Baby Led Weaning

Growing healthy babies with healthy appetites

What is BLW, anyway? And what is it not..?

Right, this is coming totally off the top of my head, so forgive me. I will add, edit, fumble and apologise later if I’ve inadvertently stuffed something up…

Recently I’ve seen so many people fighting over what Baby Led Weaning actually means. Not on our own www.babyledweaning.com website, funnily enough, and not on our forum, both of which are havens of tolerance and gorgeousness dontchaknow, but Facebook seems to be aflame with accusations of ‘mummy martyrdom’ for not using spoons, purees, pouches and whatnot.

For what it’s worth, here’s my understanding of the two main types of weaning your lovely little milk-fed baby onto solid food, as lovingly practised by perfectly sensible parents the world over.

 

Baby Led Weaning
Child
self-feeds bits of ‘cutted up’ food from 6 months, as per the World Health Organisation guidelines. Milk on tap. Everyone happy.

Traditional Weaning (for want of a better expression) -
Parent makes purees, puts them on a spoon and gently and un-pushily feeds the child. The age might be as low as 4 months, because children can eat from a spoon from that age, but very often it’s at around 6 months as per the World Health Organisation guidelines. At some point, possibly even immediately, the parent lets the child self-feed as well, so that they’re having both finger food and puree. Milk on tap. Everyone happy.

 

Now, despite the equally blissful end result, these two methods are not the same.
The key thing is that in the BLW method, the parent just has to take a step back and let the child get on with it. The baby learns to chew first, and to spit out, and THEN to swallow food.

With the more traditional approach the baby is using everything that they’ve learned from taking in liquids to swallow the puree, while also tackling this new, and in some instances rather thrilling, experience of chewing and swallowing as well.

Is this mixing of spoon-fed puree and finger foods a problem?
Probably not.

Is it Baby Led Weaning, as described by Gill Rapley in her best-selling weaning book?
No, it is not.

Is that a problem?
No sirree, but it does mean that talking about doing ‘a mix of BLW and (spoon-fed) puree’ makes not a jot of sense. Unless you, for example, also think that you can be ‘a mix of vegetarian and carnivore’? Buddy, chum, old pal… you’re an omnivore, be happy.
Take what you want to take from the vegetarians and the meat-heads (she says, extending this unlikely comparison through all sorts of pain barriers) but don’t call the veggies mean names because they want to do something different to you. **

Let’s be clear, though. If you are weaning your child in a more traditional fashion you are MOST WELCOME to hang out here. Finger food recipes are finger food recipes, after all, babies are babies, and very few of us are getting a solid eight hours these days. Who amongst us wouldn’t benefit from a relaxing chat about the exact way to chop up a steamed carrot..?

And if you join us on the forum, we’re discussing much, much weirder things as well… everything from make-up to mooncups, very often both at the same time… Peace out, folks.

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**(This is where the comparison falls down horribly for me, I admit, as I regularly tease veggie pals about their laughably puny muscles. *prepares barbecue* *awaits flaming*)

Oh, and PS. If you want to explore all this in greater detail, here’s a link to a chat on this subject that we had on the forum a while back. Covers the pros and the cons, the ups and the downs… all that shizzle.

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48 Responses to “What is BLW, anyway? And what is it not..?”

  1. Nixxie says:

    Thanks for the clarification Aitch! I see so many people nowadays saying their baby is doing BLW only for the next weaning photo to be a baby with purée all over its face which is fine but it’s traditional weaning. Nothing wrong with doing it that way but its confusing enough as it is for new parents without getting the weaning terms mixed up! A lot of people say they’re doing ‘a bit of both’ or BLW with some spoon feeding, which is also fine (I say go with whatever suits the baby) but please don’t say it is BLW because it is not’ Traditional weaning includes finger foods also as I understand. Thanks again for this post to help clarify!

  2. Claire says:

    A good point Aitch. I think doing a bit of finger food with traditional weaning is often considered doing “a bit of both”. Its not, its “I’m giving some finger foods”. Which is fine.

