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Ultimate Guide to Baby Led Weaning: What It Is, Benefits, First Foods & Tips

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Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)

What is BLW?

From its name, the term ‘Baby-Led Weaning’ (BLW) means to put the baby in charge of mealtimes, and the adults follow the baby’s lead.

The two differentiating factors of BLW versus traditional spoon feeding is that:

  • BLW bypasses purees and mashed food, and focuses on giving babies finger food
  • Same meals are being prepared for both babies and adults. Babies do not get specially prepared food that is different from the family.

There are many benefits to BLW. I would highly recommend parents to try, but I am also aware of BLW’s difficulty. BLW would work well for families, who:

  • Has the time to clean up after the child (it can get really messy!)
  • Able to differentiate between gagging and choking (a life skill a caregiver should have! You can easily learn this online!)
  • Are willing to cook for the family, and portioning out for the child before adding the ‘adult yummy seasonings’
  • Want to groom an adventurous foodie
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Why Should You Trust Me

Who Am I?

I am a proud mama of a 28-month-old girl (as of March 2023!) who, in my heart, has successfully gone through BLW from 6 months of age. As I took a hiatus from work and personally took care of my daughter since birth, I was able to try a hand at BLW and have never looked back.

Almost two years on, I feel that I am finally reaping the benefits of BLW. She is able to:

  • Feed herself with utensils
  • Try new foods and even able to compare to different foods (for example, she tells me that radish doesn’t taste like potatoes, but it feels similar)
  • Sit by the table and hold conversations with the family while eating
  • Gauge her own hunger and fullness: she asks for more when she’s still hungry and stops when she is done

We also spoke to 3 experts to better understand how BLW can be weaved into your routine, and delved deeper into some of its pros and cons:

  • Catherine, an entrepreneur, and a cookbook author of 4 cookbooks, from Weelicious
  • Wanda Wijaya, Speech and Language therapist from Ohana Therapy
  • Desiree Lau, Director and Speech Therapist from Magic Beans
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What Is Good?

Benefits of BLW

Fosters independence

By allowing babies to take charge of eating, they choose to eat as much or as little as they want. According to Solidstarts, their experiences show that when babies are given control over what they eat, they are less likely to become picky eaters.

Exposes one to a huge variety of foods

By offering finger foods, children are exposed to the raw forms of food and its texture and taste. Different foods are not being mashed up together and children are able to differentiate between a rough texture from steak and a soft texture from cooked carrots.

Baby Led Weaning Finger Foods

Experiences valuable social interactions

With BLW, the whole family sits together and eats together. Children can pick up valuable social skills while eating with us. This helps with building a positive association with food because the child gets to be part of the family and can be engaged through conversations.

Develops fine motor skills 

According to Cleveland Clinic, it is crucial for a child to learn to gauge hunger and fullness. As they grow older, they will be able to self-regulate. They will not overeat because they are in control of what they are swallowing. They develop fine motor skills when bringing food to their mouth and oral skills when they are chewing and swallowing. They develop hand-eye coordination too. 

At 6 months of age, I introduced an open cup and slowly, she learnt to drink from it and I can safely say that 80% of the time, she’s able to drink confidently from an open cup. 

At 1 years old, I introduced utensils and now she has better control over a spoon and a fork and eating has become much more enjoyable for both of us. It’s definitely less messy!

Saves time and money

Time is saved on food preparation as you are preparing the same food for the family and baby.

baby led weaning breakfast, lunch, dinner
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What Is Worrying?

Concerns of BLW

Choking woes

As babies are given finger goods, there is a potential for them to bite off chunks of food that may pose a choking hazard. However, research has shown that it may result in more gagging, but no increased likelihood of choking. 

To arm yourself with information, you could look into online courses hosted by Shannon Tripp to learn more about first aid life-saving skills. 

Lack of time to clean up

BLW can get messier than spoon-feeding since the baby is exploring and manipulating the food independently. This mess is not a sight easily tolerated by many but there are much more benefits to tolerating this mess when it comes to BLW. 

Unsure about babies’ nutritional needs

As you are allowing the baby to take the lead, there is a possibility that they choose to explore and play instead of eating. Hence, parents are concerned about their babies’ nutritional intake during this period. 

However, it is worthy to note that at this stage, milk is still the main source of food intake. According to the ‘Simple Happy Parenting’ book written by Denaye Barahona, it is noted that in the first year, food exploration with tastes and textures are more important than the baby consuming the food. Thus, I would personally not be too concerned about not meeting my baby’s nutritional needs.

