What is Baby Led Weaning?!

Baby Led Weaning (BLW), or baby-led feeding, is used to refer to the method of introducing solids whereby baby is offered safe finger foods and foods of different textures and given the chance to feed themself right from the start of solids at around 6 months of age.

Contrary to popular belief, the idea of finger foods VS purees isn’t the most import aspect of this approach. The pillar of this approach is the ‘baby-led’ part!

 

It’s about a lot more than the texture of the food itself, it’s about a shift in our parenting mentality regarding feeding!

 

So with a baby-led approach to food, we, the parents, decide when to offer meals & what food to place on the tray (be it food in finger form or puree texture), and baby is in change of the rest. Baby feeds himself in whichever way his growing skills allow him (with his whole fists at first or grabbing spoons from mama, then with fingers and then with utensils…), baby decides on when she’s had enough and how much she eats, and most importantly, baby eats mindfully, willingly, and without any distractions or pressuring attempts from the parents. And so, baby develops a healthy and positive relationship with food and the act of eating, which will offer her a strong base and the best start on this lifelong and life-altering journey.

Our relationship with food and how we perceive the act of eating can affect our life in many ways: our body-image, our weight, our health, our mental health, our self-worth etc.. and we can spend a life-time trying to get over eating disorders that stemmed in our childhood. The general shift in the ‘health & fitness’ world these days to an intuitive-eating culture is very hopeful that this shift in mentality is happening, but it also emphasizes the importance of starting off right on this eating journey! Our babies are starting with a clean slate and no prejudice at all regarding eating, so we have the most ideal chance to help them develop a healthy and truly positive experience, and help them grown into happy healthy eaters!

And you know what, it’s a lot more about what we don’t do than what we need to do!

The main principles of BLW rely on trusting that our babies have both the capabilities and intuition to feed themselves once they show the readiness signs for solids around the age of 6 months.

The way I see it is this, there really are 2 main principles behind this approach, which are the main reasons I am such a big believer and passionate advocate for baby-led weaning:

  1. Trust that our babies are born intuitive eaters

In fact, we are all born intuitive eaters, and that includes the many of us who are now as adults struggling to re-learn how to eat intuitively and mindfully and to re-learn how to listen to our body’s cues. No baby will ever over-eat, and every baby knows when they are hungry! Babies are so in-tune with their bodies and are so good at listening to it.

When we think how right from day 1, when our babies are hungry they look for food – literally open their mouth and turn their heads right and left looking for milk, and they bring their hands to their mouth – we realize how much this is true, and how wired in us it is!

And just the same, as soon as a baby is full, right from day 1, they will unlatch from the breast or spit out the bottle & turn their face away.

We trust in their hunger & fullness cues as infants, and realize that in fact it’s not possible for us to override it (parents quickly learn that baby makes it very clear when they’re hungry, and that is it impossible to feed them more once they’re decided they’re full!). However, for some reason, once they hit that 6 months mark, we decide that we can’t trust them with this anymore, and try to control the feeding process, sometimes too much that with time, we do manage to override their ability to listen to their bodies and hunger/fullness cues and in the process – accidentally with all the good intentions and worry about their well being as our drive – we end up creating habits we really wanted to avoid, and a negative association with food and the act of eating which does our babies a lot more harm than good, and which can be carried with them all the way to adulthood.

A baby-led approach to feeding helps us as parents respect this intuition and innate ability to feed ourselves as humans, and respects our baby’s ability to listen to their body & develop its skills, and in the process offer them a much more positive experience and a strong healthy base for this relationship with food which they will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

  1. Trust that our babies are capable

Once they have shown all the readiness signs for solids, which typically show up around the age of 6 months, just like with all other milestones, we trust that our babies have now developed the ability to pick up appropriately-sized safe foods (finger-sized very soft foods or spoons pre-loaded with purees), and bring them to their mouth. We trust in their ability to teach themselves how to chew and swallow, and to enhance and perfect these skills with practice and the opportunity to try.

Again, just like with every other big milestone, like crawling, walking, talking etc… our job is to provide the safe, positive, and encouraging environment when we see they’re ready, and their job is to grow into their milestone gradually but surely, at their own unique pace, leading the way themselves!*

Science and speech & feeding experts confirm to us that offering babies foods of all different textures from the beginning of their solids journey plays a big role in them developing the essential feeding skills like chewing & swallowing, and helps develop the muscles necessary for effective feeding. Intervening too much with the intention of helping out by feeding them ourselves all the time, or by overly fearing over their safety and getting stuck on only pureed food beyond the first few weeks can cause the opposite of what our intentions are and get in the way of their learning process and skill development.

Think of it this way: when our babies are ready to learn how to walk, we know that the only way they’ll get to a point where they’re walking on their own without stumbling, and be able to get themselves from one point to another is if we let them practice, right? Our goal isn’t to walk on their behalf until one day they are magically & suddenly capable of running.. our goal is to offer safe grounds, and the opportunity to try, and be there to offer reassurances and to catch them when they stumble. Same thing when we think of the milestone of eating! 😉

 

 

Our babies are the most precious thing in the world, and it is very understandable that we fear for their safety and worry about their growth and nutritional intake when this big milestone hits. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned due to the baby food industry & extensive marketing (over the past 100 years!) to think that babies can only consume special baby food jars & boxes and that they need to live on purees for their first year. This is not the case! When we consider how special baby food and baby food steamers & blenders and special equipment have only been around for a few decades, it leaves us wondering how the human race has been fed up until then… then a baby-led approach with real food & a variety of textures doesn’t sound so foreign or ‘new’ anymore, am I right?!

In our society in the region, we also tend to be raised with an overly protective approach in general towards babies and kids, and we often find our own underlying fears and misconceptions take over with our own kids when it is time. It is very hard to do things differently when everyone around us doesn’t get what our objective is, or isn’t supportive of our different mindset.

Do you know what the best medicine for fear and hesitancy is? Knowledge! I have personally found such empowerment in knowledge and in equipping myself with information and education about topics that used to be a source of anxiety, or ideas I used to dismiss for the simple reason of not knowing enough about. You’d be surprised how much simply learning some information about a topic can change your whole perspective, feelings, and confidence level. So let’s keep learning 🙂

 

Here is one more thing you can read on the topic: The Benefits of Baby Self-Feeding Regardless of Texture

{It includes more on why reducing the discussion around BLW to a debate about texture kind of misses the point and doesn’t really service the awareness needed for more responsive and child-led parenting methods when it comes to food and babies}

 

Need some help, extra guidance as a parent, or simply plan to get you started with confidence? Check out the one-on-one coaching sessions I offer.

 

*Applies to babies with no health or growth issues. Premature babies & babies with other needs may achieve this milestone on a different timeline and/or may require some interventions & extra support in achieving them. Whenever in doubt, always consult with your baby’s medical practitioner.

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