Baby Led Weaning 101
For those who are just starting (or planning to start) their Baby Led Weaning journey, it can be incredibly overwhelming. There are items to buy, resources to scour through, and nerves to overcome. We've compiled some information to hopefully help you move forward with confidence and give you ideas to begin.
It is not recommended to start BLW until at least six months old, when signs of readiness are shown. These include:
- Baby is able to sit with minimal support
- Baby is able to hold head upright and steady while seated for duration of meal
- Baby is able to pick up objects while seated and easily bring them to the mouth
- Baby shows interest in food; intently watches you eat, mouths for food, or leans forward for it
- Baby has lost the tongue-thrust (extrusion) reflex, which pushes solid food out of the mouth
BLW Gear (these come recommended from several mommy groups!)
- Stokke Tripp Trapp ($319)
- 4Moms Connect High Chair ($299)
- Abiie Beyond Wooden High Chair ($225)
- Graco Blossom Convertible High Chair ($209)
- Ingenuity SmartClean Chair ($119)
- Ikea Antiloop ($65)
- OXO Tot Suction Plate ($10.99)
- OXO Tot Suction Bowl ($10.99)
- mushie Silicone Suction Bowl ($13.99)
- mushie Silicone Suction Plate ($16.99)
- WeeSprout Silicone Suction Plates ($19.49)
- bamboo bamboo Fox Suction Plate ($20.50)
- ezpz Mini Mat ($22.50)
- Dr. Brown's First Straw Cup ($12.99) *2-pack
- ezpz Mini Straw Cup ($17.99)
- Honey Bear Straw Cup ($19.99) *3-pack
- Zak Designs Straw Cups ($20.99) *2-pack
- Elk and Friends Straw Cups ($34.99) *4-pack
- Munchkin Open Cups ($4.69) *4-pack
- mushie Open Cups ($12.99) *2-pack
- Tommee Tippee No Knock Cup ($20.55)
- PandaEar Infant Silicone Spoons ($5.98)
- mushie Spoon and Fork Set ($7.99)
- Numnum Preloading Spoons ($13.99)
- Bumkins Silicone Chewtensils ($14.99)
- Elk and Friends Stainless Steel Utensils ($16.99)
- ezpz Mini Utensils ($17.99)
- Solid Starts - By FAR the most recommended app by BLW parents. It is amazing at illustrating how to cut/serve food based on age, giving nutrition ratings, and even meal ideas. Cannot recommend enough! There's a premium version where you can check off what foods baby has tried and a few other features, but I personally didn't see the need to buy it.
- BLW Meals: How to Start Solids - Not nearly as recommended as Solid Starts, but may be helpful as a secondary source.
- Instagram - There are numerous accounts on the app dedicated to BLW, from Solid Starts' official page, to recipe and meal bloggers, to people like me who just share the occasional recipes or meal ideas!
- Solid Starts - Again, this mega resource is a number one recommended tool. They have an iPhone app, Instagram, and website. You can easily head to their site for articles or with a specific question.
- Baby Led Weaning - A website called Baby Led Weaning unsurprisingly includes information on getting started with BLW, recipes, and other posts.
- Blogs/Recipes Sites - There are hundreds (if not thousands) of websites dedicated to meal ideas, recipes, and BLW in general (myself included). If you simply Google "Baby Led Weaning meal ideas/recipes" you'll find lots of options. If you're looking for meal ideas and you're already here, check out our whole Mealtime section of ideas.
- Simple & Safe Baby-Led Weaning - The book description reads: Simple & Safe Baby-Led Weaning empowers you to help your baby feed themselves while they develop motor skills and an adventurous palate. Learn when to begin baby-led weaning and what to expect along the way while also getting practical advice for creating balanced, whole-food meals that your baby can eat alongside the rest of the family.
- Baby-Led Feeding - The book description reads: With more than 100 ideas and recipes, this bright, photo-driven book includes chapters on the benefits of this approach, when and how to get started, essential safety and nutrition guidelines, frequently asked questions, basic fruit and vegetable prep, more complex finger foods, and family meals.
