Beginners Guide to Baby-Led Weaning
Baby-led weaning (also known as BLW) is a gradual weaning method advocated by Gill Rapley, an experienced midwife and health visitor. Instead of offering purees, babies are provided with a variety of finger foods, allowing them to self-feed and explore textures from the very beginning of the weaning process.
Research has shown that a baby’s digestive system matures at around six months, hence the current recommendations to wait until this age before weaning. However, some babies may show signs of readiness from anywhere between 5 and 8 months. Developmental indications that your baby may be ready to wean are:
Sitting up with little or no support
- Grabbing and putting toys and other objects into his or her mouth
- Making chewing motions
- Showing an interest in food
- Increased milk intake around 6 months, which is not due to teething pain, illness or a change in routine, and lasts more than 4-5 days
If your baby was born prematurely, has special needs, or if there is a family history of allergies or intolerances, it is advised that you consult your health visitor or GP before weaning.
Babies learn by imitation and are often eager to eat alongside parents and siblings during mealtimes. Allowing them to play and experiment with food helps to create a social and positive weaning experience.
While eating, your baby should be in a secure, upright position, either on your lap or in a high chair. As babies of this age use their whole hand to pick up food, large chip-shapes or foods with a natural ‘handle’ such as broccoli or cauliflower are easiest to hold. Ripe fruits and lightly cooked vegetables are ideal during the first few weeks, but soon your baby will be able to manage most foods. Don’t worry if your baby is yet to grow teeth – gums can bite and chew very successfully.
As with the puree weaning method, new foods should be introduced one at a time as this enables you to quickly identify the culprit should your baby suffer an intolerance or allergic reaction. Other common sense safety rules also apply:
- Never leave your baby unattended while he is eating
- Avoid foods that have added salt or sugar
- Avoid foods which have a clear danger, such as whole nuts or fruits which contain stones
Many people are wary of offering finger foods to younger babies as they are concerned that they present a choking hazard. However, the risk is no higher than with any other weaning method. Babies may sometimes cough or gag as they move large pieces of food away from their airway, but this is a normal and natural part of the learning process. BLW may even reduce the likelihood of choking as babies have total control over what is put into their mouths.
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