The Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning

This feeding trend wins the hearts of parents and tummies of babies!

Sep 27, 2020

Transitioning to solid food is a natural development for babies in all cultures and always has been. Yet a new feeding “method” called Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) is becoming a parenting buzzword these days. With the many exciting benefits for both parents and baby, you can understand why BLW is such a positive experience for the family.

BLW was named in 2005 by Gill Rapley who explains on Baby Led Weaning that the word weaning may be confusing to Americans where it means to stop breastfeeding. In the UK, it simply means adding complementary foods while still nursing or bottle-feeding.

In BLW (also known as auto-weaning), babies around 6 months of age skip the puree stage completely and start self-feeding on solid foods. When the baby sits up unassisted, shows the ability to chew, and is interested in the food parents eat, she is ready.

There are many BLW recipes online, including on the Baby Led Weaning site, that explain how to prepare the food. Just remember to clean the produce well, and stay away from salt, sweeteners, and processed foods. Organic, pesticide-free produce and meats are preferable.

Improves motor skills
As 6-month-old babies have not yet developed a pincer grasp, as mentioned in Parents, long, thin strips are easier. Picking up the food helps babies develop hand-eye coordination as well as dexterity. It also helps them develop chewing skills. After babies are 9 months old, they will have the pincer grasp and food can be served in cubes, further assisting them in their motor development.

When babies are spoon-fed traditional runny purees, they do not get much practice chewing. Biting and eating soft foods will help them develop oral motor skills and jaw strength which then assists them when they are introduced to harder solids.

Establishes healthy eating habits
When your baby is given store-bought purees, they are often a mixture of several ingredients, yet if your baby is introduced to one ingredient at a time, she can savor the full taste of one food. In BLW, a baby is given full freedom to decide which foods they want, how much they need, as well as establish their own pace of eating.

All of these are instrumental in defining your baby’s future food habits, as shown in a study at the University of Nottingham. Researcher Dr. Ellen Townsend concludes, “Weaning style impacts on food preferences and health in early childhood. Our results suggest that infants weaned through the baby-led approach learn to regulate their food intake in a manner, which leads to a lower BMI and a preference for healthy foods like carbohydrates.”

As shown in the study, parents who spoon-feed babies may inadvertently overfeed as they try to sneak in extra loaded spoons when your baby is distracted. The study also found that spoon-fed babies had more propensity for sugary foods and became pickier eaters later on.

Encourages inclusion
When your baby is sitting in her high chair next to the family as you all eat, she feels like she is a part of the action. Older siblings will enjoy interacting with the baby – but watch out – her food explorations may steal the show!

 Yes, babies will explore and BLW is an ideal way for them to learn about texture, color, taste, and aroma. Eating for young babies is a full sensory experience, so protect the floor and then let them expand their culinary horizon.

Babies are great imitators and learn through observation. Many families who use the BLW method often serve the food they are eating to their baby; then the baby can point, then eat what he sees and feel delighted by the sense of inclusion.

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NICOLE NATHAN BEM, CONTRIBUTOR
Nicole is an editor, blogger and author who has recently left her urban life in order to be more connected with nature. In her spare time, she’s outdoors hiking in the forest, mountain biking or tending to her new permaculture garden.