Baby-led weaning is a way of feeding solids or first foods to babies made popular by Gill Rapley, an experienced British nurse, midwife and breastfeeding counselor.
Also known as child-led feeding, baby-led weaning (or feeding) is not to be confused with the process of weaning a child off breastmilk. In the words of Gill Rapley herself:
“Baby-led weaning (BLW) is a way of introducing solid foods that allows babies to feed themselves — there’s no spoon feeding and no purées. The baby sits with the family at mealtimes and joins in when she is ready, feeding herself ﬁrst with her ﬁngers and later with cutlery.”
This means that parents need not give their babies mashed, blended or puréed food, whether homemade or store-bought.
Instead, they are to offer their little ones “fist-sized chunks of food that they can handle on their own,” as The Huffington Post British Columbia’s news editor Andree Lau calls them.
The benefits of baby-led weaning According to Rapley, baby-led weaning actually allows babies to “explore taste, texture, color and smell; encourages independence and confidence; “and “helps to develop their hand-eye coordination and chewing skills.” She also claims that it lessens mealtime battles and decreases the likelihood of a child growing up to be a picky eater.
Lau agrees wholeheartedly, writing on the Huffington Post B.C. that she “partly credits” baby-led weaning for her children’s “eating gusto.”
Locally, many mothers also say that baby-led weaning is much better than the usual method of introducing mushy baby food with a spoon. One of them is Armi Shyr Anastacio-Baticados, a mompreneur and advocate of attachment parenting, who — like Lau — credits her daughter’s healthy eating habits to BLW.
On her official website, Armi says BLW has helped her preschooler to have a “healthy appetite,” and to “love a variety of fruits, vegetables, fishes, chicken, cheeses and yogurt, rice, pasta, noodles, and more.”
Allowing her daughter to feed herself has also helped develop her fine motor skills. Readers might even be surprised to see Armi’s preschooler eating with chopsticks, probably putting many older children — or even adults — to shame.
Tips for beginners If you’re interested in exploring baby-led weaning for your child, here are a few tips to help you get started:
1. Do your research. As with everything else parenting-related, it’s best that you do your research to see if baby-led weaning is really for you.
Because of the Internet, we have access to a treasure trove of information — right at the tips of our fingers. To help narrow down your search, here are some useful baby-led weaning resources:
- Child-Led Feeding (article) by Armi Shyr Anastacio-Baticados, who shares practical tips on getting startedon baby-led weaning especially tailored for Filipino parents and children. Armi also shares examples of the types of food parents can introduce to their babies.
2. Join support groups. Trying something that may be considered “new” or “unusual” (like babywearing and baby-led weaning) can be challenging, especially if you don’t have the necessary support.
3. Observe your baby. You should only introduce solid food to your baby when he or she is ready, usually at around six months old. Rapley gives a step-by-step guide on how one should get started on baby-led weaning in the leaflet available via her website, such as the correct sitting position for your baby, offering food rather than giving it, starting with food that are easy to pick up, and so on.
4. Learn the difference between gagging and choking (and learn first aid, too). Your baby can gag or choke on food whether it’s introduced via spoon-feeding or baby-led weaning, so it’s important for you to know the difference between the two.
Rapley and Tracey Murkett, her co-author for Baby-led Weaning: The essential guide to introducing solid foods – and helping your baby to grow up a happy and confident eater, describes gagging on the health website Mercola.com, saying it is actually “common in the early stages of BLW”:
“The gag reflex prevents food being pushed too far back without having been chewed adequately, and it is particularly sensitive between six and eight months. As the baby matures, he becomes more skilled at chewing and the point at which the gag reflex is triggered moves farther back in his mouth, so gagging occurs less often. Although gagging can appear alarming to parents, babies are rarely bothered by it, and it may be that it is an important part of helping them to learn not to overfill their mouths.”
Usually, a child who is gagging looks to be coughing mildly, making a little noise. On the other hand, a child who is choking will make no noise, and will be unable to breathe.
It would probably help, then, to enroll in a first aid course, just to be sure. If you have to leave your child with another caregiver like a yaya or relative, it might be best to have them take it up, too.
On an ending note, don’t be disappointed if you start out excited to practice baby-led weaning but eventually discover that it doesn’t work for you and your baby. Remember, what works for others may not necessarily be a fit for you. What’s important is that you do the best that you can to give your baby the best start in life, and that is what matters the most.
Important: If you have doubts about baby-led weaning, it might be best to consult your doctor first before you try it, especially if your child was born premature or has existing medical conditions.