The Ultimate Guide to Starting Solids with Baby-led Weaning (BLW)
There are lots of questions floating around the internet about the “do’s and don’ts” of how to start solids with Baby led Weaning. Can you start with purees and switch to baby led weaning? Is it ok to mix purees and finger foods? When is baby ready to start BLW? How do you serve food and in what shape? Can baby have added sugars, salt, eggs, peanuts? What about Baby led weaning and choking?!
Here are a few tips to get started answering some of these Baby led Weaning FAQs. For a more in-depth info and 125 baby led weaning recipes, check out my baby-led weaning book “The Parents’ Guide to Baby-led Weaning.”
Baby led Weaning Do’s
1) Timing is important:
Don’t rush into starting solids, but don’t wait too long either! Wait until your baby can actually sit on their own, with support. They need enough neck and trunk strength to get food to their mouth, without needing arms for balance. An interest in food is another sign of readiness. As is age (around 6 months). For more about when to start Baby led Weaning, read here.
2) Prevent choking -consider texture & shape of foods:
While babies can eat a lot of different foods (those gums are strong – teeth or no teeth!), don’t expect them to chew through a steak. Offer soft food like ground meats, eggs & steamed fruits and veggies.
Also avoid food that is round or could get caught in your baby’s windpipe. While baby led weaners have not been shown to be more likely to choke, we want to prevent choking no matter how starting solids. And know how to treat it, in the unlikely case your baby does choke. Check into local or online infant CPR courses (affiliate link), to give you more confidence if you’re afraid baby will choke.
3) Be ready to clean up a mess:
Feeding your baby is messy, no matter which method you choose for introducing solids! Squishing and playing with food is a part of the learning process and it’s ok.
You can place a hard plastic computer mat (my fave, easy to wipe!) or a plastic tablecloth under your baby’s high chair for easy clean up.
For more on my fave BLW tools, read here.
4) Make sure food is nutrient-rich:
As your baby will only be taking in small amounts of food, it’s important that the food is nutrient-rich. Try including foods that are sources of iron, zinc and healthy fats.
For example, beans and legumes make great finger food, or scrambled eggs and pieces of fish. Slow cooked ribs or meat that are very tender or ground meat like meatballs offer great sources of iron – the most important nutrient for your baby to get from solids.
For 5 tips on getting enough iron with Baby led Weaning, read here
5) Dine with baby:
Eat with your baby. This is one of the benefits of BLW – you don’t have to spoon feed your baby while your own food gets cold!
Let your child see how you eat. They will learn from your demonstration and copy you! It’s also safer to eat with your baby, as if they are choking they don’t make any sound.
And there are many benefits of family meals, so it’s a great habit to have right from the start.
6) Ensure milk is still the main-stay:
Don’t just focus on the solid foods. keep in mind, that the bulk of your baby’s nutrition still comes from breast milk or formula. Start with 2 meals of solids per day. Move up to 3 meals around 9 months.
And continue breastfeeding as long as both you and baby (or toddler/child!) like.
Baby led Weaning Don’ts
Milk is still your baby’s main source of nutrition, so offer just 2 meals a day to begin. Work up to 3 meals around 9 months and meals + snacks (which sometimes may still be milk!) at 12 months.
Also, don’t ‘top up’ your baby with purees or encourage them to eat more than they want. They know their own appetite, and it will go up and down!
I like to start Ellyn Satter’s Division of Responsibility (DOR) in Feeding right from the start. Baby (or child) is always responsible for how much they eat (of the foods you offer them). For more info on the DOR, read here.
2) Force your baby into one method of starting solids:
Be truly “baby-led.” If baby isn’t taking to finger foods after a few days or weeks, it’s ok to offer purees as well. While this isn’t true “Baby led Weaning” and more conventional feeding, that’s ok!
Canada’s Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants recommends finger foods (+ purees) from the start, which is why this is considered “conventional” feeding.
There’s no real “mix” of puree and BLW in terms of researcher definitions, but labels don’t matter. Your baby won’t get confused. Just make sure to continue to offer finger foods for practice. And be sure to watch baby’s signals when spoon feeding, to make sure you are practicing Responsive Feeding and not over-feeding baby.
3) Worry about how much your baby takes in at first:
The first few days, weeks and sometimes months are mostly a learning process for some babies. They may seem more interested in mashing the food that eating it. They are likely getting in more than you think (has their poop changed?! That’s one sign!). And don’t compare your baby to your friend’s baby. Every baby is unique!
If baby is still not eating solids by 9 months, I would recommend asking your doctor for an iron test, and perhaps referral to an occupational therapist who specializes in feeding assessment, just to be sure.
4) Give your baby a full apple and walk away
Be cautious of the size and textures of food your are offering your baby. And always watch your baby while they eat, or you won’t be able to help them if they choke. While research shows babyled weaners are not more likely to choke more often than infants started solids the standard way – choking still something to be cautious about.
And a survey found that full apples were the #1 things Baby led Weaners choked on. Instead, peel and slice the apple thinly (us a mandolin if you have one) and steam to start.
5) Offer just fruits and veggies
Normal baby led weaning starter foods most parents give seem to be fruits and veggies. And these are nutritious foods we usually strive to get more of! But they do not have the calories, fat or iron that baby needs to be their sole source of nutrition from solids.
Baby needs to eat a variety of foods, just like you. Make sure to choose a source of iron at each meal, like legumes, eggs, fish, chicken or beef.
Want to learn more about making starting solids fun, safe and healthy with Baby led Weaning? Register for my free webinar “How to Get Started with Babyled Weaning”
Jennifer House is a Registered Dietitian, author & mom of 3. From Baby-led weaning to picky eating and meal planning, she helps you to make feeding your family easier