BABY LED WEANING BY MADA LEIGH LAVEY, WWW.MADALEIGHBLOG.COM
Introducing your LO (or “little one”- a hand abbreviation I used often) to solid foods can be both an exciting and super nerve-wracking time. I did lots of research and found that the combination of baby-led weaning and baby-led purees would be best for our family. Sound like I’m speaking Chinese? Don’t worry – I get into the nitty-gritty later in the post + why I chose these particular methods for Temple.
I know baby-led weaning can seem intimidating and even scary. BUT, once you do your research, I think you’ll find it both simple and safe, not to mention beyond beneficial for Baby’s development. Temple is LOVING it and we’re only one month in. It’s crazy how quickly they catch on, chewing and grabbing their food all on their own.
I want to remind you that I am no expert, just a mom who did her homework and created a plan that works for us! Every child is SO different and ultimately you need to do whatever you feel comfortable with. If you start BLW (baby-led weaning) and find you’re constantly stressed about choking, then maybe this method isn’t for you. Your baby can pick up on that stress, so just go with your mommy gut, do your research, and find what works best for your LO!
Okay, let’s dive in! - Mada Leigh
WHEN TO START FEEDING BABY?
Baby should be fed exclusively breast milk or formula until at least 6-months. Breastmilk/formula has more calories than any vegetable, fruit or grain – so that’s what’s best for your LO in the beginning. Once they hit the 6-month mark, their digestive system is matured and ready for solid foods. You can read more on why this is the best age to consider solid foods in this article.
Even once 6 months have passed and your baby is technically ready to start trying real food, it’s important to check for the Signs of Readiness:
Baby is at least 6 months old.
Baby should be able to sit up unassisted.
Baby is starting to develop their pincer grasp, or the method they use to pick up food – or other objects – with their fingers. Practice makes perfect, so they will get better as they continue their food journey! Most 6-month-olds cannot pick up a small piece of food. That’s why it’s best to start with strips or fry-shaped foods first (more on that below).
Baby is eager to participate. Does your baby grab at your food, or seem interested when you eat? If so, then your LO could be ready to start eating! So what are all the things to show they are ready for food?
I’m often asked, why no cereal before solids? After reading articles and talking with my pediatrician, I’ve determined the whole “rice cereal makes your baby fuller + a better sleeper” theory is a complete myth. Introducing rice cereal before real food goes against the baby-led weaning method, so it’s just not for us! With BLW, you go straight to food- no traditional “baby food” necessary. Your LO’s main source of nutrition is breastmilk/formula for the first year anyway, so at this stage food is all about having fun, growing sensory development, and exploring textures and flavors!
Some people also believe you shouldn’t introduce fruits in the beginning, because once Baby tastes the sweetness, they’ll be the only things they want. Personally, I disagree. Vegetables are obviously super important, but I gave Temple a banana during her very first week of eating real food! In our experience, this has not affected how well she eats veggies. Making sure your LO is trying a wide variety of foods is most important!
SO WHAT EXACTLY IS BABY-LED WEANING?!
“Baby-Led Weaning” is a term that refers to skipping the spoon-fed puree phase and going straight into solids. The method involves offering age-appropriate foods softly cooked and cut into pieces Baby can pick up on their own.
With BLW, you actively encourage self-feeding. We never put food into Temple’s mouth, even when we let her feed herself purees. There is no spoon feeding, and babies mainly gnaw on things to start. They need to learn about their gag reflex so they know how to eat regular food when they’re bigger. Even if you take the more traditional route and start with pureed baby food in the beginning, eventually baby will be introduced to regular foods, and without any previous experience, they could still gag and choke. The difference is, that’s when the calories really start to matter! It’s important to allow time for learning and experimentation when baby is still somewhat relying on nutrients from breastmilk or formula.
“The more variety in flavor, texture, size, and shape you offer baby, the more skilled and open-minded he will be with different foods!” – Feeding Littles.
BLW is heavy on the finger foods but can involve some self-serve purees (or “baby-led purees”) as well. However, you may choose to skip purees all together! As far as the solids go, make sure to start with spears, strips or fry shapes. Once they start mastering their pincer grasp and chewing, you can add in smaller soft chunks. This method lets them eat at their own pace, develop their fine motor skills, and learn to chew and swallow their food before it really counts!
