There’s a scary new word doing the rounds these days in Parenting circles. That word is baby led weaning. It also creeps up in conversations in the form of the acronym BLW. It spreads utter confusion in the minds of eager new parents who know they want their children to be good consumers of green, red, yellow, purple looking fruit and vegetables. Fussy eaters, hell no. We want our babies to be anything but that.
Introducing solid foods to the baby is advocated from the time baby has turned 6 months. WHO recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed/ given formula till they turn 6 months. Even then experts advocate checking for readiness in the infants for solids. Age is just a qualifying criterion. Signs of readiness include being able to sit up for at least a few seconds when supported, loss of tongue thrust and an interest in food.
Traditionally babies were introduced to weaning foods in the form of purees, juices, soups, mashed stuff. Basically, the texture was runny liquid. Babies tended to just swallow this down. Gradually after a few months of gulping down mushy stuff, they were slowly introduced to semi-solids like softly boiled veggies, steamed or soft fruits and more textured but still soft foods. Eating real adult food was still far off.
While this was the easy way to wean the baby, it wasn’t really introducing baby to a variety of foods, flavours and textures. It also taught them to swallow rather than chew which is the normal way of eating food. In traditional weaning methods – babies swallowed first and then time was spent to make them unlearn that and learn to chew first and then swallow. The most important element of traditional weaning was that someone had to feed the baby. Finishing everything on the plate/ bowl was also a mandate and this led to many a tears, stress and lo, behold many fussy eaters.
Baby led weaning is revolutionary in that sense. They say the baby should not be given any gooey, mashy, pureed foods. They should straight away be introduced to real food. Babies may not have teeth but they are able to eat softly boiled solid foods right away. Ever been bitten by a gummy baby? You’ll know what I mean.
Most importantly baby led weaning is about letting babies eat on their own – right from the word GO! Yes, it is doable and it has happened to us. I was scared at first too, but the first grasp and food finding mouth action had me floored.
Now before you pop the cork and bring out the pizzas and burgers, it is important to know that baby-led weaning has a lot of principles, some of them a little too rigid. But they work and who is to argue with that –
- Feed baby milk (breastmilk or formula) about 30 minutes before meal times. Introducing solids is to do just that – introduce them to the world of flavours, colours, textures. Milk has to be the primary source of nutrition until the age of 1. I accepted very early on that babyT would eat no more than a couple of spoons but he did like to experience new colours and textures of foods.
- Offer softly boiled but firm vegetables or foods. There is no need to steam fruits especially banana, apple. Apple can be grated and offered in the early months. Other foods can be cut into strips or thick matchstick sized pieces which the baby can pick and eat on his own.
- Let the baby eat on his own. DO NOT interfere if he drops it. He has to learn to pick it and put it in his mouth.
- Let them handle cutlery too – spoons, forks
- There is no need to introduce a food, wait for a few days and then introduce a new one.
- Introduce meals gradually. For the first 2 weeks introduce only a small snack in the form of a fruit or vegetable. Then introduce a proper meal food. Gradually, introduce 1 snack and then 1 meal, till you are doing breakfast, lunch, dinner and about 2 snacks per day. This may happen every 2 weeks or so for your baby or maybe on a monthly basis. You are the best judge of your baby’s appetite for solid foods.
- Introduce allergens early on. Egg yolk is to be introduced first and then the white. We did this around 8 months and started with yellow. We did not introduce egg whites till he was almost 1.
- Eat together as a family, ideally at the dining table with a baby strapped into a high chair or booster chair.
- No separate food cooked for baby – baby eats the same food as the rest of the family, minus salt – sugar and adjusted for spice. I tell you this was the biggest blessing of BLW. It worked perfectly for the minimal effort investor mommy in me.
- Have a separate plate for baby – fill it up as per his appetite. But don’t insist he finish it. Baby knows how much he wants to eat. Serve less, you can add more if baby wants it. Reduce wastage.
