I personally prefer referring to baby-led weaning (BLW) as self-feeding instead, because one, it is much simpler to understand! 😉 Two, it kind of highlights the essence of this approach and keeps the focus on the most important pillar, which is allowing baby to feed themselves, and thus handing over the control and the lead of how they eat and how much they eat to them!
The term BLW is sometimes (wrongly) used interchangeably with finger foods, and that is not only inaccurate, but diminishes a lot of what baby-led feeding is about and reduces is to a texture choice. The debate around texture – finger foods VS purees- shifts the focus to the type of food we offer, instead of the to the ‘how’, and can thus make us lose sight of the most important goal we’re aiming to achieve from a baby-led approach and all the amazing benefits it offers our babies, regardless of texture. After all, negative feeding habits like feeding a baby while distracting them, pressuring them to eat more through placing food in their mouth or providing a circus entertainment for every bite, overriding their fullness cues etc.. can all be down with finger foods or textured foods as well.
A self-feeding approach is about a mindset shift of how we think of introducing solids and baby food. One that seems pretty foreign compared to the image we grew up thinking about when we think feeding babies: bowls in a parent’s hand and spoonfuls of silky smooth bland purees of steamed veggies or fruits or cereal (blends adults would cringe at if offered to eat) being shoveled into tiny mouths of babies strapped in chairs and long spoons wiping and gathering food that gets pushed out of their mouth only to be placed back in that mouth as soon as lips part. In that image we also see a parent lovingly tending for their baby and caring for them, the way we’ve been told for several decades is the best way to do it. But now that we know better, it is time to create a different image!!
Of course, offering a variety of textures to babies right from the start is also at the essence of the baby-led weaning approach to introducing solids and a big part of the benefits it offers. However, just like with all things parenting, nothing comes in black and white and the farthest thing from helpful in real life is a rigid 123 steps approach without options. There’s plenty of space for flexibility and different ways to go about this because the 3rd pillar to a successful feeding journey is you, the parent, feeling comfortable and confident in your ways!
Does taking a self-feeding approach to solids mean that you never feed your baby yourself, no never step in to help your baby eat? No, it doesn’t. But it does mean that you feel you need to help them, you do that in a way that still allows them to take the lead on eating. That might look like you holding up the spoon, but waiting for baby to edge forward towards it and very mindfully eat/take the spoon in their mouth. It might also look like you filling up the spoon, or pricking a fork with a bite-sized piece, and holding it up for baby to grab in their hands and bring to their mouth themselves etc.. there are many ways, this is not rigid, but the point is respecting the idea that it’s our baby who’s in charge of mindfully placing/accepting the food in their mouth, and their cues for wanting to eat more or to stop are being heard and respected.
If you are convinced of all the benefits of allowing baby to self-feed, but not comfortable starting straight away with finger foods as the very first foods, know that you can start slow with a smooth texture, by using pre-loaded spoons as described above (like in the beginning of the video below), or just letting them do it their way, all hands on deck ;), and then growing in terms of texture with baby as both their feeding skills and your confidence and comfort level grows. But do grow with them!! Read here why it is important to progress with texture much faster than we previously thought.. there is an important window you do not want to miss!
✨✨Benefits of self feeding✨✨
- * develops a positive happy relationship with food & the act of eating
* respects baby’s body & allows them to listen to their hunger & fullness cues
* preserves mindful intuitive eating – being fully engaged and aware while eating & thus listening to our bodies- a skill we are all born with but lose with negative eating habits (read here)
* helps develops fine motor skills & eye hand coordination
* strengthens muscles, including oral muscles that are responsible not only for eating but for talking too
* provides fantastic sensory exposure to different textures, smells, shapes & colors through all of baby’s senses (see, touch, smell, taste)
✨Need some help or extra guidance?✨
If you are not sure where to start, looking for some support in learning all the essentials to a successful positive feeding journey, or need some help troubleshooting with some challenging issues, I’m here for you! Learn more here.
Pre-loaded Spoons and Palm Scooping in Action
If you ever had your doubts about a baby’s ability to feed themselves effectively using their hands only, including purée textured foods, this video is your proof 😅 these little fists are tiny but mighty.. allow them the chance & they’ll show you what they’re capable of!
Cyma was 9 months old here, and obviously has had plenty of practice with those palms – wait for the double-handed pro scoop mid video and make sure your audio is on 😅 – but palm scooping skills (reaching out, grabbing & bringing food to mouth) emerge right from the start at 6 months!
Oatmeal galore!! Started off very civilly with spoons, but quickly escalated, spoons got tossed out, and in stepped the most effective scoopers in the universe! 😉
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