    Frankly I am not interested in going down the puree route when all she wants to do is steal her brother’s or my food!

  3. Kate says:

    Well said! I don’t get why anyone would do a mix either…surely it’s easier not to? The only grey area I think is when BlWers give preloaded spoons..it’s so tempting to help the baby with the spoon, and I don’t think doing that makes you not BLW. But it’s a world away from “we do purees for lunch and BLW for dinner”, which just makes no sense.

    • Aitch says:

      Ah well I think for a lot of people it’s hard not to know how much is going in, and look at the immense pressure people are under from HVs etc to state how much food and milk their babies are eating, so I can absolutely understand why people find that more traditional approach comforting. This was really just a wee post about the semantics, because as you know I personally don’t give a monkey’s how anyone weans their child, just as I’d hope they wouldn’t stick their beaks into how I weaned mine. (Having said that, I do v much like a bit of debate, but you know what i mean…)

      • Kate says:

        Yup, totally get what you mean…on the fbook group, both sides were getting a bit aggro, with some of the BLWers excluding anyone whose baby had touched a spoon and then the other side…well, you know about them!

  4. ToothFairy says:

    Spot on as ever Aitch! My eldest was traditionally weaned and was definitely eating finger foods by six months, but that was a world away from what we did with the two younger ones.
    I take issue with your veggie-baiting though. I’m veggie and my muscles are not puny, especially my calf muscles since the forum persuaded me that running was a good idea!!

  5. I just wrote a blog post about this last week (no point in clicking, it’s in Norwegian!), like you, off the top of my head, and came to much the same conclusion. I think you’re spot on (of course, since we agree). Doing “a bit of both” is totally fine, but it’s not BLW the way I see it. And if the “rise of BLW” leads to “normal” parents giving more finger foods, that can only be a good thing!

  6. Roberta says:

    Great post Aitch! I think something has been lost in translation somewhere along the way – so many people I know say they’re doing BLW now when what they mean is traditional weaning + finger foods. I think as BLW is becoming more well-known but not properly explained by HVs, etc, the point of it is being lost somewhere along the way. People think that BLW is just another name for finger foods, whereas we all know it’s actually a bit more than that.

  7. Krista says:

    Oh Aitch you are so eloquent. This is exactly what the world needs to see. You’ve defined BLW, you’re not mean to anyone and you’re demonstrating exactly the attitude that most (I would hope) of us have. It’s a shame about the whole Facebook thing – it seems people don’t actually know what BLW is before ‘liking’ the group and that seems to get on others’ nerves.
    Here’s hoping you have made the world a more peaceful place with this post.
    Please write more frequently, I love reading your stuff.
    Ps I have puny muscles through lack of meat (or exercise). I am happy for you to laugh at my expense.

  8. Aitch says:

    Precisely. Plus, there are a gazillion grey areas for that much-vaunted BLW term anyway. Pouch in the buggy on the way to drop of big brother at school? Gawd, go ahead, life’s too short, you’re still doing BLW. But I guess I think that if you enter into it thinking ‘I’m going to do a mix’ then fine, that’s trad weaning.
    It’s not a question of being prescriptive so much as, while this thing is catching fire, just reminding ourselves of first principles again.

  9. Laura says:

    That’s it. There’s no problem with either way, but they are philosophically different. You can’t baby-lead if you are putting food in their mouth.

  10. Jem says:

    Great post – and I’d like to reinforce the emphasis of MILK ON TAP.

    Neither weaning method is about forcing your baby to eat more than they necessarily want by means of distraction, “here comes the aeroplane” or withholding milk!

