Choosing Baby Led Weaning

07 August

Baby Led Weaning

I think we can all agree that when you are pregnant, you spend a lot of time researching and Googling, trying to find out what you need, what labour will be like and all the big milestones your baby will reach. One of those milestones is starting to eat, no longer relying just on milk but instead delving into a world of tastes, flavours and textures.

When I was pregnant I simply assumed that we would wean Willow at 4 months, using pureed food, the same way I was weaned when I was a baby and many generations before me. I didn't realise there was even another way to introduce food to your baby and I had planned the equipment I would buy to make our own purees for Willow, I was actually quite excited about it. Then I came across Baby Led Weaning. 

After looking into Baby Led Weaning, how it worked and ultimately, why it is recommended as the way to wean your baby, I knew it was for us. The idea of purees went completely out of the window and I was excited to try something which seems relatively new, although has actually been the recommended weaning approach for many years.

I think we should start things off by saying that as in any instance, what you decide to do with your baby is your choice and you have to do what works for you and your family. If that is puree, great - that is your choice and right as a mother to make that decision for your baby.

Gill Rapley Baby Led Weaning Cookbook Review

What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning is a more independent way to wean your baby. Starting at 6 months (or after, although 6 months is the ideal time), you allow your baby to feed themselves. You don't need to give them pureed food and you don't need to spoon feed them. 

There are a couple of reasons why Baby Led Weaning is the recommended method of weaning, by both the NHS, WHO (the World Health Organisation) and Health Visitors/Midwives. Simply put, a babies gut is not ready for solid food prior to reaching 6 months of age and although they may be able to consume some forms of solid food before this age, or even appear to be ready for food, until they reach 6 months the gut is not mature enough to process solid food in a safe and healthy way. Those who have pioneered the idea and theory behind BLW suggest that babies who start on solid foods at 6 months are less likely to be picky with foods later in life, are less likely to encounter bowel problems such as IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and less likely to encounter problems with obesity. Instead of you physically feeding a certain amount of puree to your baby, your baby is allowed to choose what they eat and how much of it. 

Now, as with any recommendation whether it be for babies or adults, it is important to remember why these recommendations are being made. I have had many healthy debates with other parents about the different approaches to weaning and a common counter-argument I often come across is "Well it was OK for me to have puree as a baby and my parents before me, I'm fine!". The difference between my daughter's generation, my own and those before me, is research

We now know more about the effects of our choices, being able to conduct research studies, including hugely beneficial longitudinal studies, which give clear pointers as to what may be considered a better option compared to others. Just as research has shown that smoking and drinking in pregnancy, something which was often encouraged in earlier generations, is a huge risk factor and we are now encouraged to avoid smoking, alcohol and drugs during pregnancy, we are now encouraged to opt for BLW. 

That does not mean you shouldn't give your baby puree and it doesn't mean that your baby will end up with difficulties in later life; but the recommendation and theorised method for preventing these effects of early weaning, is there for you to consider. 

My baby looks ready for food, should I wean early?
Nutritionally, babies do not need food until they are the age of 1. A great phrase I love when it comes to weaning, and one which has really taken the pressure and worry out of weaning for me, is "Food is just for fun for the first year". Your baby gets everything they need nutrition wise from their milk, whether that be breast milk or formula, and although weaning before the age of 1 is recommended, eating a set amount of food or consuming a set amount of calories, is by no means necessary for a baby. 

Another common line used when I have discussed weaning with other parents is "But s/he was desperate for food!". Many people assume that watching you eat, grabbing your food, even putting food in their mouths, means that a baby is ready to be weaned. This is not necessarily true and in most cases, is not a sign that your baby is ready to be weaned. All babies will want to mimic those around them. If they watch you eat, they will want to mimic your actions. Wanting to copy you is not the same as needing food; the same goes for being fussy with milk or needing more milk, both of which happen during developmental leaps, grabbing food, watching you eat, opening their mouth when food is around. I do believe a lot of people panic when their baby shows a slight change in behaviour and it can be extremely difficult, especially as a new parent, to know what your baby wants or needs; if you are unsure, you should always seek advice from your GP or Health Visitor. 

Now something very important to consider here is that some babies are recommended to wean earlier than 6 months, using the traditional puree method of weaning, for health reasons. If you have been recommended by your family GP to wean early for the benefit of your baby; for example a baby who has milk allergies and does not receive the full benefits from milk feeding, a baby who has struggled to gain weight or a baby who has been unwell for any reason and would benefit from early weaning, then you should wholeheartedly follow the advice of your GP. Recommendations do not always work for everyone and your babies health is the absolute top priority, at any stage in life; this is why health professionals weigh up the pros and cons and advise that some babies are given puree food earlier than 6 months, for health benefits.

