Infant feeding practices have evolved throughout throughout the centuries. From wet nurses dating back to 2000 BC, to the formula feeding rage, and now the breast-is-best movement.
In some of the more remote parts of the world, moms would actually prechew their baby’s food!
In this post we will examine the very popular baby led weaning approach. We will also talk about some healthiest first foods for baby led weaning. If this is the route you so chose to introduce solids, you will be able to stalk your pantry when it’s time to start.
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What is baby led weaning?
Baby led weaning (BLW) is the practice of waiting until an infant is developmentally ready to feed themselves finger foods instead of parents spoon feeding pureed foods.
This means that infants are able to sit properly without support, grasp small objects with their hands, bring their hands to their mouths (the tongue-thrust reflex must be absent), and thus consume table foods safely on their own.
The popularity behind this style of infant feeding has grown due to the thought that infants will self-regulate the amount of food they eat. They will be able to participate in family style dinners and be less likely to overfeed. Baby led weaning also leads for more convenience for parents because pureed foods do not have to be made.
Basically what you eat for dinner your baby eats!
One 2012 study found that infants following baby led weaning were more likely to develop healthy eating patterns and less likely to be obese. Another 2017 study looked at weight of preschool children and found the mean weight of those who had followed a baby-led approach was significantly less than those who had followed a traditional approach.
One of the concerns with BLW is the likeliness of nutrient deficiency due to decreased food intake.
This study found no difference in the overall energy intake of baby led weaning versus traditional weaning, however, the baby led weaning group showed a lower intake of iron, zinc, and vitamin B12.
Other studies looked at ways to mitigate these nutrient deficiencies and still employ BLW tactics.
Is baby led weaning right for your child?
We mamas love our children. We want the absolute best for them. We would throw ourselves in front of a bus for our kids!
Feeding them is the first physical act of love we display once we get them in our arms.
It’s no wonder we are all stressed out if we should feed them purees at 4 months to “avoid allergies” or involved them in regular family dinners with finger foods. Especially when they start giving the hard stare at our food every time we eat.
The choice to follow baby led weaning is ultimately yours but I can tell you about my experience.
I was told by my pediatrician that I should begin purees at 4 months of age because studies have shown that early introduction of foods decreases the incidence of allergies.
His first food was a mashed up avocado. I assumed it would be a great starter food because it’s soft and contains omega fatty acids.
He had just had his 4 month checkup and I was given the go ahead. His tongue-thrust reflex was still there and he kept pushing the spoon out with his tongue. He did not enjoy his first taste of food!
After this experience, I looked into the LEAP study that she referenced to support her advice and found that the median age of participants was 7.8 months. Other studies, including the EAT trial, show that introducing allergic foods between 4-6 months of age did decrease the prevalence of food allergies in older children.
My son wasn’t ready for solids at 4 months old.
According to the majority of studies that look at early exposure to foods, we should be introducing foods between 4-6 months. Waiting just a few more weeks may have ultimately given my son some time to improve his ability to tolerate food.
By 6 months old, our son LOVED to eat. He could basically feed himself the majority of his table food too.
What a difference a few months can make in the act of eating!
As I mentioned before, baby led weaning is a newer trend. There is not have enough scientific data available on how BLW will affect children’s long-term health or eating habits for the medical community to make it a widespread recommendation.
In my opinion, we need to look at our child as an individial and use our mama instincts to decide if our baby is ready to start eating solids.
Let me tell you what happened to us like clockwork after we introduced pureed foods at 4 months old.
My son began to shorten his nursing session durations. He had a less vigorous suck. My milk supply tanked.
It was stressful for me.
He still gained weight and hit his milestones well, and he is overall a very happy and healthy boy.
I can’t definitively tell you that if I waited until 6 months old and followed baby led weaning, I would not have struggled with my milk supply. In fact as I sit here and write this, my son is almost 14 months old and we are still nursing when he so desires.
But I can tell you this…
I stressed, pumped, and bruised my nipples to keep my supply for months until I felt he would be ok without my milk.
To this day he still has trouble swallowing and gags on food occasionally. I often wonder if I would have let him consume only breastmilk for a little longer, would his swallowing ability have developed properly.
Our first feeding story is not backed by science. I am just one pro-breastfeeding mama looking to share my experience in the hope that it will help you feel confident to assess your babies readiness for food, regardless of what your pediatrician is pushing you to do.
Pediatricians spend 15 minutes with our babies. Mamas study them every day.
So with that being said let’s move on and get to what you really wanted to know…what are the healthiest first foods for baby led weaning?
The BLISS study looked at the major concerns of the baby led weaning approach and sought ways to minimize choking and avoid the iron/zinc deficiency. Their recommendations are to offer a variety of foods at each meal. They recommend offering foods that are iron and zinc rich. Here is an infographic summarizing this study containing these key points:
- Foods should be finger shaped
- You should be able to squish the food with your tongue
- Offer 3 to 4 different types of foods at each meal
- Include your baby at all family meals
- Don’t rush your baby as he eats
- Babies should be sitting up properly in a highchair
- Avoid fast foods
- Never leave your baby alone when eating
Boiled whole wheat pasta
Roasted carrot sticks
Baked sweet potato
Oven roasted wild-caught salmon
Sliced ripe avocado
Roasted apples with cinnamon
Roasted cubed butternut squash
Pasture-raised scrambled eggs
Resources for baby led weaning
Baby led weaning recipes
The foods I mentioned above are simple, yet nutrient-dense first foods for baby led weaning. You will find that your baby will likely take a few days to warm up to foods.
Keep offering them as their taste buds start to develop and their little brains make new connections from this wonderful sensory input!
As time quickly goes by, your baby will most likely be ready for more complex foods and you can start looking for baby led weaning recipes.
Until then I wanted to refer you to an excellent resource I use for baby led weaning recipes.
Aileen from babyledfeeding.com has some UH-MAZ-ING recipes. She even has a cookbook available.
I truly wish you the best of luck on your baby led feeding journey! If you found this article useful please let me know with a comment and share it with your friends.