offering them a drink, to wash away the food, as normally it’s a tiny amount that they just can’t seem to get a good grip on. The other reason for gagging can be if they’re trying to swallow too much at once. Again try not to intervene, allow your baby the chance to bring the food back into their mouths, chew it to break it down smaller and then swallow again. Your baby will quickly learn what they can managed to swallow size wise and what is too much.
Luckily I’ve never experienced choking in any of my children. It’s important to remember that there is a huge difference between gagging and choking. Choking is extremely rare. But it is vital that your baby is supervised at all times during every meal. I also highly recommend making yourself aware with how to administer first aid on a choking baby/child. As it's handy knowledge to have, no matter how you choose to wean or what age your children may be.
Foods to Avoid/take care with
There aren't many foods that need to be avoided.
· Honey should be avoided until your baby is over 1 yrs. old. This means any form of honey, products with honey in, hot food with honey in etc. All should be avoided.
· Whole nuts, I do offer nuts to my boys but they are crushed and offered as toppings.
· Foods a similar shape to grapes, including grapes, cherry tomatoes, olives, sausages, hot dog sausages, baby carrots, etc. need to be cut either in half or quarters lengthways. Foods like these are a similar shape to a babies/child’s windpipe and can easily become wedged.
· Runny egg yolks, if the eggs aren’t lion stamped (a British thing)
· Salt should be kept to a total of 1g a day or below.
· Low fat, products, try to stick to offering your baby full fat products. Babies don’t need to be eating diet foods and they need the fats to aid their growth.
· Shark & Swordfish
Good Starter Foods
Really with BLW there is no such thing as starter foods, your baby can eat the same meals as you normally eat right from the start. But I’m often asked what the best foods are to begin with. I have found it best to stick to more chip shape, soft foods to begin with, like roasted sweet potato, parsnips, butternut squash, carrots, apples. Offer steamed veggies and soft fruits. You could also give chicken, salmon, toast fingers, homemade muffins, fritters, pancakes.
But only do this for the first week and then try to include your baby in your regular foods/meals as much as possible, adapting the way you serve them for your baby. For example if we were to have Lasagne, I would cut it into finger shapes for baby to pick up with their hands.
I really hope you’ve found this information useful. I know it may seem like a lot to take in. But really BLW is so simple. Just allow your baby to eat with you and they will soon become a confident eater.
Good luck, embrace the mess and watch your baby’s independence grow!
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For other general advice about nutrition for your children, check out our weaning page.