What?? Baby Lead Weaning (BLW) is kind of a confusing term that basically means allowing baby to self-feed from the onset of solid introduction. It’s a philosophy of food introduction developed by a British healthcare practitioner and midwife. In the U.K., the term “wean” is used to describe the process of adding in complimentary foods and not the process of discontinuing nursing or bottle feeding. Baby’s main source of nutrition will continue to be breastmilk or formula until at least 12 months, so this lets baby explore new foods at her own pace with few worries about nutrient status.
Who?? Babies who are neuro-typical and developing normally are usually great candidates for BLW. If you have concerns about implementing BLW or are interested in implementing BLW or modified BLW for a child with developmental delays or who is neuro-diverse, you can work with your pediatrician, a Registered Dietician, or a Speech Language Pathologist to come up with a game plan. These kiddos are often at a higher risk for choking and allergies, so you’ll want to work with a professional to navigate these issues.
When?? Between about 6 and 12 months. This timeframe is important for a couple of reasons. First, before six months, baby’s alimentary canal is not really ready for solids. There’s a greater risk for choking due to tongue and mouth development. Baby’s intestines are still highly permeable prior to 6 months, so large proteins are able to absorb into the bloodstream, which can lead to baby making antibodies against these proteins and future allergy or sensitivity risk. Baby’s motor skills also aren’t developed enough for her to learn to feed herself successfully, and if baby can’t sit unsupported by herself, she’s not quite ready to feed herself. In general, these areas of development tend to all occur around the same time (around the 6 month mark). Secondly, studies are showing that it’s important to introduce as many foods as possible (other than honey) prior to 12 months to avoid allergies and sensitivities later.
Where?? At the table with the family! In general, baby can eat what the rest of the family is eating. Because this is going to be messy, it’s probably a good idea to cover baby in smock or pelican bib. Choose a high chair that’s easy to disassemble and rinse off. You may also want to throw a cheap, disposable plastic tablecloth under the high chair.
Why?? So. Many. Benefits. To start, if you are doing traditional BLW, you do not have to prepare purées or purchase special foods for baby, which may contain additives that you aren’t comfortable with. Baby is likely to accept a wider variety of foods and have fewer allergies later in life. This sets the stage for an adventurous, healthy eater. Next, baby have well developed chewing skills, which means better digestion. One of my favorite benefits is that BLW puts baby in control, so she learns to respect her own satiety and hunger signals. She knows it’s ok to stop eating when she’s full, and she knows to trust herself when it comes to her likes, dislikes, and cravings. This leads to a child who has a healthy relationship with food and is much less likely to struggle with weight issues later in life.
How?? The beauty of BLW is that it’s designed to make the “how” fairly easy. In the beginning, offer one new food every 72 hours. Expose baby to common allergens between 6 and 12 months even if you don’t serve these frequently. A “French Fry” shape is often one of the easiest for baby to grab and put in her mouth. However, don’t be afraid of mushy avocado or some yogurt; baby can use her hands or learn how to spoon feed herself. Eventually, baby will be able to eat the same thing as the rest of the family with little to no additional preparation (shaping, etc.). You can place a portion directly on to the high chair and let her decide what she’s interested in. When preparing food for the family that baby will also be eating, plan to add salt at the table instead of during cooking so that baby doesn’t get too much sodium. It may also be a good idea to take a child and infant CPR class and watch videos of babies gagging. It’s normal for babies for gag during BLW; they are learning to chew and swallow appropriately and they are adjusting to the sensations of eating solids. If baby is gagging, her airway is not blocked, and she should be able to resolve the issue by herself pretty quickly. Knowing the difference between choking and gagging and how to handle a choking baby will make you feel more comfortable.
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The views expressed in this blog are not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any condition and should not be substituted for medical or nutritional advice.