Baby Led Weaning

This month we had the pleasure of talking to Hannah who runs the Instagram account @baby_led_eating, which documents her baby led weaning journey with her son Joshua (3 years) and daughter Isabelle (8 months).

What was the reason you decided to use BLW with Joshua?

I wasn't initially set on any one approach - BLW or traditional weaning - but the more I read into it the more I liked the sound of BLW. I've always enjoying cooking for family and friends and the thought blending everything up, and gradually increasing the textures, just didn't appeal as much as serving up normal food. I was also really interested in the other benefits of BLW such as developing hand-eye co-ordination, improving fine motor skills (using their hands and fingers) and letting them experience different textures and flavours. 

Did you face any initial criticism for choosing this method of weaning instead of going down the traditional route?

Not really. Our parents' were a little surprised when they saw us giving Joshua a plate of pasta when he was just over 6 months old because BLW wasn't really considered when they were weaning us. But when they saw how well he was coping with it I think they were excited about the approach. I did have to remind my mum a few times not to spoon-feed him his yoghurt though. 

Can you give us a little intro to BLW, e.g. when should you start, what types of food should you start with?

You should normally start offering solids around 6 months old - if you are going to be doing BLW then you should also wait until your baby can sit up with little or no support.

When thinking about what types of food to serve there are two things to consider:

- the size and shape of the food... can they pick it up and hold it? Food cut into the size and shape of your finger is often recommended as this is usually the best shape for them to pick up and hold.

- the texture... can they safely chew or mush it in their mouth? Ideally food should be soft enough to be squashed between your fingers.

Great early food options include well-cooked pasta, roasted vegetables, soft ripe fruit, cooked fish, thick porridge etc. 

You should never serve hard round foods such as whole cherry tomatoes, grapes, nuts, boiled sweets etc as they are choking hazards.

Are there any restrictions on what you can and cannot give babies when baby led weaning, e.g. When should you introduce allergen foods?

The great thing about BLW, and waiting to start weaning until baby is 6 months old, is that they can eat most things straight away - dairy, eggs, wheat etc.  There is no need to stick to plain vegetables as is often the case if you start weaning earlier.

That said, the main things to avoid are:

- salty foods... babies should not have more than 1g salt per day

- added sugar... avoid foods with added sugar

- honey… babies should not have any honey until they are one year old as there is a risk of infant botulism

New research shows that the earlier potential allergens are offered the less chance their is of an allergy developing. It is therefore recommended that potential allergens are offered from 6 months onwards, introducing one every few days so that you can watch out for any reactions. If there are no reactions then the food should continue to be offered regularly.

BLW has been criticised for food wastage, do you have any tips for this?

Unfortunately I think that some level of waste is unavoidable when feeding children - whether its a traditionally weaned baby turning its nose up at a bowl of puree, a BLW baby throwing its food around or a fussy toddler refusing their dinner.

I always make sure there is a clean mat underneath the highchair so that any dropped food can be picked up and put back on the tray. I will also pop any untouched food back in the fridge to offer again at the next meal.

With BLW the baby is often eating the same food as everyone else so you're less likely to be making anything specific for them. As they're eating along with the rest for the family so I also find that any leftovers are wolfed down by another family member instead. 

One of parents main concerns around BLW seems to be choking. What can parents do to reduce their fears? 

It is still totally natural to be nervous about feeding your baby solids for the first time, but research shows that there is no increased change of choking with baby led weaning than with traditional weaning.

There are three key things I would recommend parents do before they start weaning: 

- Learn how to serve food safely - e.g. avoid choking hazards

- Learn the difference between gagging and choking, and how to respond to each.

- Gagging, retching, coughing etc are a very normal and healthy part of learning how to eat solids. They actually help to prevent choking. If your baby is gagging then they should be left to get on with it. If your baby is choking their windpipe will be blocked and they will be unable to breathe - this is when you need to help and administer first aid.

- Do a baby first aid course so that you know what you do in the rare event that your baby does choke.

You are now doing BLW for the second time with Isabelle, how have you found it?

It was actually a very different experience because they approached food very differently. 

Joshua wolfed his food down from the very start - he would eat massive mouthfuls which was really scary to watch. He obviously loved the experience of eating - he used to finish his plate and cry for more. 

Isabelle was much less interested in food. She mainly played with it and dropped it on the floor in the early weeks. She also gagged much more frequently.  We are about 8 weeks into weaning now and she has just started to show some interest in actually eating.