What is Baby Led Weaning?
Having had first hand experience of Baby Led Weaning I was asked to write an Article detailing some facts and tips for everyone. Having enjoyed our weaning journey with Quentin and seen the benefit of this method I’m excited to share our experiences as well.
The next bit was where to begin……
I decided it was easier to break weaning down into two different approaches – Parent Led and Baby Led.
There’s a lot of confusion out there at the moment, and often hear people say we do Baby led weaning and purees. Though in truth you can’t really let a baby have full control if your spoon feeding, the whole ethos of Baby led weaning is allowing your child the right to control their own food intake and explore foods at the same time.
Definition of Parent Led Weaning
Parent Led weaning using the traditional method of combining purees and finger foods. There are no set schedules to when the ‘finger’ foods are introduced but the most recent NHS guidelines suggest that purees and finger foods from the early stages of the weaning process is beneficial to adjusting to different textures.
Parent led approaches require much more parent involvement, normally specially prepared age appropriate food administered with a spoon, or encouraged into the mouth.
The child will have to progress through varying levels of smoothness to lumps to learn how the eat, chew and swallow the different foods offered.
Definition of Baby Led Weaning
Baby Led Weaning is a different way of describing self-feeding. The whole ethos of baby led weaning is determined by the fact your baby will made the first move towards determining they are ready to start the weaning journey. Normally this can be initiated by offering food that they will choose to consume or it has been acquired off a nearby plate. your child will also continue have total control of how they choose to eat and how much they eat throughout the introduction of different foods.
The key to Baby led weaning is that the baby has made the decision to start their weaning journey, not encouraged by food being put into their mouth for them, nor are they encouraged to complete a certain number of spoons of food.
Yes this can get messy but it’s a healthy way to learn about food.
Where did Baby Led Weaning Come from?
Baby Led weaning isn’t a new concept, however the term was introduced by health visitor Gill Rapley in 2003, who determined that babies do not require staged introductions to food, this was how weaning was done before the invention of blenders and probably goes back to the start of time itself. Traditional Weaning methods came about around the same time as Formula feeding as Scientists/Nutritionists decided that solids could be introduced earlier.
Interesting reading here: http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodbaby.html
Where to begin?
As with any introduction of solids the minimum guideline for Baby led weaning is around 6 months. Quentin was about 5 and half months old when he launched himself at our food but actually ate very little initially, we took his lead.
Key factors for safe weaning include your child should being able to sit up properly unaided and to navigate items to their own mouth to suck, chew etc.
Do you need anything special to wean this way?
In short, as long as you have a suitable way of sitting your child safely when introducing foods then that is all you need.
You don’t need spoons, bowls, plates etc as it’s much easier to lay food out in front of your child initially. Bowls can just confuse matters. Also there is no need to invest in blenders, storage pots or anything else that is typically associated with traditional weaning styles.
Tip:We used a booster chair for Quentin, this could be attached to a chair or sat on the floor for picnics etc, it had a detachable tray which we could use if there was no access to a table.
We also found it helpful to take a towel out and about with us to lay under his booster seat, this way food mess can be tidied away easily.
Our first foods were things like bananas, fruit cut into halves or fingers, vegetables like broccoli, carrots, which can be served raw or par-boiled.
Admittedly it was a few weeks before we were brave enough to share our actual dinner with him due to the temperature of the food we were eating but this passed.
There is generally no set rules for what you should or shouldn’t offer, be mindful of family allergies and try and cook your own food with lower salt/sugar content. NHS guidelines will suggest things like wheat, nuts and runny eggs being introduced later in the weaning process.
Keep up with your milk feeds, I always breastfed Quentin before our meal, this way he wasn’t ravenous at the table, he would be much calmer and play with the food at his own pace. Remember Milk should still be the bulk of your babies diet, before 12 months food is for fun.
Your baby will choose to eat whatever they wish, play, squish, roll. These are all part of the development, it helps them judge foods, smell foods, and most importantly enjoy food! You should never actively encourage them to eat more than they want or make them clear their plate.
Babies will gag no matter how they are weaned, its all part of their natural development. the key part of Baby led weaning is the baby is aware of their own gag reflex, they learn how far they can put food into their own mouths and learn with it.
Gagging is very different from choking, it may make you a little uneasy to start with, but you do learn to relax and let them get on with it.
Tip: I used a 5 second rule, if Quentin started to gag I would count to 5 if he wasn’t able to dislodge the food he was eating I would take him out of his seat and pat him on his back to assist him. I think I only ever had to do this about 4 times, as most of the time he was able to resolve the issue himself. Vomitting often accompanies gagging this is totally normal.
Well Meaning Friends/Family
I will fully admit having watched my niece and nephew go through the more traditional weaning methods, I hunted for something easier and more convenient.
Needless to say when Our weaning methods where overseen by them It certainly raised a few eye brows. ‘Aren’t you going to mash that banana?’ ‘He’ll choke on that’ etc were all comments we heard in the room. It did make me question myself but I maintained my stance and continued with baby led weaning.
Family were also known for trying to fly and aeroplane of food into Quentin’s mouth during family meals but thankfully this didn’t interrupt our journey too much.
It can be hard to convince them that what you are doing is safe, and okay to do, I often lent out my copy of The Baby led Weaning book to pacify people, I’ve also found that I’ve converted a few people to Baby Led Weaning when they have witnessed first hand the eating skills that Quentin now displays.
Benefits of Baby Led Weaning
Please be aware these are based entirely on my own experience of Baby led weaning, not all children with develop in the same manner or at the same pace.
Really handy to just be able for Quentin to eat what ever I eat, no lugging extra food etc about with me, especially when eating out in a restaurant.
Snacks were handy to have with me for moments when nursing or having a full meal were inappropriate, this was from about 8 months old. Children’s rice cakes, finger fruits, breadsticks etc were easily added to the change bag in the morning.
You can order anything from any menu, Quentin would share my main course wherever we were, at about 18 months I would order his own plate as he wanted to use cutlery etc.
Quentin has excellent hand-eye co-ordination and dexterity
He has used spoons to self feed since he was 9 months (i.e. spoon his own yoghurt out of the pot), and forks at about 12 months, he’s now experimenting with knives (children’s blade ones)
He eats when he’s hungry, stops when he’s full. I’ve never pressured him to finish a meal but I do encourage him to try new a food when it’s offered but not force him to do it.
Throughout our weaning journey Quentin has been through many phases:
- Messiness ceased much earlier on than I imagined
- We never had an issue with throwing food
- We did have a phase of dropping food on the floor
- We did have a phase of hiding food in his booster seat
- He will still eat with fingers sometimes
- He will insist on help with food if he can’t get the last few peas/beans off his plate or yoghurt from the bottom of the pot
I’ve always taken his lead or acted on request with this phases as they soon pass.
- If you have a thrower or dropper don’t offer all the food in one sitting it can be overwhelming
- Never insist on clearing a plate, pressure to eat or encourage speedy eating
- Try not to offer more food if they stop eating
- Offer more food if all food offered is eaten
- We don’t typically do dinner and pudding, but I will offer fruit etc if all other food is cleared
- Try to keep calm
- Don’t worry about mess until they’ve finished, this includes dropped food, nothing worse than bustle when your trying to concentrate on eating
- Allow mess – it’s an important stage for development