I HIGHLY recommend purchasing Oh Baby Nutrition’s Baby Knows Best Guide. She includes videos, recipes, and great information on all things feeding baby! I love her guide because she dives deep into both baby-led weaning and baby-led purees. We are mainly doing baby-led weaning but we do experiment some with purees, so I found her guide incredibly helpful. In fact, I printed all her recipes so I can review them every Sunday when I meal plan for our little family!
Use code TEMPLE15 for 15% off this guide.
I also recommend looking into Feeding Little’s Online Course. They are the OGs of BLW, so they really know their stuff! I purchased this guide too, mainly so I could feel extra informed before sharing tips with you guys! IMO, the best part of their online guide is the videos of babies eating and gagging (safely). Sounds weird, but this really puts my mind at ease and let me know what I should expect. I learned so, SO much from both guides – you can’t go wrong with either (or both)!
BENEFITS OF BLW:
Better table manners. They sit and eat with the family, instead of you having to feed them. Eating with baby is encouraged; they learn from watching you eat!
Research shows BLW eaters are less picky. This makes sense when you think about it! Temple has had roasted broccoli, spinach muffins, and lentils, all by 7-months.
Helps develop motor skills earlier on. They are using their hand-eye coordination daily when picking up food to eat. Great sensory play and fine motor skill development.
Introduced to more textures more quickly.
Easier on the whole family/less time-consuming! You don’t have to prepare special food for baby (like purees every day). They can have what you have (for the most part, especially after the first month or so), but in slices instead! You just have to watch salt/seasoning for them.
Restaurant friendly! Offer them what you’re eating. They can eat with you instead of you feeding them and then scarfing down your own meal while trying to entertain them.
They practice intuitive eating. They stop eating when full instead of you feeling like they need to finish a full serving of puree. No airplane spoon to the mouth to trick them into eating more!!
BLW gives your LO a healthy relationship with food. They choose how much and what they eat. You just continue to offer them things but you don’t stress about how much they eat or force them to finish the food. I know it can be frustrating when they don’t even touch a food you made, but just keep trying and they will decide when they’re ready for it! Example: Temple does not like greek yogurt. The second time I gave it to her, I added a swirl of almond butter and she ate 3-4 bites! That’s a win in my book!
TIPS FOR STARTING BLW:
Start with strips of food that they can grasp on the table. Small, bite-sized foods will frustrate them and could potentially be a choking hazard at first.
Start with only 2-3 pieces of food at a time.
Until their pincer grasps get better, you can pick up pieces of food and hand them to baby, but you should not put the food directly in his/her mouth. The goal is for Baby to eat with the family on their own, so try foods that can be enjoyed by everyone to make your life a little easier (and cheaper)!
Foods should be soft, but not so overcooked that they slip out of Baby’s hands. I steam or bake my veggies and hard fruits. This is recommended until baby is comfortable biting and chewing safely. Softer fruits and veggies can be offered raw (like the inside of a cucumber).
Foods should be soft enough to squish between your fingers.
Think about adding grass-fed, unsalted butter when baking fruits and olive oil with roasted veggies. Those extra fats are so good for Baby!
Small, round foods should be cut in half, lengthwise (like grapes and cherry tomatoes) to avoid dangerous choking.
As Baby gets older, you can give him/her smaller pieces. This means a transition from strips to clumps to small pieces.
At first, unseasoned foods are best. Once familiar with different foods, you can begin adding seasoning and spices (like curry powder or cinnamon) to broaden their palates.
FEAR OF GAGGING OR CHOKING?
The hardest part of BLW is the inevitable gagging in the beginning. This is totally normal at first and I highly recommend getting CPR certified- you can never be too prepared when it comes to your baby! For me, this made me much less nervous knowing I could act if Temple were to start choking.
I mentioned this before, Feeding Littles’ course features videos of babies eating and gaging. It helps to actually see what you should expect and what is extremely normal! Gagging is a good thing! It’s Baby learning how to chew and swallow foods.
Choking in very different than gagging. Choking is when their airway passage is blocked. They will make no noise if they are choking. Gagging is normal and safe, choking is not.
They WILL gag in the beginning, but Temple honestly only did it a handful of times and hasn’t since those first 2 weeks of BLW. They learn quickly that they have to gnaw on foods longer so that they won’t gag.
Baby’s gag reflex is in the middle of their tongue (instead of way back), so yes they are gagging, but the food isn’t really near the back of their throat! Knowing that helped put me at ease a bit. That’s why they gag a lot- the reflex in right there in the middle.
