Baby Led Weaning Pros and Cons from a Pediatric OT

Baby led weaning has both its pros and cons. BLW is a feeding method that allows babies to self-feed by providing them with solid foods in the form of finger foods. This method has gained popularity among new parents who are interested in introducing their babies to solid foods in a more natural and gradual way.

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Parents who are interested in BLW often believe that it promotes self-feeding, encourages healthy eating habits, and provides a wider variety of foods for their babies. However, like any feeding method, there are both pros and cons to BLW.

I used this approach with my middle child, way before it had a name. He didn't like being spoonfed and was on finger foods by 8 months.

As a pediatric OT who has treated children with feeding difficulties, I love the move from commercial baby foods for many reasons, however, I would like to point out the pros and cons of the baby led weaning method, including which children should NOT use it.

With the uptick of picky eating and feeding disorders, I have seen in the OT community, where does BLW fit into the equation? In this blog post, we will explore the benefits and drawbacks of BLW, compare it to traditional solid food introduction methods, and provide tips for a successful BLW experience.

Benefits of Baby Led Weaning

Baby led weaning (BLW) has several benefits for both the baby and the rest of the family. Some of the most notable benefits of BLW include:

  1. Encourages the introduction of solid foods at a baby's own pace: With BLW, babies are given the freedom to explore and learn about different foods at their own pace. This can help them become more comfortable with solid foods and reduce the likelihood of picky eating later on.
  2. Helps develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and oral motor skills: As babies pick up and manipulate small pieces of food, they develop their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Additionally, chewing and swallowing solid foods can help strengthen their oral motor skills.
  3. Promotes a healthy relationship with food: BLW promotes a positive and healthy relationship with food by allowing babies to explore and enjoy a variety of textures and flavors on their own terms. This can help reduce the likelihood of developing negative associations with food later on.
  4. Allows babies to experience a wider variety of textures and flavors: BLW allows babies to experience a wider variety of textures and flavors in their natural form, which can help develop their taste preferences and encourage them to enjoy a wider variety of foods later on.
  5. Provides babies with a wider range of nutrient-dense and iron-rich foods: By providing babies with a wider range of whole foods, BLW can help ensure that they are getting enough nutrients in their diet, including iron-rich foods like sweet potato and broccoli florets.
  6. Makes family meals more enjoyable: With BLW, babies can participate in family meals and eat the same foods as the rest of the family, making mealtime a more enjoyable and social experience for everyone.

Overall, BLW has many benefits that can help babies develop healthy eating habits and a positive relationship with food. However, it is important to consider the potential drawbacks and risks associated with this feeding method before deciding if it is the right choice for your baby.

How Baby Led Weaning Works

Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is a feeding method that involves letting babies feed themselves with finger foods instead of spoon-feeding purees. Here is a breakdown of how BLW works:

Signs of readiness for BLW

Before starting BLW, it's important to ensure that your baby is developmentally ready. These are the same signs for starting any solid foods, however they are even more important when starting with finger foods.

Look for the following signs:

  • Your baby can sit up on their own and has good head control
  • Your baby is showing an interest in food and reaching for it
  • Your baby has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (the instinct to push food out of their mouth with their tongue)
  • Your baby is at least six months old (recommended age for starting solid foods)

The types of solid foods to offer

With BLW, babies are offered a variety of whole foods that are cut into appropriate sizes and shapes for them to hold and eat on their own. Some examples of appropriate foods include:

  • Soft fruits like ripe banana, avocado, and peach
  • Cooked vegetables like sweet potato, broccoli, and carrots
  • Soft meats like shredded chicken or beef (these should be secondary offerings as they are harder to chew)
  • Foods like toast or pancakes

Never offer foods that are a choking hazard, such as whole grapes, nuts, popcorn, and chunks of meat or cheese that are too big.

Preparing and serving food for BLW

When preparing food for BLW, it's important to cut it into finger-sized pieces that are easy for your baby to hold and eat. They also must be very very soft.

Avoid adding salt, sugar, or other seasonings to the food, as babies don't need these flavors and can develop a preference for them. Offer a variety of foods and textures, but don't force your baby to eat anything they don't want to.

Safety precautions to take to reduce choking hazards

Although BLW is generally safe, there are some safety precautions to take to reduce the risk of choking:

  • Never leave your baby unattended while eating
  • Cut foods into appropriate sizes and shapes
  • Make sure the foods are very soft and swallowable uncase the child does not chew and just swallows
  • Never offer foods that are choking hazards
  • Encourage your baby to sit upright while eating
  • Make sure your baby is not too tired, distracted, or upset while eating

How to introduce new foods

With BLW, it's important to introduce new foods one at a time, waiting a few days before offering a new food to watch for any allergic reactions. This is the same method of adding new foods as a traditional baby food approach.

Offer a variety of foods and textures to help your baby develop a taste for different foods. Remember, with BLW, the focus is on exploration and learning, rather than how much your baby is eating. As with any solid food introductions, the primary nutrition a baby receives in the first year should be through formula or breastmilk.