- Baby Led Weaning: The Essential Guide - The book description reads: This is the authoritative guide to starting solid foods at your child’s pace—as they start the transition away from breastmilk or formula as early as 6 months—with no stress, no fuss, and no mush! This edition is updated with the latest research on allergy prevention and feeding Baby safely, a guide to using BLW at daycare, and much more. Here is everything you need to know about teaching your child healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime.
Choosing a First Food
To be clear, baby can truly have any safe food (none of the ones below in "what to avoid") for their first foods - that's the point of baby led weaning! However, many parents have foods they consider to be easier firsts or favorites to start out. These include:
- Avocado - Cut into finger sized strips like pictured.
- Banana - Cut into finger sized strips like pictured. Or, some people choose to serve with the peel pulled down but still attached, making it easier for baby to grab. You may do so, but make sure the peel is thoroughly washed and no stringy pieces remain. If the spears are too slippery, you can coat them in baby cereal, oatmeal, or any similar food baby has already tried.
- Sweet potato - Wash the sweet potato, slice into strips, and bake as pictured.
- In baby led weaning, your baby is "included" in meal times. So, ideally, they would eat at the table (in their high chair) when you are eating. They are joining in socially and mimicking your behavior of proper eating.
- I recommend starting with breakfast as the first meal. This gives your baby plenty of time to digest before bed, have the new (horribly smelly) bowel movements that come with real food, and (God-forbid) display signs of a reaction if there are any.
- I also recommend starting with a single food for that single meal. Sloane had a lot of tummy troubles those first few days (she didn't poop for almost four days and was clearly uncomfortable) and sticking with one food helped me to know it wasn't a reaction or feel like I wasn't bombarding her digestive system. After three days, you can move on to the next food and hopefully their digestive system will have caught up by then (if your baby is constipated too, prunes worked instantly for Sloane!). You don't need to continue to do this "one food every three days" rule EXCEPT for....
- Allergens! Firstly, be sure to check with your doctor about introducing these foods, especially if your baby would be considered high-risk for allergies. For most infants, when it comes to introducing allergens, the current recommendation is "early and often". To do so, offer these foods in small amounts, one at a time. You can serve them alongside other foods that you know baby has no reaction to (i.e. peanut butter thinly spread on banana spears, etc). After three days of no reaction, you can move on to the next allergen. The most common allergens include:
- Tree nuts
*To help with the "often" part of allergen introduction, we personally love this organic allergen oatmeal.
What to Avoid
- Honey - This is probably the one (and maybe only) food mentioned by your pediatrician to avoid. Babies under the age of one cannot have honey, as their digestive systems are not mature enough to process a type of bacteria that may be present, which can lead to infant botulism. After the age of one, their digestive systems are mature enough to do so. This is easily avoided in actual honey, but be careful of products that contain it (honey flavored foods, several types of bread, certain sweets, etc.)
- Excess Sodium - Babies are recommended to have less than 400mg of sodium per day. This might seem like a lot, but if you read the label on most foods, this can add up quickly! The best way to avoid this is to give fresh fruits, vegetables, and other foods over processed items. Cheese is naturally high in sodium, so choose lower sodium varieties, such as fresh mozzarella, goat cheese, or ricotta. Making smarter choices for you and your baby can be beneficial for everyone! Do you need to panic if they share some of your noodles when you get Chinese food one night? No - just make sure the rest of their meals are fresh fruits and veggies and cut back for a few more days. It's all about balance and doing your best while still being realistic with your lifestyle.
- Sugar - Babies can technically have sugar; this is not like honey that needs to be avoided for medical reasons. In fact, a lot of the food they will eat will naturally have sugar. Fruit alone has way more sugar than one might expect - the difference is that it is naturally occurring and not added or processed sugar, which is fine. For added sugars, this falls under the same idea as sodium; do your best to limit excess sugar for your child, but don't go crazy avoiding everything or depriving them of a treat every once in a while! Although if you're like me and wanted a healthier smash cake (so she could eat as much as she wanted) I made a recipe here.