Baby Led Weaning

Why did we choose Baby Led Weaning?
As a Psychology graduate who spent 6 years relying on research and evidence, when I came across BLW there was no other option for me. My partner and I discussed the different methods of weaning, did a lot of research and reading, and came to the decision that for us as a family, BLW was the way to go. Of course we have had a lot of questions and at times, worry, from extended family members who were unaware of BLW and the benefits of BLW, sometimes to the point of having to repeatedly explain the method and why it is recommended for them to understand why we have decided to opt for BLW. 

We've had people worry that Willow will choke - this is another common worry among parents I have spoken to and why many parents opt to wean early with purees. However a baby can choke on absolutely anything, at any age, and it has actually been shown that BLW babies have less chance of choking, because they learn to eat food differently to those on puree. They learn to chomp, bite, chew and swallow, whereas puree weaned babies simply learn to swallow. Another worry people have shown is whether Willow will get enough food, because we are not physically putting food in her mouth and making her eat it. As I mentioned earlier, for the first year food really is just for fun; exploring, tasting, smelling, learning, so it doesn't matter if she eats a certain amount and it certainly isn't necessary.

Of course there are a few benefits from BLW which make our lives easier, although for us it was certainly the health, developmental and physical benefits of BLW which swayed our decision. We don't have to buy ready-made food for Willow or fuss around with making purees. We don't have to spoon feed her, which means meal times don't take forever and she can sit at the table with us eating normally. We don't have to worry about heating up purees when out but instead giving her food straight from our plates or something from the kids menu.

BLW is ultimately a much messier way to wean. Instead of you having control over what your baby eats, they have all the control and so food can end anywhere and everywhere. We have a cheap shower curtain underneath our Cosatto Noodle Supa Highchair which protects our floor and also makes cleaning quicker and easier.

We've been doing BLW weaning now for almost 2 weeks, starting on the day Willow turned 6 months old. For us it has been a fun and exciting journey, a journey I can't wait to share with you all. I'll be sharing what Willow eats, her favourite foods and meals to have together, why the Cosatto Noodle Supa Highchair was the best highchair for us and the essentials we use for BLW such as cutlery, bowls and plates, cups and bibs. I'll also be delving into the different stages of BLW; types of foods and preparation for different ages, foods to be careful of when introducing in case of allergies and vitamins and minerals recommended for babies once they begin weaning.

For more information on BLW, I highly recommend the Gill Rapley Baby Led Weaning books; the cookbook in particular has been great for us and has a fab introductory section which explains everything you need to know about BLW.

Will you be opting for Baby Led Weaning?

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  1. Adore this post and so informative. We'll be opting for BLW when the time comes (another 4 months away) I just think it looks more fun. But I do think purees could be good too if out and about and not wanting to restrict my diet as well.

    Thank you for a nice informative post!

    Rach //

    1. Thank you Rachel, I'm so glad you enjoyed my post and found it helpful. I'm so excited to see how your weaning journey goes.xo

  2. Thank you for sharing this. I'm exhausted after a long day so hopefully will get my words across after it disappeared last time (teaches me to copy and paste!!)!!
    Lily is now 1 and we really struggled. She loved sweet potato and all the vegetables purees from the start but I wanted her to mix purees and BLW. But she would actually projectile vomit with well boiled carrots/broccoli/pasta... everything healthy I wanted to give her. Thought maybe she'd get better, but no, and by 10 months we had the hv and then the hospital support as she couldn't tolerate any purees designed over 6/7 months either. Any textures she just couldn't get past. But she could swallow wafers fine. Wholemeal toast slices/vegetables, no! They said she was 7 weeks prem so may just be still developing but at 1 year she should be alot stronger and I know she's doing better now but nowhere near what she should be. She's on alot of milk still, more than she should be at this stage, but then isn't eating so much, despite loving her food - she wants to eat, she just can't. In contrast a girl next door told me she's started feeding her 12 week old spaghetti bolognese and beef casserole puree! It's exactly as you said above - they can't handle her needing milk every 90 mins. I told them it's normal as she grows, and about her tummy not being strong enough, and her risk of choking (she can't hold her head up herself!) but they completely ignorEd and brushed off the comments. I've no right to interfere in their parenting decisions but it scares me how dangerous it is. There's no real point to my ramblings here just wanted to share it as this week especially it's been a topic on my mind, with me feeling Lily is so behind with her feeding, and then next door telling me about their 12 week old on spaghetti bolognese! So thank you for sharing. Your little one is gorgeous and clearly is enjoying her food. Keep up the amazing work you are doing :) x (copies and pastes to not lose it again!!)