Baby Led Weaning Pros and Cons

Baby led weaning (BLW) has its benefits, but there are also some potential drawbacks to consider before deciding if it's the right choice for your baby.

Baby led Weaning Pros

  • Promotes self-feeding: BLW encourages babies to explore and learn how to self-feed, which can help develop their independence and fine motor skills.
  • Encourages healthy eating habits: BLW exposes babies to a variety of whole foods, which can help develop their taste preferences and promote healthy eating habits.
  • Provides a wider variety of foods: BLW allows babies to try a wider variety of foods, including those with more complex textures and flavors, which can contribute to a more diverse diet.
  • Makes family meals enjoyable: BLW allows babies to participate in family meals and eat the same foods as the rest of the family, making mealtime a more enjoyable and social experience for everyone.

Cons of baby-led weaning

  • Risk of choking: BLW involves giving babies whole foods, which can increase the risk of choking. Parents need to be vigilant and knowledgeable about safe feeding practices to minimize this risk.
  • Babies may be taking in less food if they are do not have excellent fine motor abilities.
  • Babies may have a hard time transitioning to different textures: Some babies may be sensitive to the textures of whole foods.
  • Some babies may not be ready for chewing finger foods and may require more time to develop their chewing and swallowing skills.
  • Some babies may struggle with self-feeding: Not all babies are ready or interested in self-feeding at the same time. They may lack the fine motor skills to pick up small food items.
  • Babies may use a whole-hand grasp until around age 1 which may make feeding messy as they smush foods in their palms while attempting to put them into their mouths.
  • It may be harder to implement when a family is not at home or traveling as simple soft-cooked foods may not be as readily available.

Overall, it's important to weigh the pros and cons of BLW and make an informed decision based on your baby's individual needs and developmental stage.

Comparison of BLW to Traditional Solid Food Introduction

Traditional weaning typically involves the introduction of pureed or mashed foods, which are spoon-fed to the baby. Parents typically start with a single food and gradually introduce new foods over time. This method allows parents to have more control over what their baby is eating, and it may be easier for some babies to swallow and digest.

In comparison, BLW focuses on introducing solid foods in their natural form and encourages babies to self-feed. This method allows babies to explore a wider variety of textures and flavors and may help promote healthy eating habits. However, it may also pose a greater risk of choking and may require more preparation and planning.

The benefits of traditional weaning include the ability to monitor the baby's intake more closely, the ability to introduce a wider variety of foods gradually, and reduced risk of choking. However, it may not promote self-feeding skills and may result in more difficulty transitioning to solid foods later on.

The benefits of BLW include the promotion of self-feeding skills, the ability to introduce a wider variety of foods in their natural form, and the potential for reduced picky eating. However, it may require more preparation and may pose a greater risk of choking.

Ultimately, the decision of which method to use should be based on the individual needs and preferences of the baby and family. Some families may choose to use a combination of both methods to take advantage of the benefits of each approach.

Michele's Feeding Recommendations

Looking for a middle-of-the-road approach between spoon feeding and baby-led weaning? Or want to learn the benefits of homemade baby foods? Then check out my article coming soon!

Tips for a Successful Baby-Led Weaning Experience

If you have decided to try baby-led weaning with your baby, here are some tips to help make the experience successful:

  1. Use a high chair: A high chair provides a safe and secure place for your baby to sit while they explore and eat their food. Make sure the high chair is stable and has a safety harness.
  2. Serve soft table foods: To reduce the risk of choking, it is important to serve soft foods that can be easily mashed with gums or chewed with only a few teeth. Cooked vegetables, fruits, and soft meats are good options.
  3. Move slowly in your introduction of foods.
  4. Offer small pieces of food: Cut food into small, manageable pieces that are easy for your baby to pick up and hold. Aim for finger-sized pieces, about the size of your baby’s pinky finger.
  5. Watch closely for gagging or choking and determine why that is. Was the food too hard? Or too large? Or is your child not ready for finger foods?
  6. Encourage family members to join in: Eating together as a family is important for bonding and social development. Encourage other family members to sit and eat with your baby during mealtimes.
  7. Seek the advice of healthcare professionals: It is important to consult with your healthcare provider before starting BLW to ensure that your baby is developmentally ready.

By following these tips, you can help ensure a safe and enjoyable baby led weaning experience for both you and your baby.

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Baby led weaning is a popular approach to introducing solid foods to infants that has many potential benefits, such as promoting healthy eating habits, developing fine motor skills, and making family meals more enjoyable.

It is important to weigh the pros and cons of this feeding method and take the necessary safety precautions to reduce the risk of choking. Seeking the advice of healthcare professionals and following tips for success can help ensure a positive experience for both baby and family.

Ultimately, the choice of feeding method should be based on individual preferences and considerations, and what works best for one family may not be the best choice for another.

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