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What Are Their Differences?

BLW vs Traditional Weaning

Traditional weaning is also typically known as spoon-feeding and parents usually spoon feed purees or mashed foods. These two methods have their pros and cons and they are not mutually exclusive.

While this table outlines the general differences between baby led weaning and traditional weaning, it is important to find a method, or a combination of methods that better suits your lifestyle and your child’s needs and level of readiness.

Main foods
Level of Independence
Nutritional intake
Risks
Developmental skills
Mess levels
Baby eating food
Baby Led Weaning
Developmentally-appropriate finger foods
High levels: encourages self-regulation and independent eating
Baby is in charge of the amount of food he/she eats
Higher chances of gagging
Tastes and textures: exposed to a variety

Chewing and self-feeding skills: develop a lot faster as child learns from day 1 of solids
Messier with food exploration
mom feeding baby
Traditional Weaning
Purees and mashed food
Low levels: highly dependent on caregiver to be fed the food
Parent controls the type of food and the portion
Minimal risks as food is mashed
Tastes and textures: slower exposure 

Chewing and self-feeding skills: child focuses on learning to swallow first
Parent controls the mess
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How to Succeed?

Tips and Tricks

Research, read and get ready

Research about BLW, understand the basic principles and safety considerations. You can also speak to your pediatrician for advice and guidelines. Every baby is different, and so is every family. BLW may or may not suit your lifestyle and it would be beneficial to read up more about it, so you can be better informed.

For a start, I would recommend that you either attend a first-aid course locally that teaches you the Infant Heimlich Manuever or an online course.

There are some Instagram accounts that I go to when I need information:

  1. Solidstarts
  2. Feeding littles

These are some Instagram accounts that I go to when I need recipes:

  1. Blw.baby
  2. Blwmealsapp
  3. Feedingtinybellies

Start at the right time

It is important to ensure that your child is developmentally ready to start BLW. This typically happens around 6 months of age, where babies can sit unassisted and like to mouth objects.

Catherine recommends letting your baby lead the way and take cues from them. Once they start playing with food or throwing it, you can take that as a cue that it’s time to remove your child from their chair or your lap.

Additionally, Wanda shared that BLW is built on the basis of trusting that the child is able to independently regulate their bodily needs and eat when they feel hungry or confident of what they are holding onto.

However, not all babies are suitable for the baby-led weaning approach. According to Desiree, some babies may have difficulties with their oro-motor skills for chewing, while others may have challenges with their fine motor skills to pick up food. These groups of babies may hence find this approach challenging. 

Often, they tend to gag with BLW and do not seem to outgrow this phase or are inefficient in self-feeding and thus consume very little. They may start to get fussy and dislike eating in the medium to long term and will be very reliant on milk feeds.

Should your baby or infant continue to rely heavily on milk feeds after trialing BLW for a few weeks or months, you may want to consult a Feeding Therapist/Speech Therapist for support and help.

Involve the family

Getting the whole family involved in the BLW process can help improve the experience for both you and your little one and prevent picky eating. 

According to Desiree, parents control the what, when, and where of eating, while letting children decide how much and what to eat, encouraging exploration and interaction with different foods. Also, having regular family meals can be an opportunity for children to observe positive eating behaviors from adults and be exposed to various foods consumed by the family.

Choose appropriate foods

Apart from starting at the right time, you also need to ensure that foods that you offer are appropriate for your baby’s age and development. You should also be there to supervise your baby during meals and be prepared to respond quickly if they choke.

baby-led weaning messy

Offer a variety of foods

As your baby grows older, they would start showing preferences and may reject certain foods. Hence, it is important to expose your child to as many foods as possible. Here is a simple illustration to emphasise the importance of exposing your child to a variety of food.

Child AChild B
Exposed to 20 foods
Rejects 10 foods (50% of all foods!)
Exposed to 100 foods
Rejects 10 foods (10% of all foods!)

I was obsessed with exposing my daughter to 100 foods before 1 because of this simple example I heard over a podcast. It inspired me to feed at least 100 foods, and I did it! 2 years later, I do see my daughter having preferences and it can be disheartening but thank goodness, she was willing to try new foods too.

Tip:

Wanda recommends exposing your child to a range of tastes and textures from 6 months onwards.

Food Preparation

Food preparation is an important part of BLW. Catherine recommends including your child in the cooking process, no matter how small the task. You can offer your baby tastes of foods you’re using to cook so they can taste a variety of flavors.