  11. Sara says:

    This is a great post. I think however you wean though, the important thing is to get past that mindset of ‘getting food into them’. BLW was the only logical option for me once I understood what weaning was for- to slowly introduce eating (in the order of feeding self, chewing, swallowing) as a concept, new textures and tastes, the social aspect of mealtimes, the sheer pleasure of eating, at a time when the amount consumed didn’t yet matter much.
    But I can see why people spoon feed. I felt like I had to be better informed than everyone else to have the confidence to BLW. There was nagging from the older generation, iffy advice from baby food firms who get your details from Bounty,and the sheer fear of gagging. And of course the mess.
    I also think that not all spoon feeding is the same. It’s one thing to offer food by spoon to a willing baby who is enjoying the meal, (ideally sat around the table with everyone else at least some of the time), it’s quite another to cajole, trick or even shove it in with the exhortion of ‘one more spoonful for Mummy’ (once they start believing that they are eating ‘for you’, the game is up in my opinion)
    The other day I saw a mum putting spoonfuls of vile-looking green mush into a young baby’s open mouth- but the baby’s mouth was open because she was howling in distress. That I can’t understand. What is the baby gaining from that? What is she learning about her relationship with food?
    Ideally I think it’s great to have the confidence to let the baby lead. But I think a lot of people trying ‘a mix’ will soon get led away from the spoon by the baby- because they’ve trusted them to have a little bit of control in the first place- and that’s the big shift of mindset that counts.

  12. Tina says:

    I say this as a person who has just had a first child and is considering the best way to wean – I always thought that blw was when the baby showed signs of being hungrier and despite having milk on tap it didn’t appear to be enough. I had this idea reinforced when the hv described it to me. Of course like everything else I went straight online and tried to gather as many points of view as possible and it brought me here. Very pleased to have had it explained to me properly. It’s very difficult for a newbie to find good unbiased info! :)

    • Aitch says:

      Weeeell, that not appearing to be enough thing can really just be a growth spurt anyway, and the best thing to do with them is feed, feed, feed through it to bring your supply up if you’re bfing, and just offer milk as and when if on bottles. I was a ghastly bfer and onto mixed feeding by the time that four month spurt came round, but i always gave formula in as ‘baby-led’ a manner as possible. To the extent that the HV would ask how much milk she was drinking and I simply didn’t have a clue…

  13. Cherrypop says:

    Great post Aitch (and rather nicely illustrated with a picture of my DS!). I’ve been trying to explain BLW to a group I go to this morning, and you’ve done it much more succinctly than I could! I’ll send them the link ;)

  14. Agatha'smama says:

    A great post that really simply explains the difference.

    When baby led weaning was first explained to me by a hv in a class about weaning at the local children’s centre, it was really badly done, to the extent that those that had already started on puréed food were put instantly on the defensive after feeling they were being accused of force feeding their babies. Of course that wasn’t the message the hv was meaning to put across, and as I hadn’t started any form of weaning yet it at least gave me a phrase to type into google to find out more. That led me here thankfully, where my misgivings were soon settled, and this is the approach we happily took!

    I think for me, the really key thing was that it was about letting your little one develope THIER relationship with food, and no matter how hard you might try more to encourage them to eat one more spoonful with traditional weaning, it’s almost inevitable as it’s what we have all grown up seeing in real life and on TV – I’m so conscious of that now I know about blw!

    So, as others have said, either method as you describe them is fine in my books, in my group of friends we have done both, and probably comes down to family preference and perhaps knowledge of what your own relationship with food is like. What is so sad to see is when parents and babies are both getting upset during the scenario described above, when the parents feel they need to get more into the little one that the baby wants.

  15. kristi says:

    so, i’m guilty of this… using a “mix” of both styles. :( i spread thick purees (like a prune mixture) onto toast and offer it to my son. i also give my son a flat spoon so he can self-feed himself yogurt.

    i thought the idea behind BLW was that you place options in front of the child and THEY choose and experiment. there’s no stressing over how much or how little they’re eating – just letting them set the pace, experiment and develop their own food relationship.

    we’ve done pretty well with our modified version, but i must admit there is some anxiety now that i’m doing it wrong. i thought, while generally the options should be whole food, it was important to offer a variety of textures. i mean, whole prunes scare me and there are just some things even adults eat with a spoon… *shrug*

    (not being defensive – will HAPPILY consider any advice on this front. :) )

    • Aitch says:

      Oh but you see, i consider what you’re doing to be BLW, absolutely. What makes you think it is a modified version? I mean as you say, we all eat different textures anyway and the idea surely is to eat with the family?

