At the age of 6 months, you can normally introduce your baby to solids, always in addition to breast milk or breastfed milk. The diet often starts with iron-rich cereals and gradually evolves towards meat, vegetable and fruit purées. However, a trend that is giving way to solid foods rather than purées is shaking the foundations of food introduction as we know them. This approach is called BLW and it means “Baby Led Weaning”. Here’s a look at this approach in more detail.
What is the BLW approach?
BLW involves introducing complementary foods in the form of chopped foods rather than purées. Usually, the baby is not spoon-fed and learns to carry food in his mouth themself, hence the development of their autonomy! BLW can begin when the baby is able to hold up their head and sit, so this will happen a little earlier for some babies (around 4 months) or a little later for others (around 6 months).
The benefits of BLW
BLW helps the baby discover the colours, textures, flavours, smells and shapes of food. This enables the baby to develop fine motor skills as well as coordination when taking food into their mouth. They usually eat the same foods as everyone else at the table, which makes it easier to prepare meals. It also encourages children to imitate the behaviours of others at the table, including parents and older siblings.
This approach then enables the baby to better respect their hunger and satiety signals. They eat at their own pace and stop when they’re no longer hungry. On the other hand, when a child is spoon-fed, they may eat beyond their appetite, since they don’t control the food that enters their mouth. It’s quite normal for a baby to eat very little at first, as it’s at the very beginning of their motor development, hence the importance of respecting the amount of food they decide to eat and providing them with nutritious foods, rich in vitamins and minerals.
What are the risks associated with BLW?
Although the food is cut into large chunks, there’s still a danger of suffocation in young babies. However, this danger is no greater than it is with purees! In fact, the baby has a gag reflex that enables them to cough and spit out food as needed.
It’s very likely that the duration of meals will be longer with BLW and this is completely normal. The baby will develop fine motor skills and coordination. Also, don't be afraid of a mess! (You’ll have to be prepared to do some housework, as a baby who starts eating alone may throw their food everywhere as well!) Silicone plates that stick to the table and prevent the baby from spilling all the contents on the floor can be good purchases. Also, in order to avoid food waste, it is best to give your baby only small amounts of food at a time.
How do you know when your baby is ready for BLW?
In order to know if your baby is ready for BLW, they should be able to sit without help. They must also be able to turn their head from left to right and from top to bottom. In addition, they must be able to nibble on their toys, which demonstrates that they’ll be able to chew food. Finally, they must be able to bring food to their mouth themselves.
You should consult a healthcare professional before starting BLW to ensure that your baby is not contraindicated to self-feeding. For example, if a child has a disfigurement, developmental disorders, motor coordination problems, a delay, or is premature, your child may not be ready to eat on their own.
What foods are included and prohibited in BLW?
It is important to begin BLW with larger pieces of food in the shape of sticks that can protrude beyond the baby's clenched fist. This is because the baby must be able to catch food. Food size may gradually decrease with each passing month.
Here’s a list of foods to introduce with BLW:
- Puréed legumes
- Scrambled eggs
- Tender meat/poultry
- Cubed or grated tofu
- Tender or well-cooked vegetables
- Soft or very ripe fruit
- Cooked pasta
- Cubed or grated cheese
Avoid foods that are too hard, including raw vegetables, fruits and vegetables with a thin skin, nuts and seeds, whole peanuts, and dried fruits, as well as foods that are round or sticky, such as soft bread, muffins and cakes, as the texture becomes very sticky in the mouth when mixed with saliva.
What about cereals?
Baby cereals are often very high in iron and shouldn’t be routinely excluded from your baby's diet even with BLW. In fact, your baby's iron needs increase from the age of 6 months. So if your baby has begun BLW, make sure they eat iron-rich foods, such as meat, chicken, fish, legumes, and tofu, at least twice a day. However, if you don’t consume enough of these foods, it’s highly recommended that you include iron-fortified grains in your diet. They can be added to pastry recipes or even to soup, enabling your child to continue to feed on their own.
In conclusion, keep in mind that each baby's development is different. Don't worry if the portions look small in the first few days of BLW. Your baby is able to recognize their own hunger signals, and at this stage of life, the majority of their food is always in drink-form. If BLW doesn’t work for your baby, you can always turn to the purée approach. If you have any questions or concerns about feeding your baby, ask your healthcare provider. One approach is not necessarily better than another, just be comfortable with the method of feeding you’ve chosen!
Familiprix in collaboration with Hubert Cormier
Brown, A., Jones, S. W., & Rowan, H. (2017). Baby-led weaning: the evidence to date. Current nutrition reports, 6(2), 148-156.
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.
Mieux vivre avec notre enfant de la naissance à deux ans, 2018