This is the general rule of thumb that I realised while preparing food for my daughter when she was 1 years old. 

Type of FoodsHow are they prepared for a baby between 6-9 months old
Whole fruits (e.g. apples, pears, cantaloupe)Steamed or cooked
Small round fruits (e.g. cherry tomatoes, berries, grapes, lychee)Either squashed (with a fork will do), or halved or quartered (if too big)
Vegetables (e.g. bok choy, broccoli)
Eggs (omelette)
In small florets (for their small hands to hold), or long strips
Whole meats (e.g. chicken, duck)With bones (e.g. offer drumstick, or entire spare rib)
Meat/FishSquashed or minced
Beans
Cheese
Mashed and served on bread/biscuit sticks
Tip:

When concerned about nutritional intake, especially iron and zinc, Desiree emphasizes the need to ensure these vital nutrients are included in forms that are easy for babies to consume.

Encourage exploration

During the infancy stage of trying BLW, my daughter was more interested in squashing the food, smearing it over the entire table, and not putting it into her mouth to eat. She was exploring the food and its texture! Had I thought that she was being ‘naughty’ and playing with her food, I may have stopped BLW altogether.

However, I knew feeding can be overwhelming for babies and how important exploration was to them. Hence, I chose to take a step back and allow her to play and trust that she will feed herself in time to come.

Tip:

Wanda recommends keeping the mealtime fun and creating opportunities for your child to be curious as they explore food!

Embrace the mess and be kind to yourself

Spills and food on the floor are common when it comes to BLW. However, Catherine advises to be patient. She shares that feeding should be a special time together to connect, explore and learn from each other. 

To help make cleaning up a little easier, you can consider buying products like a coverall bib, or a splat mat.

BLW can take time for your baby to get the hang of it and you may also need time to get used to the preparation and the mess. The inertia to start may be strong for both of you, but with patience and consistency, I am sure that it will be worthwhile for you.

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How I Did BLW

My 2-year BLW Journey

The beginning

I am a proud mama of a 28-month-old girl (as of March 2023!) who, in my heart, has successfully gone through BLW from 6 months of age. As I took a hiatus from work and personally took care of my daughter since birth, I was able to try a hand at BLW and have never looked back. 

As I took care of my daughter myself, I am well aware of the (insane!) BLW aftermath, and the worries that come along with it. Thanks to my daughter, I was forced to learn how to cook, and to learn how to prepare finger foods that were safe for my daughter at different stages of her life. I thoroughly enjoyed the food preparation. It was so convenient to just cook a family meal, and portion out for my daughter. I need not cook anything special for my daughter and that means washing less, and not wasting any food.

There are two things I follow closely whenever I choose to do something during this BLW journey. 

  1. Building a positive association with food

By following this closely, I never force my daughter to eat more, or try something. It is entirely up to her own discretion if she’d like to try certain foods, or even touch certain foods. All I do is to offer. I offer the food and describe it to her in a neutral manner (“this is a carrot”). I do not give her my own opinions of the food –  I do not tell her if I like the food or not, or if it’s sweet or sour or bitter. 

  1. Exploring i.e. playing before eating can happen

In the early stages of weaning, I can safely say that my daughter plays more than she eats. She squashes the food, she tears them, and she plays with the texture of the foods. I have never stopped her from doing so because eating is so overwhelming – not only does she need to try to bring the food into her mouth, she also needs to explore the texture and taste. 

By believing that she needs to explore the food before eating, I do not get stressed up about her wasting food or dirtying the table. I choose to perceive it as a path to success. I also enjoy being the “commentator” while she is playing with the food (“Oh, doesn’t that feel sticky!”). Haha!

Two years later, I am glad I took the leap of faith and chose to do BLW with my daughter. I feel that I am finally reaping the benefits of BLW. She is able to:

  • Feed herself with utensils
  • Try new foods and even be able to compare to different foods (for example, she tells me that radish doesn’t taste like potatoes, but it feels similar)  → not a hit all the time! 
  • Sit by the table and hold conversations with the family while eating
  • Gauge her own hunger and fullness: she asks for more when she’s still hungry and stops when she is done

The Inertia to Feed Solids

There was a huge inertia to begin feeding solids. After all, I was finally getting the hang of my daughter’s eat-sleep-play-repeat routine, and suddenly I have to introduce solids, which will potentially mess up the whole “eating” part?! Here are some reasons why I felt the hesitation to try BLW and how I overcame them. 