      • kristi says:

        phew! :)

        it feels, sometimes, in the BLW community, like the comparison is “BLW vs Purees” and you even say, “‘a mix of BLW and puree’ makes not a jot of sense”. so it feels as though some feel the two are mutually exclusive. if you’re using mush or a spoon, you’re not BLW.

        maybe i’m getting too caught up in the semantics, but i feel that maybe the comparison should emphasize “self-feeding vs parent-feeding” or something along those lines.

        as you’re the expert, regardless of the phrasing, i’m pleased to hear i am in fact doing BLW “right”. :) :)

      • Aitch says:

        Hey I’m no expert, I’m just the doofus who was bored on maternity leave and started a blog about weaning her daughter in this ludicrous new manner. Actually I do see what you mean about that sentence… hope everyone reads the comments and sees the finer line. TOTALLY agree re self-feeding, it’s on the first page of the whole site that ‘baby self-feeding’ would, in my inexpert opinion, have been a much better name for what we are trying to do here.

      • Aitch says:

        have changed it to ‘a mix of BLW and puree-feeding’… does that improve matters, do you think?

      • Aitch says:

        actually i’ve changed it again, to clarify the spoon-fed thing… how does that read now?

      • kristi says:

        well, if not “expert” certainly “an excellent and knowledgeable advocate”. :)

        no need to change things on my account but yeah – i think that could make it clearer.

        i was trying to explain BLW to someone recently, and i was stammering all over the place (“i don’t know if i do or i don’t ’cause i use purees, but not in the traditional way – usually on toast – but i think i do ’cause i let him feed himself…”) so i’m thankful to be able to talk it out with you. lol

        it seems to me to be more of a “how” than a “what”. i mean the “what” is important, but the “how” really sums up the whole idea (if i might say). i’m rambling, but thanks for the good discussion!

      • Aitch says:

        Do you know what… if anything I reckon the ‘why’ is the most important. I really, really, really didn’t want to bring my kids up to have to clear their plates, it’s something i was taught to do and still cannot shake. I think it’s RIDICULOUS that i finish everything, but still i do. So having had that experience, I wanted as little to do with my children’s appetites as possible, and when I first heard of BLW that seemed to me to be a great way to take a step back.

  16. zeetime says:

    I agree entirely with the original article. Often when people tell me they’re ‘doing a bit of both’ and I try and explain the difference I see them glaze over because they don’t really care for the semantics but just see BLW as something a bit cool and cooky that they don’t really understand.

    If someone told me they were a surfer but it turned out they were playing on a boogie board I’d want to explain the difference and I guess most others would too so why is this different?

  17. SarklePetal says:

    Lovely post Aitch :-) The “why” is definitely the most important difference. Of course you can offer loaded spoons of squishy, squelchy foods as part of BLW. But most of us probably try not to mess with the textures of foods over and above the way we prepare them to eat ourselves. The exception would be to avoid the real choke hazards – so grate raw carrot or offer it cooked, to avoid them biting off a lump and it getting stuck in their throat. But the main difference is a philosophical one. With BLW you allow your baby to show you how ready (or not!) they are to explore the world of solid foods, and the control remains with them from that first squashed banana at 6 months old until the day they die (at a ripe old age due to not over-eating).

  18. catkin says:

    It’s all in the name isn’t it – Baby Led Weaning the Thing vs baby led weaning which could perfectly well be baby led spoonfeeding, and perfectly well be something you did part time. Perhaps we should change the name to Not Feeding Your Baby.

    • Aitch says:

      lol, i think maybe a. the name thing ship has sailed, and b. not feeding your baby would be frowned upon.
      I really do think it’s just self-feeding, basically. Shame it’s not called that, but hey ho!

  19. Kirsty says:

    There is definitely confusion among professionals as well. A health visitor recently told a friend of mine that mothers are misunderstanding what baby-led weaning is all about, and that its not just finger foods, you still have to spoon feed them as well to make sure they get enough nutrients. And I was standing next to another friend today when she told her that, after 6 months old, a baby should only get 3 milk feeds a day and none at all overnight or they won’t be hungry for solid food.
    It sounds to me that she’s the one with the misunderstanding, not the mothers.

