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Summary Baby-led weaning (BLW) is an alternative way to introduce your baby to their first foods. It relies on offering baby-sized pieces of regular foods rather than purées, starting around 6 months of age.
May promote good eating behaviorsBLW puts the emphasis on letting your baby choose what and how much to eat, making them active participants in the feeding process rather than passive recipients. Because of this, BLW is often claimed to promote healthier eating behaviors later in life (
May protect against excess weight gainBLW may protect children from excess weight gain later in life. Experts believe this may be due to babies being much more involved in the eating process. With BLW, babies are allowed to grasp foods and bring them to their mouths at their own pace, with little influence from parents. They may also have a better opportunity to stop eating when full compared to spoon-fed infants, who may be at a higher risk of being consciously or subconsciously overfed. Numerous studies show that BLW babies are more likely to have a weight in the normal range than babies weaned using more traditional weaning approaches. One study found that infants who were spoon-fed tended to be around 2.2 pounds (1 kg) heavier at 18–24 months than those weaned using BLW. They were also around 2.4 times more likely to be overweight (
May reduce fussiness around foodBLW is often claimed to reduce picky eating behaviors and promote the acceptance of a wider variety of foods, as more tastes and textures are introduced early on (
May make feeding your child easierProponents of BLW often talk about its ease as the deciding factor to use this method. Parents no longer need to think about making or purchasing suitable purées. They can simply offer their babies BLW-appropriate versions of the family meals. In addition, the child is trusted to self-select what and how much to eat, which can take some pressure off the parents. Research shows that mothers using BLW report lower levels of anxiety during the weaning period. They also tend to be less likely to express concern over or monitor their child’s weight (
Summary BLW may help promote good eating behaviors and protect children against excess weight gain. It may also reduce picky eating behaviors and make it easier for parents to introduce foods to their babies.
Starter foodsHere are some BLW-appropriate starter foods:
- baked, skinless potatoes or sweet potatoes
- beans or peas, slightly mashed
- de-segmented orange without inner skins
- ground meat
- ground nuts and seeds
- hard-boiled egg
- soft-boiled green beans
- steamed or shredded carrots
- steamed broccoli
- thawed or slightly mashed berries
- unsweetened yogurt
Foods to avoidSome foods should be avoided when introducing foods to your child — regardless of your chosen weaning method:
- Honey. Honey may contain Clostridium botulinum, which are bacteria that can cause a very serious form of food poisoning. You shouldn’t give honey to babies under 12 months of age (
- Undercooked eggs. Undercooked eggs are more likely to contain Salmonella, which are bacteria that can cause harm to your baby (
- Unpasteurized dairy products and luncheon meats. These can contain Listeria monogenes, bacteria that can make your baby ill (
- Cow’s milk. You should avoid giving your baby cow’s milk before 12 months of age, as it isn’t as rich in nutrients as breast milk or formula, is low in iron, and may reduce iron absorption from foods (
- Low-fat products. Babies need a significantly higher percentage of calories from fat than adults. Therefore, low-fat products are inappropriate (
- Sugary, salty, or highly processed foods. These foods are typically low in nutrients. What’s more, babies’ kidneys have difficulty handling too much salt, and sugar can damage their teeth (
- Certain raw foods: raw apples, carrots, celery, broccoli stems, etc.
- Round or coin-shaped foods: whole grapes, cherry tomatoes, hot dogs, hard candy, etc.
- Hard or crumbly foods: popcorn, very hard-crusted bread, whole nuts, etc.
- Sticky foods: thick nut butters, marshmallows, etc.
Summary Some foods are more BLW-appropriate than others. Though it’s important to introduce a variety of foods to your baby, it’s best to avoid risky foods and focus on softer items that your baby can grasp and eat easily.
Is your baby developmentally ready?First, it’s recommended you wait until your baby is developmentally ready to eat foods on their own. On average, this happens around 6 months of age. However, not all babies of this age are able to eat solids without choking, so it’s best to look for signs of readiness (
Reducing the risk of chokingChoking is one of the safety concerns most often cited by health professionals when discussing BLW (
- Ensure that your baby sits up straight when eating, ideally at 90 degrees while facing you.
- Never leave your baby alone when eating.
- Allow your baby to bring foods to their mouths themselves so they can control the amount of food in their mouths, as well as their eating pace.
- Ensure that the foods you serve can be easily mashed between your fingers or when pressed between your lips.
- Cut foods in a lengthy shape that your baby can easily grasp and pick up.
- Avoid offering foods that have round or coin-like shapes, are overly sticky, or can easily break off into pieces or crumbs.
Monitoring for allergiesThe latest research encourages parents to introduce allergens to their babies as soon as solids are first introduced, generally around 6 months of age (
Summary You can reduce the risks associated with BLW by ensuring that your baby is developmentally ready, taking steps to minimize the risk of choking, and introducing foods in a way that makes identifying allergic reactions easier.