DO NOT buckle baby into a highchair EVER when doing BLW. If choking occurred, you want to easily get them out.
The key is to let them gag and not to grab them or try to pull the food out of their mouth. You could actually lodge the food further down their throat and cause them to choke if you do this. They have a gag reflex for a reason.
Research shows that the risk of choking is the same when comparing baby led weaning and purees as long as you aren’t giving Baby foods that could be choking hazards!
OTHER NORMAL THINGS THAT OCCUR DURING BLW?
Chewing followed by spit up. This is totally normal – they’re just figuring out this whole eating thing.
Weird faces from Baby.
Lots of play! I know it can be frustrating to see food go uneaten (or on the floor!) but this is part of the fun for babies! Don’t think of it as wasted food – look at it as an opportunity for Baby to explore textures and learn sensory aka make a little mess! Yes, it’s freaking adorable, but bath time has become so necessary now that Temple is eating. I usually let her eat in a diaper only to avoid a bigger mess.
Baby doesn’t like something. No worries – keep on trying! Wait a few days and try serving it again. If you don’t, Baby will end up only eating what he/she wants and they will train YOU! Those little boogers are smart!
Spills. My dogs have definitely put on a few pounds since we started BLW, but that just means less clean up for me!!
This is when you cook the food (usually by steaming), puree it, and then let Baby take the lead with the actual feeding. Your baby is essentially “spoon feeding” his/herself. I am personally combining the BLW and BLP methods (aka, the BLISS Method).
Tips & Tricks for Temple’s purees:
I don’t scrape food off the top of mouth or off her face.
Use the loaded spoon- I put the food on her spoon then set the spoon on her high chair or hand it to her. This way, she brings the food to her mouth by herself. This method still allows her to develop fine motor skills, without expecting her to do too much of the heavy lifting in the beginning. I love NumNum GOOtensils for this!
Dump purees directly on her high chair and let her enjoy! It’s a fun mess and great for sensory development.
Three spoon circus– I learned this from Feeding Littles. It’s when you load two spoons with food and hand them to your LO (or place them on her tray). Once one spoon is empty, you load the third spoon and offer it to them. They will learn to drop the empty spoon in their hand to grab this third loaded spoon. Again, great for development!
Follow Baby’s hunger cues– do not bribe or force-feed baby. They will not overeat on their own.
WHY I CHOSE THE “BLISS METHOD”:
The BLISS method is a combo of Baby-Led Weaning and Baby-Led Purees. I was a little too anxious to commit only to BLW and knew I wouldn’t want anyone else feeding Temple solid food without me there to supervise (at least for the first few months). My reason? Choking! I want to be honest with y’all and I know there are other mamas who worry about choking with BLW. I get more and more comfortable every time Temple eats and don’t worry anymore when I’m there to monitor the serving sizes we give her. However, I like knowing that some days I can just puree something and have it ready for whoever is watching her. TBH, I won’t even let Caleb feed her the BLW way when I am not there. Call me crazy, but I know my baby, and I feel more comfortable when I am there to make sure it’s done correctly. I’m sure that by the time she is 8-9 months I’ll feel more comfortable with others feeding her, but for now, this is what works for me and makes me feel most comfortable!
MY BABY ISN’T INTERESTED IN SOLIDS?
Give them confidence- encourage them and praise them by telling them good job!
NO distractions- no TV or music playing in the background, or older siblings playing around them. They need to focus on their food.
Set an example by eating when they eat.
Patience- let them lead. There is a reason it’s called Baby-LED weaning there is no rush!
Remember every baby is different! Your baby leads the way. Be patient and enjoy the journey!
WHAT TIME OF DAY SHOULD I FEED BABY (AT 6-MONTHS OLD), AND HOW MUCH FOOD SHOULD I OFFER?
Food should be served 45 minutes to an hour after milk feeding, and not too close to nap/bedtime. You don’t want baby to be too full, too tired, or sick. That might set you up for a bad feeding.
At 6-months, I only fed Temple her solids once a day around 4:30-5:00 pm. She wakes up from her last nap of the day around 3:30 pm and I nurse her immediately. Then, I wait about 45 minutes before feeding her dinner (the real foods). After dinner, we bathe and get ready for bed. She goes to bed between 6:30-7:00 pm.
Temple is about 7 months now, and I’ve started feeding her twice a day. Usually lunch (11:00 am) and dinner ( around 5:00 pm). At 9 months, I will start serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I try to always serve two veggies and one protein. And be sure there is a fat included in every meal at this point!
