Baby-led weaning is, it must be said, a somewhat cheesy term for just letting your infant self-feed. You cut food up into manageable sticks and offer it, they eat. It’s really pretty simple.
The key difference between BLW and traditional weaning, when you think about it, is in the order that children learn to eat. With a puree, they learn to swallow first and then chew, which works fine until they meet a lump. With BLW, the babies learn to chew first and swallowing might come some time later.
It’s ‘baby-led’ in the sense that you let them do what they need to do while they’re learning, and as the parent you resist the urge to get wound up in knots about how much they’re eating, whether they like the food you thought they’d like and whether it’s smushed into the nearest curtain. The main thing is… it’s all good clean (messy) fun.
If you fancy giving it a try, here are some tips from the parents who contribute to our lively Baby Led Weaning Forum
- Have a good trawl on the internet for blogs, info and in particular video clips of BLW babies. Seeing little tiny 6-month-old babies demolishing their food and hearing the gasps of admiration from the proud parent behind the camera (and by parent I mean Dad. It’s always the Dad), will do your confidence the power of good.
- Next, forget ‘baby food’. Food’s food, as long as you’re not adding salt. To start off with, think chip-sized because it’s an easy shape for little 6-month-olds to grip, but you’ll soon move on to smaller pieces as it’s more interesting for a child developing a pincer grip.
- As a first food most people steam carrots (to about the degree that they can be smushed ‘twixt your thumb and finger), cut up cucumbers, make toast fingers or crinkle cut bits of mango, that sort of thing, but remember if there’s no reason whatsoever why your baby can’t have a pile of Spaghetti Bolognese or mashed potato to dig into if that’s what the rest of the family is having.
- No bowls, they’re just asking to be flung heavenwards. Put the food on the highchair tray or table and remember, it’s all a learning experience for the baby at this point. They really don’t care whether the experience is ‘oooooh, mango is in my mouth’ or ‘ooooooh, a bowl is flying across the room’.
- As an experienced eater yourself, you already have all the ‘equipment’ you’ll need to feed your child, but there are some things to consider. An easy-to-clean highchair is a must, so head to Ikea for a fifteen quid Antilop, which will even fit in the shower for a hose-down on a bad broccoli day.
- There will be mess, oh yes there will, so if you are weaning in summer don’t be afraid to eat outside or semi-naked (and the baby too, if you like, hem hem) and for winter Ikea and Tommee Tippee make great cover-all and pelican bibs.
- Putting a wipe-clean tablecloth under the highchair is a good idea if you have carpets and some people find that a crinkle cutter is handy to make food extra-grippable.
- (Slightly bitter) experience suggests that the more effort you put into making something special for the baby, the less likely they are to eat it. Give them what you’re having. If they hate it, fine, they’re getting their calories from milk anyway.
- Of course it would be perfect if we ate every meal as a family, just like the Waltons but this isn’t always possible. Try to keep your ‘social activity’ head on, though, even if it’s just you and your baby sharing a sandwich at lunch. Keep smiling, keep enjoying, keep paying attention. It’s just good manners at the end of the day, something it’s never too early for a child to learn.
- Don’t get too hung up on three meals a day, it may take a while to work up to that. Whatever’s convenient and enjoyable for you is best.
- And don’t put too much on the highchair tray at the one time, just a couple of pieces of food will stop them feeling overwhelmed.
- Actual hunger can be frustrating for the babies when they’re still getting to grips (quite literally) with things. Timing ‘meals’ to between milk feeds seems to be best, and because it’s just finger food you aren’t limited to staying in. There’s no reason why you can’t pack a wee Tupperware with some carrot or cucumber, buy a banana when you’re out or just pull some bits out of an undressed salad.
- Never put food into a child’s mouth, let them put it in by themselves so that they can control it as it moves backwards. If the baby gags, remember that it’s their way of moving food around in the mouth and don’t panic. Some parents have found that making exaggerated chewing faces and noises reminds the child to get back on track.
- Nappies and their contents will soon fascinate you in ways you never thought possible. Raisins rehydrate, little pieces of still-green broccoli sneak through the digestive system and bananas produce poo with strange black threads. Look and learn, ladies.
- Have a camera ready to capture those first gummy, carroty smiles because as daunting as it may seem, weaning is a very short time in your child’s life. So remember to enjoy it…