The tools to encourage baby led weaning (blw)
The transition to solid food can be a difficult, confusing and more significantly messy time.
While the exact time to start weaning is open for debate, dieticians recommend you don’t start till your baby is 4 months old at the earliest. At that age though, all the way through till 6 months, your baby’s main source of nutrition will come from their milk. Whether you’re breastfeeding or using formula milk, don’t let solid foods deter them from their milk till their 6 months.
What is up for debate though is the how and what to feed your little one as they discover the world of eating solid food. We’re not dieticians so it’s not our place to say, but here are 3 excellent dieticians you can follow if you’re preparing to stop breastfeeding or in the process of weaning already.
- Caroline Weeks is a baby-led weaning expert and is big on a no-stress approach (you’ll see a theme in our suggested dietcians). Caroline offers great advice and meal ideas for babies and parent’s as well!
- At Grasp we’re all about hassle-free solutions and Mama Knows Nutrition’s Kacie Barnes is the low-stress queen when it comes. Fun and enganging tips to help you make the right choices for your babies weaning and nutrition as they get older.
- For creative ideas and a mix of BLW and other feeding methods try Annabel Karmel beautiful food inspo that gets you back excited for cooking for your kids. We love her honesty and accessibility.
Baby led weaning. What is it and why is it good?
Baby led weaning isn’t a new idea, but it was popularised by Gill Rapley in her book Baby-Led Weaning. You can hear the story of how she came to coin the term and codify the ideas in this 100th episode of the Baby-Led Weaning Made Easy podcast here.
But what is baby-led weaning? As you might expect, the founder of Baby Led Weaning Made Easy, Katie Ferraro, describes it perfectly;
“Baby-led weaning is an alternative to traditional spoon-feedings where babies learn to feed themselves the safe, age-appropriate foods offered by you!”
It doesn’t seem particularly intimidating when you put it like that, but when you’ve grown up with a traditional idea of what it means to wean your baby, it can feel quite contradictory. It also goes against the grain of a lot of the pre-made baby foods that have been popularised on supermarket shelves. It’s a push back against purees and delivering everything to a baby on a spoon while they sit passively (or not so passively) opening their mouth wide (or not opening their mouth as it may be) to consume everything you’ve prepared for them.
That’s not to say that purees or spoons are strictly prohibited in a bay-led weaning approach, it’s just how this is incorporated into your baby’s diet as they wean. It’s far more about your baby taking the initiative and being an active eater. Yes, they’ll need help at different points, but the principle of offering a range of foods and allowing them to explore taste, texture and developing an understanding of when they’re hungry and when they’re not is something we’re definitely here for.
If you want some guidelines and do’s and don’ts for getting started with baby-led weaning, here’s a great check sheet.
When is baby-led weaning difficult?
Baby-led weaning is a great for all the reasons we share above. But there are times when it’s not right for your baby, and there are baby’s that take longer to get to more independent eating habits.
- If you had a premature baby you might find that they are behind the curve developmentally or in size and a slow transition to solid foods (baby-led weaning often means your baby won’t be ‘filling’ themselves until a little later in their feeding journey), then you might want to be more pro-active with traditional spoon feeding
- If you’re battling with a low weight baby or have a baby that’s been poorly and is playing catch up on their weight then again, more pro-active spoon feeding might be the way to go. Milk – typically breast milk - will continue to form the basis of your baby’s diet for the initial months in BLW (baby-led weaning) so if you’re looking to help your little one gain some weight once they’ve reached 6 months, you might want to spoon feeding a little more often
- Some babies, for whatever reason, are also just slower in their development. Being able to sit up stably, engage and use their hands to bring food to their mouth are all key pillars for successful weaning. If your little one is struggling with any of these, it will make BLW that much more frustrating a process. While in the initial months of feeding (up to 6 months) this might not matter too much, it might become a barrier to your baby growing and getting necessary nutrients from solid food. For example, baby’s need more iron than they can get from breastmilk from 6 months onwards so you might want to think about how to help them get that without total self reliance on your baby self-feeding.
- Sometimes your baby is just tired and while they need to eat – and probably want to eat – they can become fussy about feeding themselves. Sometimes taking it easy and giving them more help than usual is the way to go
- Sometimes as a parent you just need a break from the mess and the drama. BLW can be messy (hence our top tips and tools below) but that cycle of cooking and clean ups can just be overwhelming and some pro-active feeding that gets more food in your baby’s mouth than on the floor is what you need to do.
Some of these sound like giving up on BLW, but not burning out sometimes just means taking a step back and giving yourself and your kid a break. After all, even as adults there are times when we don’t want to cook or want to indulge and that’s okay. Allow your kid the grace you would afford yourself and you’ll find you stick to your principles better in the long run.
How to help my fussy eater
One big advantage of BLW advocated by it’s proponents is that it helps discourage fussy eating into later years.
Giving your young children the opportunity to try food with a wide range of textures, flavours and smells helps equip them for healthier, varied diet as they grow up. Limiting your baby to only eating pureed food for example will make them fussier when it comes to trying food with different textures as they grow up.
That said, all babies, toddlers and slightly older children will protest different foods at different times. It’s important to understand the different reasons for fussy eating to be able to do something about it. For example, Identifying if something is an honest one-off fuss or a developing trend is key to not stressing yourself out trying to fix something in a meal time that doesn’t need fixing. Tiredness, illness or disrupted routines or surroundings will all affect eating, so don’t lose it if one of these is off and your child decides to protest their food.
Important tips to help parent fussy eaters
- Eating habits aren’t fixed in a single meal-time. Allow for incremental steps of progress and track how your little one is doing over weeks and months (not meal to meal)
- Encourage as well as disciple. There are times when discipline is needed when fussiness or disruptive eating becomes an act of protest or rebellion. But always try to say more to encourage good habits and praise good eating than calling out bad eating.
- Don’t give up on variation. Keep on offering and make variation a normal part of the routine. Often parents get trapped narrowing their focus on fewer and fewer meals in the hope of their children eating something. Don’t give up! Phases come and go and you want to be prepared for the joy of the off-hand experiment that sees your little one try something for the first time.
- Don’t let the heat get to you. Especially when others are watching (or commenting!) it can be harder to stay true to your principles. You’ll either become more stubborn in what you’re doing to make the point – to the detriment of your little one. Or you’ll give in to the pressure and blow your chance at showing consistent principles to your baby. Calmly and politely hold your own and just keep on doing what you think is right.
The best tools for successful weaning
Successful weaning is all about getting your baby off to the best start with solid food. Learning to enjoy a variety of foods, learning the key skills of feeding themselves and most importantly making the transitioning to getting their nutritional needs from non-milk foods.
With that in mind here are great weaning tools and tricks to make that process a bit smoother for you and your baby
Tools and tricks to help with BLW and independent eating habits
- A bamboo weaning set designed to engage and teach independent eating habits. The plate encourages parent and baby to be mindful of providing a mix of different foods and the spoon and suction cup ensure limited mess whether your baby is picking food for themselves or you are spoon feeding them.
- Not one recommendation but read about the best sippy cups to help your little one learn to drink by themselves. It’s a tricky skill to pick up so here are our recommendations of the best sippy cups to try along the way.
- This knife and fork set from Skip Hop that’s perfectly weighted and rounded for little mouths
- These beautiful high chairs from Lalo with large table tray to encourage independent eating.
- This high chair mat – splat mat - to protect your floor (especially if you have carpets). They’re genuinely beautiful accessories that we love
- These full sleeve bibs from Bibetta help reduce mess on clothes with full sleeve protection. Try combining with a silicone bib over the top for maximum protection!
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