    1. Thank you so much for reading Kaz and for taking the time to comment even after a long day! It just goes to show that weaning - as with anything - really does differ from one baby to another. No two experiences will ever be the same and you have to go with what works for you, what is most beneficial for the health of your child. It must be very hard when you have a premature baby and the usual guidelines and 'ideals' of when things happen don't seem to be going the way they should.

      It's such a shame when people feel like early weaning is the answer to growth spurts and developmental leaps. It can be so, so difficult to get through a spurt or leap without feeling exhausted, both physically and mentally, but each passes and things soon get back into a normal routine. We have to let each mother do things the way they feel is best, even if it's different to the advice given or our own choices. I always say 'support all mothers', which you can still do even if you disagree with a decision another mother has made. I completely understand your worries and hope no harm comes to that baby xo

  3. I really enjoy your blog Sophia, but feel this post has a couple of inaccuracies which you might want to clarify.

    I'm not sure what your reference is, but both WHO & NHS state that purees, mashed & semi solid foods are suitable from 6 months, stating no preference for BLW over purees & vice versa.

    Secondly, past 6 months breastmilk & formula doesn't provide sufficient iron or zinc for babies.

    1. Hi Laura. As my post concentrates on choosing Baby Led Weaning, the content within the post therefore centres around BLW. My post highlights that WHO and the NHS recommend you wait until 6 months to start weaning, opposed to early weaning at 4 months. I could have specifically clarified 'weaning at 4 months is not recommended', however I am not personally in a situation where I felt it necessary to wean Willow at 4 months on puree and if another mother makes that choice, that is hers to make. The last thing I want is for my post to make a mother that has chosen that route, to feel like I am judging their decision or that their decision was not the right one to make.

      As my post concentrates on BLW, which is recommended by the NHS and WHO, (information you can easily come across on both the NHS website and the WHO website, as well as literature provided by Health Visitors), I did not specify that BLW was the 'only' method of weaning at 6 months nor that the NHS and WHO recommend it is the 'only' way to wean at 6 months. That would be a damaging claim to make and very possibly negatively impact on those who have not decided to do BLW, who have tried BLW and struggled or whose baby is simply unable to do BLW. Again, I Would never want to post something which makes another mother feel like their experience is not the right experience.

      I made a point of mentioning that the gut is not ready for solid foods prior to 6 months; but did not say that you could not give other textures at 6 months. I would have presumed that was self-explanatory, as even as adults we have a variety of textures. Yoghurts, mashed potato, soups etc. I apologise if that was not clear for you, however I did not think it was necessary to list every food texture and type that BLW would include - the books I mentioned are great reads for explaining BLW (far better than I ever could), if you wanted more information on the huge variety of foods which BLW includes, which is basically anything an adult would eat minus a few specific foods which should be introduced with care in case of allergies or introduced after 1 due to content. Perhaps I should not have assumed that anyone would mistake BLW and my mentions of solid food not being suitable prior to 6 months, would think that other textures below solids were not suitable after 6 months.

      At the bottom of my post I did mention that I would be sharing a post on extra vitamins and minerals which we are recommended to give babies after the age of 6 months (or, from 4 months if early weaning). Milk however is still the main method of nutrition for babies up until the age of 1 and a specific amount of food is not necessary to survive. Milk does provide less for a baby from 6 months; but it still provides enough for a baby to survive.

      I apologise if you feel my post was insufficient, however I am simply sharing my experience. I have not tried to be, nor claimed to be, an expert on this matter, I am not a health professional, I am simply sharing our experience of weaning Willow and providing information which I have personally spent time gathering from the NHS, WHO, literature provided directly from my HV and books I read.

      Unfortunately I cannot write a post which includes every last detail when it comes to any subject, whether that be weaning or beauty reviews. This is why in cases such as this weaning post, I mention extra content I will be producing to cover other areas in more detail. At the same time, I would never expect someone to use me as their only source of information and it is logical that anyone about to start weaning would look into the possibilities themselves. This is only our experience - this is not a set-in-stone rule I am insisting people follow.

      I hope that has clarified any points you feel needed covered in more detail. Thank you for commenting and I appreciate your queries!

  4. My breastfed/formula supplemented baby started eating solids around 5 months after weeks of staring while we ate became grabbing at food and attempting to eat it himself. He wasn't satisfied with purees after a few weeks and wanted to explore and grasp and BLW with whatever we eat is how it's been. He's my third baby, my others are adults now, and it was the same way with them. They weren't mimicking for food, they were using their jaws and consuming, something that doesn't happen with purees. We totally skipped cereals as that's just sugars, especially the rice. He does like the occasional puree in a pouch as those are handy when out of the house but those are a treat.

    1. We all have to make the decisions that work for us :) xo