- Baby will get messy with the food. Face and hair massages, decorating the walls, sprinkling the floors will happen. Have lots of spare clothes for baby and be ready for laundry. They eventually learn to not make a mess. Food is for fun and learning happens through play.
- Baby led weaning does not mean baby can get away with the all the junk you adults eat. Reform your own ways so as to set a good example for your little ones. (This one has been my personal best achievement with BLW. You’ll be hard-pressed to find much junk in our home.)
- Keep a watchful eye when baby eats the BLW way. No distractions allowed for you. You need to be alert in case baby gags or chokes or has bitten off more than he can chew. Do read up the difference between choking and gagging. In my personal opinion since baby chews before swallowing, baby led weaning is pretty safe. However, there are babies who tend to have a natural gag reflex. Gagging is not choking. Gagging is body’s way of sending signals that you are about to choke so spit this thing out. Do not panic if baby gags, usually they learn to work the back of their throats to shift the big piece of food. But keep a watch in case an emergency arises.
At around 9 months, I offered fish to babyT. He chewed on a piece and swallowed the fleshy part. But I saw that he still kept sucking on something in his mouth. I was a bit annoyed that he was still lingering over the first bite. But soon he came to me and spat out a 1-inch piece of fish bone. I was shocked at my own negligence to remove this bone and also surprised he knew this piece was not to be pushed down the throat. I think he developed this skill due to BLW.
Oh, and you should see baby led weaned babies eat pomegranate seeds. They beautifully chew on the flesh and spit out the inner seed. A skill which no grown adult with years of chewing and eating experience can boast of.
My friend Ophira has a very comprehensive blog on Baby Led Weaning. It is a masterpiece and if my post has not convinced you yet, her’s sure will. Read it here.
The advantages of baby led weaning are many. The end result of a baby who has been weaned in this manner is that your baby will eat independently, making you the Goddess of mom-dom. But jokes apart, it means the time you could have been spending on feeding, fussing and finishing his plate, is invested in a happy family meal time instead. You get to eat your meals hot and at a decent hour.
BLW babies also typically eat a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Be prepared to see the shock and awe on people’s faces when your baby is eating chicken meat off a leg bone, karela (bitter gourd) curry, and all other varieties of family foods. But it is also not a given that BLW babies will eat every fruit and vegetable under the sun. They have their own preferences too. I know BLW whiz babies who will not touch a fruit. Individual preferences do come in to play.
Baby led weaning does not ensure that babies won’t have allergies. If there is an inherent tendency then he will have it, like babyT has his dairy allergy.
Every BLW habit will get disrupted and thrown out the window by the monsters, namely, teething, regressions, appetite drops and plain old interested in some other life skill development phase. As my favourite parenting mantra goes, don’t quit on a bad day! Hang in there.
My biggest grouse with baby led weaning are some of its rather rigid principles such as:
- DO NOT FEED the baby under any circumstances – there have been times when I have had to rush to a Doctor appointment and I have fed babyT. A purist would fire me from the club.
- No talking at meal times – I don’t get this. Aren’t meal times an opportunity for interacting, bonding and catching up with family?
- Absolutely no TV or phones at meal times – I agree somewhat with this in principle. However, remember our childhood when we would all gather around the TV to eat our dinner over serials like Surbhi, The World This Week and other gems? These were some of the best times we had as a family. But I would be a hypocrite if I say I don’t eat some meals over a good movie.
Yes, I am not a BLW purist but I adopted a flexible approach without losing sight of the foundation pillars of the concept. In hindsight, I can say baby-led weaning has been one of the best decisions of our parenting journey. Baby led weaning is really easy and fuss-free in terms of the effort you will put in your baby’s eating. And the output at the end of it is a baby who loves to eat and is not, a fussy eater! Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it?
Have any baby led weaning questions? Do drop them in comments I will try my best to find you a solution.
This blog post is part of a series for the #AtoZBloggingChallenge where my theme is
New Age Parenting: Parenting in 201x.
Read my theme reveal post here.