  20. Rachel says:

    I’m one of the staunch BLWers in the facebook group you are referring to…I’ve been trying to explain this exact thing to those who are misinformed or confused about it because I truly believe in the benefits of BLW. I’ve actually not seen any horrible nasty comments from any of our group whilst trying to explain the difference however there has been a whole lot of nastiness come back at us.

  21. [...] I doing baby led weaning?  No, not according to this summary of what baby led weaning is and what it is not.  But that’s okay!  Purees are totally fine!  They are not unhealthy!  They are just a [...]

  22. sonja says:

    I’m confused. My baby has had some mushed banana.(we’re very early in the process) and I have put out on a weird squishy baby spoon and given it to her to fiddle with herself, which she eagerly licks, mouths, etc. I also have given her a cucumber stick to gnaw on. I would have called that a mix of both, but primarily BLW, because she’s in control. Is that not the case? This reads as though giving her a spoon automatically means you can’t possibly be doing BLW…?

    • Aitch says:

      Does it? It shouldn’t do. A spoon’s just a toy like any other bit of squishy plastic, I guess, it’s totally up to you if you let her play with it, with or without food on (although there’s probably no need to mush the banana, so you could just hand her that to lick and mouth). BLW is, to be honest, more of a head space than a fixed set of rules, this post was really about the fact that saying you’re doing ‘a mix of BLW and puree’ doesn’t make any sense, that’s all.

      • sonja says:

        Thanks! :)

      • Ashley H says:

        I thought it came off that way as well. We did primarily BLW and supplemented with purees (usually when we were out and all but a few times with a pouch rather than a spoon, but..) I considered that doing both?

  23. Jessmite says:

    what’s the different of BLW from giving finger foods?
    can we make sure that the baby with BLW method get enough food for his tummy because when I tried giving cut banana and cucumber to my baby, he just played with the food! everytime I offered a puree with spoon, he almost never refuse to eat it.

    • Aitch says:

      Not really, you see… that’s kind of the point of BLW is that the baby eats what he wants to eat, so you are a bit more removed from the process. However I take your point that as you see it, he does want to eat, just from the spoon. So that sounds perfect for you guys, if you’re both happy doing that, and let him have a go on the finger food as well.

  24. Sabrina says:

    I don’t know whether it matters much how we call it. My 5 month old girl seemed to be really interested in food. So I started her on finger food (which she demolished). I also gave her pouches with puréed Vege/fruits (these are very popular here in New Zealand). She managed to eat them /suck them out by herself! And once every day I also spoon feed her little amounts as well. Even though she prefers eating herself sometimes she still lacks the skill of handling very slippery fruits. She’ turned 6 months a couple of days ago and is now a pro in all these different ways of eating. And since there’s no other official way of calling this, I also tell people I’m doing bait of BLW and a bit of purée weaning. Now I really don’t see the prob about how people call this. I love that bubba can do it all and is so happy all around and that’s all that counts!

  25. Sabrina says:

    PS sorry I forgot to clarify why I said there’s no other official way of calling this mixed approach. Here in New Zealand, (and many European countries) the traditional approach to wending means starting them on smooth puréed, then some months later on chunkier puréed. Finger foods are not officially recommended under the age of 1 year. (!!! I know!!!) not because it’s proven to be dangerous but simply because there’s not enough research done in those countries to prove its safe. So people would get the wrong impression if I would call our approach traditional weaning. Maybe we should invent a new term for it? Anyways, I love the philosophy behind BLW and love the recipes too. Many thanks for supplying all this info and recipe ideas.

  26. Emily says:

    Could you just clarify what you mean by ‘is this BLW as described by Gill Rapley in her book…no it is not’? What is the ‘this’? Is it the mixed part, traditional part or your version of BLW? From what I’ve read I can’t see much difference… Hmmm…. Confused…

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