Societal pressure and expectations

Once my daughter turned 4 months old, the societal pressure kicked in because people started telling you what you should do, and what you should feed. I would say that in Singapore, the societal norm is still traditional weaning – spoon-feeding porridge or purees. BLW is not as common nor accepted by the older generation. People may feel the pressure to conform to these norms and it takes that extra leap of faith to break this generational cycle.

How I countered this: in all seriousness – nod and ignore, haha!

My personal take is that you are responsible for your own child, and how you choose to raise your child. The world can say otherwise, but they are not the ones who are going to be with your child most of the time. We as parents, should fight for the way we deem fit for our lifestyle, and our children. 

That being said, there were times I felt swayed and that would lead me to my next point – lack of knowledge and experience.

Lack of knowledge and experience

With the lack of knowledge for BLW, and zero experience (first-child problems!), it was easy to be swayed by friends with more than one child, or your own parents, who watched and raised many children. 

The concept of BLW is unfamiliar and it can create feelings of uncertainty and anxiety stepping into this territory.

How I countered this: read and research. 

To prevent being swayed and be comforted by my own will to do BLW, I had to read and research. The more I read, the more convinced I am to do BLW. The more I research, the more scientific evidence I find that could counter the naysayers. This helped with taking my first step to do BLW.

Safety concerns

With BLW, you are exploring different foods and the biggest concern parents have would be the risk of choking. Some parents, including myself, would worry that my baby would not be able to chew or swallow properly, which can lead to choking. However, research has shown that when BLW is done correctly, babies have a tongue thrust reflex that helps prevent choking.

How I countered this: attending lessons on feeding and choking. In these lessons, I learnt about the tongue thrust reflex that pushes food out quickly. I also learnt life-saving skills in case of an emergency. 

This leads on to my next point that emphasizes the importance of knowing how to prepare solid foods.

Not knowing how to cook or prepare foods

Unlike traditional weaning where foods are blended, or squashed to a particular consistency, BLW encourages feeding finger foods. That could be a deterrence because one needs to learn how to prepare these foods, and it can be more time-consuming.

How I countered this: the Solid Starts app! This app is my life savior! In this app, they teach you clearly on how to prepare the foods for your child. It was my “bible” to prepare finger foods, and for the first 6 months of feeding solids to my daughter, I only dared to offer foods that I could find from the app.

Solid Starts App guide user interface
Solid Starts’ App that teaches you how to prepare the foods safely for different ages

My First 100 Foods Under 1

I managed to introduce her first 100 foods to my daughter before she hit 1! It was not an easy task because at some point, I felt like I could not find any more new foods! I was living in Germany back then and I was unfamiliar with the supermarket and finding these foods was not as easy as I thought.

With my perseverance and dogged determination, I did it! Here are the first 10 foods I introduced. 

  1. Chicken
  2. Banana
  3. Avocado
  4. Apple 
  5. Carrots
  6. Spinach 
  7. Eggs
  8. Salmon 
  9. Blueberry
  10. Si shen powder (which I don’t recommend anymore because it was recalled in Singapore)
  11. Sweet potato

There is no hard and fast rule as to which foods you should introduce first, but I followed these general ideas regarding feeding solids:

  • It was okay to offer 2-3 different foods at one go as long as they are not common food allergens like prawns, etc. 
  • If I was introducing common food allergens, I would offer them in small portions, early in the day, and only one at a time. That helped me to monitor possible reactions and counter them. 
  • With common food allergens, instead of avoiding it, I offered it regularly and in small portions. However, it is also crucial to note the severity of the reaction. In the beginning, my daughter had reactions with salmon and soy. However, the reaction was pretty mild – rashes in areas, such as cheeks, chin, and nose, that touched the food. That was why I decided to expose her more to such foods (in small portions of course!), and slowly the reactions became less, and eventually, it went away! Now, she eats these without any reactions anymore. 
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Challenges I Faced

Setbacks and Challenges
Lack of support (thankfully, I had!)

Unlike myself, many others may not have the luxury of support, and time. Many others leave their child to their parents, in-laws, or a helper to care for. Thus, it’s tough to expect them to do BLW, because we will also be concerned for our child’s safety, and the caregivers may not be comfortable with the idea of BLW.

I was lucky enough to be able to watch my daughter personally. Hence, I had the time to do BLW with her. I was also lucky to have supportive in-laws and parents, who loved and embraced the idea of BLW and fed her BLW-style whenever my daughter was with them :”)

How you could counter this: do BLW whenever you can! There are so many meals a day, and there are also weekends where you might be freer to prepare the foods and watch your child. 1-2 BLW meals a week is better than nothing at all!

