Baby-Led Weaning: Can Babies Learn to Eat on Their Own?

If your baby is getting ready to start eating solid foods, there's a feeding method that you'll find very useful. What's more, you'll get to see how your little one interacts with objects and his or her own body. Don't miss the benefits of baby-led weaning!
Baby-Led Weaning: Can Babies Learn to Eat on Their Own?

Last update: 28 July, 2018

The baby-led weaning method – also known as BLW – is a unique approach to your baby’s complementary diet. The method provides detailed instructions to help parents teach their children to eat independently.

Throw the spoon aside and learn more about this technique below. It’ll be sure to surprise you.

Pediatricians recommend that babies start eating solid foods around the age of 6 months. If you imagine the process, you’ll most likely picture mom and dad spoon feeding pureed food to their little one. Perhaps they’re even using tricks like pretending the spoon is an airplane to get the baby to eat.

However, there’s a new school of thought that proposes a more “natural” way to get babies to eat. This method, called BLW, involves giving the child smalls pieces of food rather than spoon-fed purees. It’s then up to the baby to feed him or herself. The baby decides how to eat, how much to eat, and how fast to eat.

Clearly, this method is breaking away from all conventional parameters regarding small babies and food. However, it deserves our attention. Below, we’ll discuss the central aspects of BLW in more detail.

Benefits of the baby-led weaning method

Many specialists claim that the BLW method is highly beneficial to a child’s overall development. Baby-led weaning is about much more than just satisfying a child’s nutritional needs.

Prominent Spanish pediatrician Dr. Carlos Gonzalez affirms that the nutritional needs of babies are actually not pressing. In other words, babies at this age still get the nutrition they need from breastfeeding.

Among the main advantages of the BLW method are the following:

  • BLW stimulates hand-eye coordination: At this age, babies are going through a stage in which these abilities are developing. Exercising these skills during meal time will result in major advances.
  • The child can enjoy the act of eating: Babies will find mealtimes to be an entertaining way to satisfy their appetite. They can eat whatever way they like and choose among the foods you offer them. Furthermore, they themselves decide how fast or slow to eat, and when they’re finished.
  • BLW boosts the development of self-esteem and independence: From a young age, babies develop a sense of self satisfaction that will produce a great number of benefits for their mental health.
  • The method is part of a constant learning process: If you place a sliced banana in front of your baby, he’ll use his hands as a utensil. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, just the opposite is true. It allows babies to discover new textures, colors and flavors – if they in fact decide to try it. This is all part of a child’s discovery of the world around him.
Baby-Led Weaning

How to apply the BLW method with your baby

Before explaining the method, we need to make one thing very clear. A complementary diet based on solids, as its name indicates, should complement the process of breastfeeding.

The combination of both nutritional sources will assure that your child gets the nutrients he or she needs. If anything, your child’s diet may be lacking in iron, but this can be solved with iron supplements.

The BLW method accompanies your child’s first contact with foods. This is a relationship that will last for the rest of your little one’s life. Therefore, letting your baby take the lead will help him enjoy eating, and develop a healthy relationship to food.

To begin, you’ll need to cut your child’s food into pieces. Remember, the foods should be soft because your baby probably doesn’t have any teeth, or know how to chew.

Some excellent options are:

  • Fruits: Bananas, peaches, pears or apples.
  • Vegetables: Carrots, squash, zucchini, or potatoes.
  • Legumes: Mashed lentils, for example.
  • Rice, oats or barley, to which you can add a bit of yogurt.

At the same time, it’s important that you be very patient and don’t give up on the first try. Your child is prone to make a mess as he plays with different foods, spits them out, or knocks them on the floor.

Also, your child may take more time to eat than you would like, or may sometimes refuse to eat altogether. Whatever the case, be patient and don’t give up.

Baby-Led Weaning

Are there risks to the BLW method?

Many parents are skeptical of baby-led weaning because they’re afraid it could be dangerous. More specifically, many parents fear their child could be at risk for choking. However, those parents who dare to try the method will assure you there’s nothing to worry about.

Of course, you need to be careful, no matter what method you use to introduce solid foods. First of all, make sure your child eats sitting up. Your child should be comfortable and sit up straight. At the same time, you should make sure the food pieces aren’t too small.

If your child gags on a food, remember this is a normal part of the learning process. Gagging isn’t the same as choking. 

The gag reflex is a preventative mechanism that keeps foods from entering the airway. Therefore, some gagging can be expected. Over time, gagging will become less and less frequent as your baby gets used to eating.

Compared to other feeding methods, BLW is no more dangerous than any other. In fact, the main causes of choking in babies are due to mistakes committed by the adult that’s doing the feeding. If the baby isn’t sitting up correctly, this also poses a risk.

“First of all, make sure your child eats sitting up. Your child should be comfortable and sit up straight.”

Perhaps the greatest inconvenience regarding BLW is the mess. But don’t worry, every problem has a solution. You can use bibs or a plastic cover-all to protect your child’s clothing. In the summer, your child can eat in diapers.

To conclude, BLW provides a wide range of benefits and is well worth trying. So, what are you waiting for?

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.