Baby led weaning

Baby led weaning (BLW) is based on the idea that at 6 months babies have the neck strength and stability and the hand mouth coordination to feed themselves. The traditional way of weaning your baby, ie purees then mashed then lumpy food, was developed when babies were weaned at 3 months, but since the WHO (World Health Organisation) changed the recommended weaning age to 6 months, BLW has become popular.

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With BLW, you can give your baby pieces of age appropriate food (see our Weaning chart), in the shape of a chip, which is easier for a baby of 6 months to hold. To begin with they may just crush the food in their fist and suck on it, but with some guidance they’ll learn to put the food in their mouth and chew. Even though the Department of Health recommends starting weaning with mashed food, it does suggest introducing finger foods as early as possible.

A health visitor, Gill Rapley, is a strong advocate of BLW, and believes babies who are allowed to feed themselves from a selection of healthy finger foods from the start of weaning are less likely going to refuse foods as they get older or become fussy eaters. She also states that babies are more able to join in with family mealtimes if they’re feeding themselves. And by letting your baby explore the smells, textures and tastes of food you’re helping him build all important confidence and independence.

Because you offer food as and when your baby wants it, BLW may appeal the most to parents who have breast fed on demand as it feels like a more natural progression than to fixed meal times with the parent spoon feeding. However, if you’re the type of parent who prefers structure, little mess and to not let your baby dictate the routine, this probably isn’t for you.

There are also a few concerns with BLW. Choking can be an issue, although Gill Rapley says that choking is no more a risk than with standard weaning as finger foods are encouraged from 6 months anyway. As long as your baby can sit upright and has a strong neck, and as long as you offer the food your baby to feed themselves, there shouldn’t be a problem.

There is also a concern that your baby may not meet all their nutritional requirements. With BLW they’re unlikely to eat as much in the first few months than they would with standard weaning, and will probably have more milk as a result. But by 6 – 7 months a baby needs more iron and nutrients than formula or breast milk can provide and is meant to get it from solid food. Additionally, some nutritious food such as meat and fish, isn’t that easy as finger food therefore the menu can be quite restrictive.

Do not try baby led weaning before your baby is 6 months.

It’s always possible to try BLW from 6 months if it appeals to you, but if it looks like your baby is losing weight/not gaining weight as he should, or seems lethargic or even unwell often, speak to your health visitor and it may be best to use the more traditional type of weaning.
For more information on BLW visit Gill Rapley’s website at www.rapleyweaning.com

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