Choosing Baby Led Weaning

7 Aug 2016

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?