What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is a method of transitioning infants from breastfeeding to eating solid foods. It bypasses use of spoon-feeding or purees and encourages babies to feed themselves starting at 6 months of age. In addition to breast feeding, the infant sits with the family at mealtimes and is given pieces of solid foods to eat with his/her fingers.
Principles of Baby Led Weaning:
- Food is offered in its whole form as finger foods rather than pureed
- Infants feed themselves by grasping foods, making initial mouth contact and then ingestion through their own actions rather than by spoon-feeding
- Infants join in family meals, eating family foods as soon as they start BLW
Potential benefits of Baby Led Weaning:
Gill Rapley, a health visitor and creator of the BLW philosophy, claims the following benefits to her method:
- Allows babies to explore taste, texture, color and smell
- Encourages independence and confidence
- Helps to develop their hand-eye coordination and chewing skills
- Makes picky eating and mealtime battles less likely
How do I implement BLW?
Gill Rapley provides the following instructions for implementing BLW*:
- Sit baby upright, facing table, either on your lap or in a highchair. Ensure baby’s stability so he/she can use hands and arms freely.
- Offer baby food: Put it in front of him/her or let him/her take it from your hand.
- Start with foods that are easy to pick up: thick sticks or long strips
- Include your baby in family mealtimes as often as possible and, so long as it is safe, offer baby the same food that you/your family is eating to promote imitation.
- Mealtimes should happen when your baby is NOT tired or hungry so he/she can focus on feeding. During the transition to family foods, the focus of mealtimes is play and learning. Nutritional needs will continue to be met via breast milk.
- Continue offering breast/formula feeding, as this is still your baby’s primary source of nutrients until 1 year of age. When your baby requires less breast milk/formula, he/she will reduce feeding herself.
- Offer water with your baby’s meals.
- Do not rush or distract your baby while he/she is handling food
- Do not put food in your baby’s mouth or try to convince your baby to eat more than he/she wants.
*Adapted from http://www.rapleyweaning.com/assets/blwleaflet.pdf
Should I use BLW?
There is no easy answer to this question. As a parent, your decision should be based in an understanding of your baby’s individual nutrition and safety needs. Therefore, consulting with your pediatrician is important before deciding to use Baby Led Weaning. Further complicating your decision-making process is a lack of research investigating the effectiveness, benefits, and hazards of using BLW. Here’s what we know so far:
- Rapely (2003) observed 5 infants introduced to complementary foods using BLW: All infants were able to self-feed by 6.5 months and showed signs of chewing and swallowing, but the sample was small and no data regarding how much food each infant ingested was provided.
- Rapely (2006) and Rapeley & Murkett (2008) claim that BLW may decrease food fussiness and allows infant to self-regulate food intake according to appetite; however, there is no empirical evidence to support these claims.
- In a study including 655 mothers with children between 6 and 12 months of age, participants who used BLW reported little use of spoon-feeding and purees and were more likely to to have breastfed their infants. BLW was associated with later introduction of solid foods, greater infant participation in meal times, greater exposure to family foods, and decreased levels of maternal anxiety regarding infant feeding and weaning.
- Parents report choosing BLW because they believe that this method is a healthier, less expensive method of introducing solid foods.
- Thirty percent of mothers using BLW report at least one episode of choking, most commonly while their infant was eating a raw apple.
Preliminary research also suggests a disconnect between mothers using BLW and healthcare professionals. BLW users do not report major concerns and view this weaning method as a healthier, less stressful way to introduce solid foods to their infants. In contrast, healthcare professionals express reluctance to recommend BLW due to the following concerns:
- Increased choking risk
- Iron deficiency
- Inadequate energy intake
All in all, if you do decide to use Baby Led Weaning, or any other weaning method, it is important to follow safety rules. For more information regarding feeding guidelines and safety from the National Institute of Health, please see http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002455.htm.
What should I do if I am concerned about my child’s feeding habits?
- Brown, A. & Lee, M. (2010). A descriptive study investigating the use and nature of baby-led weaning in a UK sample of mothers. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 7(1), 34-47.
- Cameron, S. L., Heath, A.-L. M., & Taylor, R. W. (2012). How Feasible Is Baby-Led Weaning as an Approach to Infant Feeding? A Review of the Evidence. Nutrients, 4(11), 1575–1609. doi:10.3390/nu4111575