An Introduction to the Exciting and Messy World of Baby Led Weaning

If your little one is approaching six months of age, no doubt you've been thinking about weaning and which route you will go down. And baby led weaning (often shortened to BLW) is a bit of a buzzword- this is a feeding method which skips the purees and allows babies to self feed 'normal' foods from the start. You simply modify the foods to be safe, which means they're soft and cut correctly, and then allow baby explore and learn how to eat on their own instead of putting a spoon in their mouth for them. It's a fantastic way to encourage healthy eating habits, fine motor skills, and independence, but it can also be messy, frustrating, and lead to wasted food. I personally did a mixture of purees and baby led weaning with my daughter at the start, but quickly transitioned over to fully BLW which worked brilliantly. She'll be three this year and is a fantastic eater that enjoys everything, and I really believe this weaning approach is one of the reasons why. So read on to explore what it's really like to embark on this journey with your little one. 

Knowing When to Start
First things first, it's important to know when to start with BLW. The NHS recommends that babies start weaning around 6 months of age, but when it comes to baby led weaning there are some additional signs of readiness they will need. They should be able to sit up well by themselves without slumping over, this may not be fully unaided but in the high chair they should be sitting well without falling or leaning. This is important as their body being straight and upright will help to protect against choking. Babies also need to be able to bring their hand to their mouths by themselves as the idea is that they self feed (you should never place chunks of food into your baby's mouth). If your baby isn't quite at this stage by six months, you could always start with purees and then move over to baby led weaning once they hit those milestones. 

The Mess: Embrace the Food Fight
Let's talk about the mess- it's a lot. If you're considering baby led weaning, be prepared for food to end up everywhere - on the floor, on the walls, in their hair, and in yours. In fact, be prepared to redecorate the kitchen a few months down the line! But, hey, it's all part of the fun (and if you have a furry friend, they'll be more than happy to clean up the scraps that fall on the floor). I experimented with various long sleeved bibs, protective floor coverings and everything else but found it made the process more tedious. My advice, strip down baby and feed them in just a nappy. You can clean them down much more easily or pop them in the bath. And simply mopping the floor is easier than wiping splats up from a protective mat and putting it away each time. 

The Waste: It's All Part of the Process
Another challenge of baby led weaning is the amount of food that gets wasted. However, just because not all food doesn't end up being eaten doesn't mean it's a waste, every interaction they have with it is a good thing. So mushing it with their hands, licking it and even smushing it in their hair is part of the learning process. It can be frustrating when it seems like they're hardly eating the meals you've prepared for them, but the effort is all worth it. 

The Fear of Choking: Safety First
One of the biggest fears of baby led weaning is choking. But the truth is, research shows that babies are no more likely to choke while doing baby led weaning compared with purees if it's done correctly. Just make sure to offer soft, appropriate-sized foods and always supervise meal times. Foods should be cut into long pieces around the size of your finger which allows your baby to grip them. And the texture is important too, vegetables for example should be soft- do some research as this is an important thing to get right. Babies don't need teeth to do baby led weaning, they can munch, chew and eat just fine with their gums!

The Developmental Benefits: So Worth It
Despite the mess, waste, and fear of choking, the developmental benefits of baby led weaning make it all worth it. Babies who are given the opportunity to feed themselves from an early age tend to have better fine motor skills, develop a love for healthy foods, and have a greater sense of independence and autonomy at meal times. While baby led weaning can be messy, wasteful, and sometimes a little nerve-wracking, but the benefits for your little one's development make it all worth it. So embrace the food fights, don't mind the waste, and trust that your baby will figure it all out in their own time.