Yay! You made it through the wilderness months and you now have a baby, rather than a newborn. You may already have ‘a teether’. And you might also have a little someone ready to wean - as most show signs at around 6 months.
Traditional weaning starts babies on purees, then leads up to finger foods and main meals. In contrast, baby-led weaning (BLW) - as the name suggests - puts baby in control. They start straight onto solids and learn how to navigate foods, chewing and mealtimes from the off. We asked BLW expert, Leigh Cason and #KIDLYparent Gaby Harris to share their top tips.
1. It’s about whole, wholesome food
BLW helps tots learn to enjoy food on their own terms. Let them take control. No-one likes food (or anything) shoved in their face. It’s also nicer for them to see and learn about food. As Gaby wisely points out, “Why puree broccoli when a baby can hold the stalk and eat the soft bit!” We totally agree.
2. Finger lickin’ good
Put food out that's the length of your finger. This helps them hold it and is a safe size. Gaby’s tip: “Finger food doesn’t have to mean bread sticks. You can make any healthy whole food into finger food.”
3. Babies use 5 senses to learn to eat
They use touch, smell, look, taste and sound. Yes, they need to listen to their food. The squish of butternut squash, the munch of a monster, all help in the learning process. “When they learn to feed themselves, all 5 senses are used, which is important for them and their development”, says Leigh. (ps: Don’t feed them Monster Munch, we’re just kidding).
4. Make a dedicated eating area
Sit them on your knee, or in a high chair, or if your culture doesn’t sit at the table, make sure your baby understands that a certain place is your eating space. Sit together to eat as much as possible. Gaby says: “It’s about sitting upright to eat” as a family - no matter how big or small your family is.
5. Overalls v. bibs
We’re a fan of the cover up / coverall kind of bib. But seriously, don’t freak out about mess with food. Let them know it’s OK to get dirty and it all goes in the wash anyway. If it gets really bad, the high-chair-straight-into-the-bath-routine is a winner every time.
6. Who throws a choux?
So, kids throw food around. This (sorry, yawn) is another part of their development. Leigh advises mums to use a large towel, mat, or similar under their high chair. When the food takes a dive, it will land on a clean surface and you can re-offer it a bit later. Good news, though: the pro’s say that BLW babies grow out of it sooner. Another win!
7. Variety is the spice of baby life
Five days of parsnip or pear is enough to annoy anyone. Give a variety of finger food, but don’t give more than 5 different tastes in any one sitting. Overloading can be common, too, so just go with 2-3 things at any one time on the tray or table.
8. Gagging & choking
Important point here. We often think that gagging is the first part of choking, but it’s not. They are not the same thing. (Using our serious voice here…) Gagging is usually watery eyes, spluttering & noisy. Choking is usually silent, blue lips/face and a wide eyed panic. Gagging is a safety reflex that helps babies learn how to move food around their mouth, to the side and then to swallow. It's a natural part of this weaning process, albeit a bit uncomfortable to watch sometimes. Remember this, even when they set off your own gag reflex.
9. The safety bit
Of course, it’s imperative that you're always always there when your baby's eating. And, if in doubt, take action quickly. Leigh recommends all parents download the St John’s Ambulance App and learn baby first aid (whether weaning or not, to be honest). And both Gaby and Leigh highly recommend Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley & Tracey Murkett before you start.
You can also grab a copy of Gill’s book.
10. A healthy relationship with food
You can start BLW from 6 months, to kick start those senses. And it really can help your baby develop a healthy relationship with food. But don’t expect them to really eat anything until around 8 months. Leigh has a great saying that we love: “Until I am 1, food is just for fun.”
To get Baby Led Weaning off to a good start, here are our favourite bits of kit.