Today’s post is from another one of my dear friends whose opinion I trust more than anyone else’s. Maggie and I have been friends since the 4th grade when we both made our moms go to a Girl Scout interest meeting. They had gone to high school together years before, and that day they decided to start a troop for both of us and anyone else who wanted to join. The rest is history! It has been such a wild ride growing up together and then starting our families and letting our babies meet and play! Here’s a little bit about Maggie’s credentials: Maggie Perkins is a registered dietitian that specializes in intuitive eating for families. At her private practice, Tomata, she helps families with questions and concerns about starting a baby on solids, picky eating, weight-inclusive care, and general nutrition. She helps her clients enjoy eating and feel confident about nutrition.
What I love about Maggie is her positive energy and her inclusivity about eating and Health At Every Size. I love to follow her and learn more from her posts. I have told all of my friends to follow her, too! If you are looking for someone to help you and your family navigate the sometimes difficult task of feeding yourselves, Maggie is the one to help you. Today’s post is about one of her specialties: Baby Led Weaning! The rest of this post is written by Maggie. Go follow her on Instagram – her username is @tomata_rd
Answers to the most common questions parents have about baby-led weaning
“What do you mean ‘baby linguine?’” Yep, that was my response when my mom’s friend introduced me to baby-led weaning (BLW). They do sound similar, but I was obviously a little confused – and this is coming from a dietitian, mom, and foodie. Fast forward to today, five years from my “baby linguine” mistake, and I’ve received a Master’s degree and opened a private practice specializing in family feeding, including baby-led weaning. I’ve experienced (both personally and professionally) the confusion and worry around starting a baby on solids. Unfortunately, like many nutrition related topics, there is a lot of misinformation around starting solids and baby-led weaning. So, I am here to offer you some clarity. I am going to answer some of the most common questions around baby-led weaning.
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led Weaning is a feeding method to start a baby on solids. It uses a self-feeding approach. Self-feeding means the baby is offered food and uses their own hands and utensils to bring the food to their mouth. This method teaches responsive feeding which guides parents to respond and respect baby’s appetite. Baby-led weaning also encourages family meals by showing parents how to offer baby appropriate foods from the foods offered to the rest of the family. There are many benefits with this feeding method, including helping develop fine motor skills, encouraging nutritious and adventurous eating, being convenient and saving money, and promoting a positive eating experience.
Is it safe and nutritious?
These are the two biggest concerns parents have when learning about baby-led weaning. The answer to both is yes, especially under expert guidance. No matter what feeding method you choose to use with baby, there is some important information for parents to learn regarding nutrition and choking prevention.
Let’s talk about nutrition. Even though breast and/or formula milk is the main source of nutrition for children under one year old, solid foods are still important. Solid foods ensure baby receives some key nutrients that are low in breast/and or formula milk and expose baby to tastes and textures so they can develop preferences for a wide variety of foods. One very important mineral to note is Iron. Iron is critical for development and is a common deficiency. Iron is finicky and absorbs better when offered with vitamin-c rich foods. Iron-rich foods and vitamin C-rich foods need to be the first foods parents introduce to baby. Here are a few examples of iron-rich foods that a baby led-weaning baby could enjoy (we will talk texture and shape in a bit): Egg omelet, tender chicken, tender steak, tofu, bean cake. Vitamin-C rich foods include many different types of fruits and vegetables. This could look like a strawberry, steamed broccoli, or roasted strips of zucchini.
Now, let’s discuss the choking concerns with baby-led weaning. Great news; the largest study on BLW showed that there is not an increased risk of choking when comparing baby-led weaning babies to traditionally spoon-fed babies (1). No matter the feeding method a parent chooses for their little one, choking is serious and just the thought of choking can give parents quite a bit of anxiety when starting solids. I recommend that all parents take an infant first aid/CPR course before you start feeding baby to increase confidence with feeding and understand the appropriate action if needed.
Where did baby-led weaning come from?
There is not a lot of historical documentation on feeding babies because most of this information has been passed down verbally from mother to daughter (2). I’d argue that a self-feeding approach is instinctive, therefore has been around for a very long time. The term baby-led weaning came from British infant feeding and child development specialist, Gill Raply, who coined the term and wrote a book to explain the approach. There have been many offshoots of this information on the internet, and I want to throw in a word of caution here. Information from sources that are uncredentialed can be downright wrong, unsafe, cause confusion, and increase anxiety. And, unfortunately, many pediatricians have never received any training on baby-led weaning. Baby-led weaning works best under the guidance of an expert in the field; I’ve compiled a few trust-worthy resources at the end of this post.
How do you do it?
There are three main considerations when deciding what to serve baby: Texture, shape, and temperature. For texture, you want it to be soft and easy to mash. I encourage parents to do a “mash test” by putting the food between their tongue and the roof of their mouth to see if they can mash it into smaller pieces to swallow. For shape, the easiest shapes for baby to grab are strips of food about the size of an adult’s pinky or a large chunk of food that fits in their palm. For temperature, you want to make sure that hot food has cooled before offering it to baby. Remember that baby-led weaning is about family feeding, so try to serve from the same foods as the family at the same time as the family. Also, listen and trust baby when they are showing signs that they want more food or are done eating. See below for an example of a first meal.
When is baby ready to start?
The recommendations from the World Health Organization and American Academy of Pediatrics say that baby should start solids around 6 months of age. But more important than age is that baby shows the signs of readiness. The signs of readiness for starting solids are: Sitting up with minimal assistance, using the palmer grasp to grab toys and bring them to their mouth, loss of the tongue thrust reflex, and interest in food. If you’d like more information on this topic, check out my blog post on this.
Do I have to do BLW for my child to be healthy?
No! It’s important for parents to do what works best for them and their family. If you’ve learned about BLW from a trustworthy source and it still makes you nervous and causes you to stress, then don’t do BLW. Being able to enjoy feeding your little one is more important than the method you choose to start solids.
Where can I learn more?
To answer parents’ specific questions about baby-led weaning, I provide education and counseling at my private practice, Tomata. I specialize in BLW and have access to the newest research and trends to help my clients implement positive and effective feeding strategies. If you have any questions about BLW, starting solids, or child feeding, please reach out to me. Here is my website.
If you prefer to learn by reading, I would recommend the Born to Eat book by Leslie Schilling and Wendy Jo Peterson. It is my favorite introduction to solids book and also teaches best practices with family feeding. Gill Rapley’s Baby-led Weaning is also a good resource.
After you have learned the basics of BLW, the solid starts website is a useful resource for specific food shape, texture, nutrition, etc.
- Fangupo, L ,et al. A baby-led approach to eating solids and risk of choking. Retrieved from: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/138/4/e20160772.full.pdf
- Rapley, G. Baby Led Weaning: Helping your baby to love good food.