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So, you're getting ready to add complementary foods into your little one's diet and wondering "what does baby-led weaning mean?". Well, baby-led weaning (BLW) simply means letting your child feed themselves independently. The term was created in 2001 by Gill Rapley to describe a relaxed and unstructured approach where babies are offered solid foods and feed themselves.
We know that choosing a weaning style to suit you and your baby can feel daunting. So, read on to learn all about baby-led weaning, when to start, and what kind of foods you can offer.
Yes, it can be a little messier than traditional weaning, but there are tons of benefits too!
The benefits of baby-led weaning include:
Although every weaning journey is different, most parents begin baby-led weaning when their baby is around six months old. This is the age when little ones start to hit the development milestones needed to eat independently.
The good thing about BLW is that it can work well for little ones of different ages and abilities. That said, babies who are born prematurely or who have difficulties eating may require more time or a more traditional, spoon-fed weaning approach.
It's important to look out for certain cues that will let you know if your baby is ready to start baby-led weaning or not.
Instead of spoon-feeding babies, baby-led weaning involves setting out soft food in front of them on a table or highchair and allowing them to take control of feeding. The food is usually served in small, soft pieces that can be held in the baby's hand, rather than being offered on a spoon. First, they'll use their hands, and gum, mash, and suck their food, before eventually moving on to using baby-friendly cutlery.
When you first start baby-led weaning from six months, most of your baby's nutritional needs will be met through their breast milk and formula feeds. These feeds should continue throughout their weaning journey.
Before you start weaning your baby, it's a good idea to get prepared. The following items can help:
When they're thinking about weaning their baby, lots of parents wonder "is baby-led weaning dangerous?". The truth is, one recent study showed that there's no increased choking risk for babies who feed themselves solid foods compared to spoon-fed infants. Therefore, baby-led weaning is no more dangerous.
Often, babies are not choking when they eat, but gagging. Gagging might look similar to choking and can be scary, but they're entirely different. So, it can help to know what to look out for.
Gagging is caused by your baby's gag reflex. This is a natural safety mechanism we have to help prevent choking. Your little one may also gag on foods they're trying for the first time. This is because their taste buds aren't yet used to these new flavors and textures.
Gagging is sometimes mistaken for choking. But don't worry, gagging is a perfectly normal part of tasting new foods. If you recognize the signs of gagging, don't try to help your baby or prevent them from vomiting, as this can cause them to choke.
Signs of gagging can include...
And it's always important for parents to know the signs of choking. These include...
To keep your little one safe while weaning...
There's no set amount of food that babies should eat during the BLW process. The idea of this method of weaning is that they'll tell you when they've had enough. Plus, since they're still having breast milk or formula until they're at least a year old, they're sure to get all the calories they need.
At this age, babies should be having three meals a day - with lunch and dinner including a main course and dessert of fruit or plain yogurt.
Many pediatric experts recommend starting your baby on solid foods from six months because it helps them develop independent feeding skills. At this age, your baby should be developmentally ready to handle solid foods, but they will still be getting most of their nutrition from breast milk or formula feeds.
The truth is, baby-led weaning is a messy process, but there are ways to help manage the mess of self-feeding. This includes using bibs and mats to help catch food and minimize waste.
Absolutely! Some parents love baby-led weaning and prefer it to traditional spoon feeding, while others use a bit of both.
As with most parenting topics, there isn't one right or perfect way, just what feels right for you and your baby. The main thing is that your baby has a healthy, varied diet, and gets all the important nutrients they need to grow and develop.
While there are plenty of new tastes they can discover through baby-led weaning, there are a few foods you should steer clear of for your baby or toddler.
Along with added salt, sugar, and saturated fats, this includes honey (for babies under the age of one due to the risk of botulism), rice-based drinks (as they contain levels of arsenic), mould-ripened cheese, and certain seafood - including swordfish, shark, and marlin (as they contain mercury). Additionally, raw, or undercooked shellfish and eggs can pose a health risk.
You should also avoid giving your baby anything that poses a choking risk. This can include peanuts and whole nuts, raisins and other dried fruits, popcorn, boiled sweets, raw jelly cubes, or ice cubes.
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