Baby led weaning (BLW) seems to be on every parent’s radar lately. Is it the best method to try with your baby? There are many pros and cons associated with baby led weaning. Many parents feel comfortable with the traditional method: spoon feeding your baby on pureed foods at 4-6 months of age before progressing to more solid textures. However, many parents are becoming interested in the baby led weaning method, where your baby skips the pureed foods altogether and heads straight for the types of foods their parents are eating – at their own pace and in their own way. Both methods are used today, and both are entirely okay. But let’s explore the pros and cons before you make the decision for your little one
Pros of Baby Led Weaning
No More Making Two Separate Meals
By taking the BLW approach, you will not have to buy or puree foods for your baby at meal time. Instead, you can give your baby exactly what the rest of the family is eating (with slight modifications). This provides the baby with the social benefit of watching you eat the same thing and sitting at the table with the rest of the family during meal time.
Pureeing foods can be very time consuming. Although there are options that can help in saving parent’s time such as making large batches and freezing, it can still pose an issue for busy parents to come up with recipes, blend and store, thaw and reheat the purees. Furthermore, with baby led weaning, you are able to enjoy the meal with your baby without having to feed your baby first before you are able to sit and eat your meal.
Better control of appetite
Because babies with be feeding themselves with baby led weaning, they are more easily in control of what and how much they are eating. Baby will be able to only eat when hungry and stop eating when they are full. There is no pressure to eat a certain amount of food, or even to eat all. They can set the pace of the meal themselves and don’t have to worry about “surprise” bites coming their way!
Babies are curious – they love exploring and getting into everything they possibly can. When it comes to food, it is beneficial for them to explore the colour, texture and flavour of a variety of foods, as it promotes increased stimulation and greater enjoyment of food.
Some research over the years shows that those babies who participated in the BLW method were less fussy with food than pureed babies. From the beginning you show and teach your baby the different textures of foods so later on they are said to be more accepting of lumps or squishy textures.
Fresh, Whole Foods
The BLW method allows for our little ones to consume not only fresh foods, but also those with all nutrients intact, exactly how they will be enjoying foods in the future! The nutrients in the food are not diluted with water, nor are they presented in a way that is strikingly different from how these foods actually look, taste, and feel.
BLW gets baby to start using their hands to feed themselves. This not only improves hand-eye coordination and dexterity, but also teaches them how to properly grip different shapes, sizes, weights and texture of foods without dropping it. On top of this, BLW babies also master the progression of biting, chewing and swallowing foods earlier, instead of just swallowing purees. This will get the baby used to the motion of chewing and develop better oral-motor skills and tongue dexterity.
Cons of Baby Led Weaning
Perceived Fear of Choking
Because babies are given whole foods from the get-go, the fear for most parents is that this poses a higher risk of choking than if offering purees. However, when baby-led weaning is done properly, the risk of choking with baby-led weaning is actually no higher than spoon feeding with purees. The risk of choking only goes up if the baby is not physiologically ready to start baby-led weaning, if parent’s give the wrong food, or an inappropriate shape or size of the food, if parents put their hands in baby’s mouth, etc. Technically, babies can choke on purees as well! Feel free to join one of my upcoming baby-led weaning workshops to learn how to fully reduce the risks of choking.
The BLW method is surely a messy one. Since it is so messy, it can sometimes be hard to tell exactly how much food your baby ate as much of it can be on the floor by the end of meal time. It also inevitably leads to more clean up (i.e. changing baby’s clothes or giving them a bath, wiping down highchair). As your baby gains more skill self-feeding, the mess will significantly decrease over time.
Extra Attention to Iron
By this stage in your baby’s life, it is important that your baby gets enough iron from solid foods to complement breastfeeding. Because in the very early stages, meat is not easily ingested by babies, or baby may still be learning how to bring food to their mouth, bite, chew and swallow foods, it may be harder to ensure that they are getting all the iron they need. By offering high iron containing foods twice a day to your baby and boosting your baby’s iron absorption with tips provided from a registered dietitian, sufficient iron for your baby can be easily achieved.
The Bottom Line
There is not right or wrong feeding method to introduce to your baby. If the parents are fully educated on the method they choose for their little one and take the pros and cons into consideration then feeding your child the BLW way or the traditional way (or even a mixture of the two methods) will lead your baby into optimal nutrition, learning and development of motor skills.
*A special thank you to my volunteer, Jenna Nagle, BSc. Applied Human Nutrition, for her research and write up of this blog post.
Taylor, R.W., Williams, S.M., Fangupo, L.J., Wheeler, B.J., Daniels, L., Fleming, E.A., McArthur, J., Morison, B., Erickson, L.W., Davies, R.S., Bacchus, S., Cameron, S.L. and Heath, A-L. M. (2017) ‘Effect of a baby-led approach to complementary feeding on infant growth and overweight: A randomised clinical trial’, JAMA Pediatrics, 171(9): 838-846
Taylor, R.W., Williams, S.M., Fangupo, L.J., Wheeler, B.J., Daniels, L., Fleming, E.A., McArthur, J., Morison, B., Erickson, L.W., Davies, R.S., Bacchus, S., Cameron, S.L. and Heath, A-L. M. (2017) ‘Effect of a baby-led approach to complementary feeding on infant growth and overweight: A randomised clinical trial’, JAMA Pediatrics, 171(9): 838-846.
Morison, B. J., Taylor, R. W., Haszard, J. J., Schramm, C. J., Erickson, L. W., Fangupo L. J.,…Heath, A-L. M. (2016). How different are baby-led weaning and conventional complementary feeding? A cross-sectional study of infants aged 6–8 months. BMJ Open, 6 (5), 1-11. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2015010665
Fangupo, L. J., Heath, A-L. M., Williams, S. M., Erickson, L. W., Morison, B. J., Fleming, E. A.,…Taylor, R. W. (2016). A Baby-Led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking. Pediatrics, 138 (4), 1-8. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-0772