- Raw/Undercooked Foods - This includes raw sprouts, raw flour, undercooked eggs, seafood, or meat (sorry, Sloane, you're getting a well done steak!).
- Choking Hazards - Most of these will likely be common sense, but as choking is a major fear of most BLW parents, keep these especially in mind. Choking hazards include: globs of peanut or nut butter, uncut grapes or cherry tomatoes, raw celery and carrots, popcorn, whole nuts, sticky/chewy foods like candy.
Six Months +
Fear of Choking
- Remember that choking and gagging are very different things. Gagging is an automatic response of your baby's developing oral motor skills; they are pushing the food from going down the wrong way. Choking occurs when an object or piece of food is too big and actually blocks the baby’s airway. While gagging is characterized by coughing and noise, choking is characterized by silence. Oftentimes, a baby will look scared and may also start to turn blue or purple, especially on their lips.
- What can you do?
- Take an infant CPR class. This not only good and helpful information, but may give you more peace of mind.
- Buy an item like the dechoker or Life Vac. Are these necessary? No. The point of baby led weaning is teaching your baby how to eat properly and serving food that is the right size will mean your risk of choking is minimal. Might these give you peace of mind and be helpful to have on hand for any time in the future? Sure! So it is up to you.
- Use the apps and resources mentioned above on how to safely serve foods based on your baby's age. Here's a clear video on serving common choking hazards.
- WHEN GAGGING OCCURS: Remain calm. Give your baby time and space to figure out what to do. They will surprise you - but freaking out may actually scare your baby and cause them to choke rather than just gag. Also, do NOT put your fingers in your baby's mouth to attempt to dislodge the food. This is another choking hazard.
- Juice is not recommended before the age of one - you may use small amounts of apple or prune juice to help with constipation (I still would dilute it with water), but overall the sugar content of these drinks is not advised in babies this young.
- Water can/should be offered with meals (personally, it seems to help prevent constipation). You can use whatever type of cups you prefer, but open cups and straw cups are recommended to help with oral motor development.
- Make sure that your baby's water intake is not affecting their intake of breastmilk/formula. Milk has all of the hydration your baby needs, but water has none of the calories, so that is the priority.
- Initially, 2-4 oz per day of water is plenty as your baby starts eating and drinking something besides milk.
- The AAP recommends less than 8oz total of water before the age of one. You can spread this out among all of their meals.
- Give milk first!
- Especially until the age of one, milk is still the primary source of nutrition for babies. Thus, it is recommended to offer milk first and then solid food 30-60 minutes later. As they start to eat more, the amount they drink may decrease, which is okay. Check with your pediatrician as to how much they recommend your baby drink at a minimum each day.
- Follow baby's lead for increasing food!
- As I mentioned before, start with one meal per day. As your baby starts to eat more, you can increase this to two, and then three meals. By the age of one, the goal is for your child to be eating three meals and two snacks a day (in addition to milk). So don't force your baby to eat more than they are ready, but if they are responding well to food, try adding another meal around 8 months. Then again around 10. But this is dependent on each baby! There is no hard timeline.
- Be as healthy as you can!
- You don't need to buy all organic and vegan products for you and your baby, but this is setting the foundation for their lifetime of eating and can be a way in which both of you make healthier choices. Sloane may still end up being a four-year-old who eats chicken nuggets off the floor of my car, but I will always look back at this time fondly and with some pride knowing how much effort I put into giving her the healthiest foods.
- Spice it up!
- Expose your baby to a variety of flavors and spices. This includes a wide variety of foods themselves, but also seasonings and herbs. Nothing too spicy, of course, but I always add some kind of flavor to her meal to widen her palate.
- Use tools to help you!
- There are hundreds and thousands of websites, apps, Facebook groups, etc. to answer questions and provide meal ideas if you are stuck. Use any of these resources to your advantage, but also do not beat yourself up if you have some days of microwave meals or if your meals don't look "Pinterest worthy". I have one child and I'm a SAHM and I barely get it together - your baby's food will be just as good no matter what it looks like.