What is Baby Led Weaning?
“Baby Led” means that the baby leads the way. That means you never put food in your baby’s mouth. You don’t spoon feed. You don’t “top up” after feeding solids. You simply offer your baby some food, and he eats what he wants.
Baby led weaning is no better or worse than traditional weaning. Some people prefer it; others prefer traditional. (It’s like manual versus automatic transmission. It’s just a preference thing. And you can’t really do both at the same time!)
Baby led weaning means that your baby chooses what and how much he eats. No, he isn’t getting his own groceries or cooking his own food. But you put a variety of options in front of him, and he chooses what to eat and how much. If he doesn’t touch any of the broccoli, for example, you don’t put broccoli in his mouth. You just try broccoli again another day.
Some days, your baby will eat a lot. Other days, she might not eat much at all. It’s just like us adults: some days, you just don’t feel that hungry. Other days, you can’t stop eating. (Or is that just me?) Your baby goes through so many changes, physically and otherwise. And maybe if there is a lot of physical growth happening, she is very hungry. On days when she’s trying to master something (like crawling, for example), she may be anxious or distracted and won’t eat at all.
Those are things you should expect, and they shouldn’t be a concern! As long as your baby is going through enough diapers and seems generally happy, you’re doing just fine.
A lot of folks worry that their baby isn’t eating enough, so they spoon feed some purées after the meal. That’s fine if you want to do that, but you don’t NEED to do that. Until the age of 1, your baby really needs breastmilk or formula for almost all their nutrients. Solids are mostly for exploration.
There are just a handful of guidelines when you start baby led weaning:
1. Don’t add salt or sugar to food (unless it’s just a pinch, for baking). Add salt at your table. There are also a ton of herbs and spices you can use instead of salt.
2. Don’t offer whole grapes (or cherry tomatoes or Brussels sprouts…. anything that’s small and firm like that). Cut them in half lengthwise.
3. NEVER give honey to a baby under a year. Over a year, something magic happens, and they can have honey. I’m not really sure why “1 year” is the guideline, but to be safe, just avoid it until then. That means no baking with it, no Honey Nut Cheerios, and certainly no straight honey.
4. Don’t offer whole nuts (or walnuts, almonds, etc.). You can offer nut butters though.
When should you start solids? First, wait until 26 weeks if you can. Some babies may be ready before then, but don’t mistake putting things in their mouth for being ready for food. At that age, they put everything in their mouths! Second, your baby should be able to sit up fairly well, unassisted. If you were to put him in a chair/booster seat, would he sit up confidently? If not, wait a week or two until that happens. And third, does your baby bring objects to his mouth? If he can’t find his mouth at all, he may not be ready for solids just yet!
Now, I do want to reiterate something. I think that feeding your baby is a journey, an experience, a responsibility. However you choose to do that is your decision. No one is better than anyone else (unless of course you are starving your child). So if you are using jarred baby food, if you’re making your own purées, if you’re following baby led weaning to the letter, or if you’re doing some mix of those things, that is fantastic. Do what makes you happy and what makes baby happy.