IS MY BABY GETTING ENOUGH CALORIES?
Baby’s main source of calories, fats, and nutrients are still coming from breast milk or formula for the first year.
I offer Temple 1 or 2 pieces of each food to start. I often try to eat with her to show her how it’s done. That’s the best way to get baby interested! Baby probably won’t eat a lot to start. It’s totally fine for your LO to be uninterested or just play with the food.
Follow your LO’s cues. If they seem to be interested in what you’re feeding them, then offer more! Trust me, you will know when they are over it! Don’t stress about how much food is actually going into their belly. They will do a lot of playing and dropping food on the ground until their pincer grasp gets better. Let baby lead the way and have fun with it!!
BABY’S POSITION WHILE FEEDING:
Baby needs to be in the high chair, upright and no leaning backward. If you follow me on Instagram, I have a whole BLW section saved to my highlights. Check it out to see exactly how I position Temple in her high chair. When she was really small at the start of BLW, I would roll up a towel to place behind her so that she was upright to prevent choking.
Don’t EVER buckle Baby into the high chair when eating the baby-led weaning way. If they were to choke, you must be able to pull them out of the high chair super easily.
Elbows should be over the table, this ensures they are not leaned too far back.
ALLERGENIC FOOD AND MY APPROACH:
After researching, I decided to introduce allergenic food soon after Temple started her food journey! Waiting to introduce allergenic foods may actually increase the risk of an allergy to that food. But, check with your pediatrician before tackling this, especially if your baby is especially at risk when it comes to allergies (runs in family, eczema, reacted to breast milk when mama ate certain foods, etc).
Only introduce allergenic foods when Baby will be up for a few hours so you can keep an eye out for reactions. Offer each food 2-3 times without mixing with any other allergic foods. If baby reacts with hives, rash, difficulty breathing or anything that doesn’t seem normal- call your doctor!
Introducing allergic foods while still breastfeeding is great! Breast milk is known to lessen reactions to allergies, so I highly recommend introducing all the foods below if you are still breastfeeding and your LO isn’t considered high-risk. But again, talk to your pediatrician first and do what feels right for your family.
Dairy – Always give them full-fat. We love full-fat Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or strips of cheese
Wheat- We like strips of whole wheat toast (love Whole Foods bread from their bakery), and spiral whole wheat noodles and gluten-free brown rice spiral noodles.
Finned fish (like salmon or cod)
Citrus Fruits and Strawberries- known to cause a rash on face/butt. If reaction, then delay for a few weeks, reintroduce and watch for a reaction.
Egg Whites- I introduced when Temple was almost 7 months. Some say to wait till 9m, but Temple wasn’t showing signs of any other allergies, so I felt she was ready. The yolk is more nutrient-dense, so you could offer this as an omelet cut into strips before the egg white if you want!
Foods I will delay:
Honey- can cause infant botulism. Do NOT introduce till at least 12 months.
Stringy foods (like green beans or parsnips) and foods with tough skin – I will delay these until I feel Temple is comfortable and not gagging too much anymore.
Milk- breast milk and formula should be the main milk until 12 months.
WHY DON’T I LIKE TO USE PACKAGED AND JARRED BABY FOODS?
Pouches do NOT teach chewing skills. There’s no sensory input and they are usually too sweet. Even the ones with vegetables tend to be much sweeter than when you cook from home. When eating out of a pouch, baby is going to be sucking it down very quickly and not realizing that they might actually be full. Most of these packaged purees have the same textures, and a variety of textures is so important for development. When you go from same textured purees to real food at age of one, it can be tough for your LO and cause picky eating.
If you are on-the-go and a pouch is your only option, I’ve read that using a straw with your own purees is best. Or, try bringing a bowl and spoon with you and pour the pouch in. That way, your LO can feed themselves the baby-led puree way!
I try to cook all her foods and choose organic as much as possible to ensure the max amount of nutrients and higher enzyme activity than packaged or jarred food.
Read this article for more on why you should rethink baby food pouches!
BLW RECIPE IDEAS:
Food high in iron is best in the beginning. Baby’s iron stored from birth starts to deplete after around 6 months. I would hold off on meat until you see that baby can safely chew and swallow. Then, offer it in strips that can be held easily and sucked or chewed.
