If you do a quick internet search of Baby-led weaning – known as BLW for short- you’re sure to find a few articles which say that this method of weaning is dangerous and not healthy for any child. Well, everyone’s entitled to their opinion, and the method of introducing solid foods is something that only parents can decide for their own children.
That being said, my opinion is that BLW can be done in a responsible way that won’t pose any extraordinary risks to a baby’s health and safety. Of course I’m not a medical professional and my advice in this article should be taken just as that, my advice and opinion, and should not replace a conversation with your child’s pediatrician.
Here are 5 major concerns and my simple advice to overcome them:
Concern 1: “My child will choke.”
Seeing your baby choke is any parent’s worst nightmare, whether it be on a part of a small toy or on a piece of food. But doing BLW doesn’t mean you’re handing over a bag of whole grapes to your 6 month old!
The key is to cut the food so that your baby can grab onto it and keep hold of it while it’s in her mouth, and prepare it so that it’s soft enough to chew very easily. We found that the best way to prepare most vegetables was to cut them into long sticks that our daughter could grab with her fist, and steam, boil, or microwave them till they were soft enough for her to mash up in her mouth.
Some fruits, like soft pears and peaches, are already soft enough for a baby to chew without cooking them in any way. Whether you leave the skin on or not is up to you. Some parents find that the skin presents too much of a choking hazard, while other parents like to keep it on because it’s less slippery than the inside of the fruit, and easier for the child to grip in their hands.
When it came time to introduce meat, I would always cut the strips against the grain of the meat to make it easier for my daughter to bite off small pieces. Some people recommend leaving some meat on a sturdy bone for the baby to chew off.
One thing that’s helpful to remember is that babies have their gag reflex around the middle of their mouths – us adults have it in the back of our throats – so if your baby shoves something quickly into her mouth then she will likely gag on it and spit it out before it can get lodged in her throat.
Concern 2: “My child will eat too much salt.”
This is certainly something to be aware of because too much salt can be hazardous to a baby’s health. Their little bodies can only process so much sodium, and they are already getting enough of it from formula or breast milk. We worked our way around this with two simple practices – most the time we would cook our daughter’s food separately and not put any salt on it. Or, if we wanted to feed her something from our plate, for example at a restaurant, we would brush or rinse the salt off. As with any method of weaning, it’s vital to check the ingredients on any packaged foods you feed your baby to make sure they’re not sneaking in any extra sodium.
Concern 3: “My child won’t get enough iron in their diet.”
This concern is based on the idea that BLWers can’t feed their babies meat safely. That’s not true though, you can let your child self-feed meat safely, and even so, there are non-meat sources of iron, such as lentils, oatmeal, tomato sauce, and prune juice.
Concern 4: “How will I know how much my baby ate?”
As a breastfeeding mother, this didn’t concern me too much because for the first 6 months I never knew exactly how much milk my daughter was drinking, so I followed the same mentality: If she’s satisfied after eating, and is growing enough, then she must be eating enough.
If you want or need to know exactly how much solids are actually making it into your child while BLW, I would recommend using a food scale. Just measure the portion of food before you give it to your baby, and scoop or scrape whatever’s left over at the end of a meal back onto the scale for another measurement. It may not be a perfectly accurate measurement, but it should give you enough of an idea to put your mind at ease.
Concern 5: “It’s so messy!”
Well, unfortunately, this is true. Stay tuned next month for my list of BLW clean-up tips!
I hope this clears up any concerns you have about baby-led weaning so you can give it a try with confidence. Of course if you read this and the idea of letting your young baby chew sticks of food on his own still gives you a heart attack, or if you just really hate food messes on your clean floor, then maybe BLW isn’t for you- and that’s okay! No one knows you and your child like you do, and whatever way you decide to introduce solid foods is the right choice for you.
Whatever method you choose, I wish you lots of success and enjoyment during this fun stage of development!