Traveling around with a BLW baby

In the early months of feeding solids, I was quite particular about the foods that I feed my daughter. I was not comfortable with feeding outside food, and that meant more preparation for me. I had to think about the BLW accessories to bring along with me, so I do not create too much mess outside. I also had to think about what kind of finger foods would create minimal mess.

How I countered this: Writing a list and pasting it on my refrigerator, and preparing “less-mess” foods

To counter the mess, I brought a BIBADO bib (it catches everything!) and “less-mess” foods such as omelet, prawns, and long beans. On a side note, please never bring broccoli out, it’s so so so messy!!

This leads to my next point – messy feeding and food waste.

Messy feeding and food waste

BLW. Is. Just. So. Messy.

I can not forget the number of times I resisted wiping my daughter’s face, or cleaning up while she’s eating. In fact, one should never constantly wipe our child’s face, hands, or wherever while they’re eating because that could interfere with the learning process of eating, and make them feel self-conscious or pressured to be ‘clean’. 

By allowing them to explore food on their own, they learn important motor skills, and develop their hand-eye coordination. This also creates a positive association and food and that helps establish healthy eating habits for life.

As long as your child is safe while eating, there is no need for us to interfere.

How I countered this: changing my mindset of eating, and using the BIBADO bib.

Eating can be playing or exploring for them in the beginning. By reminding myself repeatedly that they NEED to get messy to learn, I stop having the urge to clean up. Also, using the BIBADO bib saved me time and effort to clean because it simply cleans up everything!

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Hitting Milestones

Reaping Benefits
Promotes self-regulation

In BLW, your child is essentially experimenting with foods and feeding themselves, at their own pace. This can help them develop a sense of satiety and empower them to regulate their hunger themselves. This can help prevent overeating and obesity later in life. 

By letting them take charge of eating, it reduces mealtime stress as you do not feel like you have to constantly pressure your child to eat. This also promotes a positive association with food too!

Now that she is 2.5 years old, I have great days where she asks for MORE food and days where she just eats 1 mouth, and stops. In these two extreme situations, I do not pressure her to stop eating but instead, remind her that she can always stop when she’s full. I also do not pressure her to eat more, but instead, remind her there will be no more food later (if it’s dinner now) and if she wants, she has to eat now. Then, it’s all up to her.

Baby-led weaning
Willingness to try new foods

By offering a variety of foods, BLW can help babies develop a preference for healthy foods (I do see my daughter picking healthy foods like fruits and vegetables when we do grocery shopping together. In fact, she obsesses over them and INSISTS on buying, haha!).

Also, as toddlers grow older, they have preferences for certain foods. I talked about an example to show the importance of exposing a variety of food to our child. At 2.5 years old, my daughter has preferences and I am thankful I exposed her to many foods because despite having preferences, she is still willing to try and eat many new foods. I also strongly believe in constant exposure and offering of new foods. Even if your child rejects a certain food once or twice, keep giving! You will never know. One day, they may try and start falling in love with it!

Cost-effective

By portioning out family meals, before adding “adult” seasoning, we only needed to cook a meal instead of cooking separately for the child. 

Encourages togetherness and social interactions

BLW encourages babies to participate in family meals from a young age, this can help foster social interaction and promote positive family dynamics.

Enhances fine motor skills

Using fingers to grasp and bring food to their mouths, children develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination through eating.

At 9 months old, my daughter started to gently pick up blueberries with her pincer grasp, and not squashing it before it reached her mouth. She also started using utensils at 1 year old, and as time passes, she becomes much better at it. Also, I introduced an open cup to her at 6 months old and she has gotten pretty good with it now.

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Take That Leap of Faith

Concluding Thoughts

BLW or not, it is important for you to gauge if this is the feeding method that suits your family lifestyle and individual circumstances. There are many benefits to feeding a child BLW way, but it is also up to you as a parent to determine what is the best for your baby.

This article is merely my two-cents worth and my personal experience. It could possibly defer for yours, and results will be different too.

Here, I am giving you all the faith and courage you need to just START!! Hopefully, you can find the perseverance to keep going because whatever it is, I am sure you are doing the best for your baby. All the best!

Disclaimer: Nuevamae is not sponsored by any of the mentioned brands or platforms. This article expresses our honest opinion based on our experience and research. Read more about our mission. This article includes affiliate links so we may earn a commission (at no additional cost to you) if you make a purchase via the link.

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