Avocado strip (you could lightly roll it in breadcrumbs to help them grasp)
Softly cooked broccolini (longer stem for them to grasp)
Instant pot sweet potatoes
add 1 cup water to bottom and cook on high for 15 minutes. SO EASY!
Cooked sweet potato “fries”
toss carrot sticks in olive oil and 1 clove minced garlic. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes, flip, and bake another 15 minutes on the other side.
reminder- they should be able to squeeze between fingers.
Banana with peel handle
Full-fat Greek yogurt (I like Stonyfield Greek or regular yogurt, and Forage Cashewgurt) with add-ins like:
Mashed or pureed berries
Drizzle of nut butter (peanut, almond, cashew)
Egg cooked into an omelet and cut into strips
Bone broth to sip on- use this as a guide for making bone broth but keep seasonings to a minimum for baby.
Toast strips with a thin layer of hummus on top. I love Ezekiel 4:9 bread and Whole Foods whole wheat bread from the bakery. Whole wheat bread is best. Make sure there aren’t too many large seeds in the bread you choose.
Peanut butter and smashed blueberry toast strips
Baked pears in coconut oil (remove peel for younger babies)- love this recipe in OhBabyNutritions guide.
Mango strips- helps loosen up baby’s stool. So if you are including foods that constipate in the meal (such as rice or carrots) add mango as a fruit to balance and help!
Boiled till soft and smush them with a fork. I don’t puree these.
Rice or quinoa mixed with hummus or avocado- helps stick together for easier grabbing off the table or to load on a spoon.
1 organic peeled and cored apple and dash cinnamon. Add to blender and done!
Banana Pancakes: whisk eggs, mash banana and combine all ingredients. Heat skillet over medium heat in a little grass-fed unsalted butter. When hot, cook blend into pancake shapes. Cook, let cool, and cut into small stripes. (image below) This is a great make-ahead dish for easy meal during week.
Mashed berries (optional)
Pork, Apple, and Cheddar Meatballs (again, don’t recommend meat until baby is better at chewing)
IMPORTANCE OF WATER AND BONE BROTH:
Breast milk or formula is the main hydration for the first year, but small amounts of water can help with digestion and constipation. Temple LOVES her sips of water. We started offering sips of water from the start (6 months). When she drinks water, I offer her water in this cup but I actually take the lid off and do open cup drinking. Sippy cups aren’t the best for feeding development. I always bring the water glass up and let her come to the cup. Then, I count 1, 2 and take the water away. If she reaches or leans for more, then I will do this again.
At 9-10 months, we will start offering her 4-5 ounces at each meal.
Bone broth is another great liquid to include in Baby’s diet. I add bone broth when pureeing food and small sips at the end of her meal. Temple loves it! I learned all about it through OhBabyNutritions Ebook (use code TEMPLE15for 15% discount).
There are also other liquids you could offer every so often, like coconut water. However, regular water is obviously #1! Remember, water does not replace breast milk or formula for the first year.
PRODUCTS WE LOVE:
Inglesina Fast Table Chair- we NEVER leave home without this chair. Actually, we usually just leave it in the trunk of the car. It’s the best travel high chair that actually keeps them from wobbling or being super low on the table.
Oxo Tot Waterproof Roll-Up Bib– we NEVER leave home without this bib. I love the food catcher and how it rolls up easily to fit in bag. It’s insane how much food you will catch at the table haha.
BapronBaby Bib (honestly, I usually just strip her down to only diaper at home!)
EZPZ Happy Bowl We ALWAYS bring this to restaurants. It’s the smaller bowl and I love putting food in the bowl and on the sides. Plus, it sticks super well to the table.
Hydroflask– the only cup we use!
Gathre High Chair Mat
Branch Basics All-Purpose Cleaner and YoungLiving Thieves Cleaner- I love either of these for cleaning her high chair.
INSPIRING BLW ACCOUNTS/WEBSITES TO FOLLOW:
Instagram: @OhBabyNutrition and ebook: Baby Knows Best (Use discount code: Temple15 for 15%)
Instagram: @FeedingLittles and online course
Instagram: @Babyledweaningideas and website for recipes
Instagram: @Inspiralizedkids and website for recipes
BABY SIGN LANGUAGE:
I bought this super simple book to learn a few signs to communicate with Temple. She doesn’t know any of the signs yet, but I make sure to practice with her every day. For instance, after each meal, diaper change, and bath I sign “All Done.” When I offer her water, I do the sign for “water.” And when I load more food on her high chair I do the sign for “more.”