What if I told you the transition to solid foods could happen without ever having to feed your baby puréed foods and would in fact create a foundation for a healthy, adventurous, independent, and mindful eater?! This is for real people and the method is called “Baby-Led Weaning.” I didn’t make it up, someone named Gill Rapley did.
Being a registered dietitian it blows me away that Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) isn’t mainstream yet. It is intuitive, practical, and works brilliantly to raise healthy eaters without a power struggle. It would be a crime not to share BLW with others because it has worked so well for us. For example, Little Miss, who is 20 months, ate a mushroom carrot salad with sesame dressing, brocolli, and shrimp tempura at brunch this weekend. Here’s a quick scoop on why BLW is a solid method (see what I did there ;)) for transitioning your baby to solids.
Baby-Led Weaning in a Nutshell
Instead of following the typical route of your feeding your four to six-month old baby puréed foods, you let them take the lead by offering everyday foods. “A method of adding complementary foods to a baby’s diet of breastmilk or formula. A method of food progression, BLW facilitates the development of age appropriate oral motor control while maintaining eating as a positive, interactive experience. Baby-led weaning allows babies to control their solid food consumption by “self-feeding” from the very beginning of their experiences with food. The term weaning should not be taken to imply giving up formula or breastmilk, but simply the introduction of foods other than formula or breastmilk.” Thanks Wikipedia for summing that up so nicely! Additionally, introducing solids starts at six months or later to ensure the GI tract is ready for digesting food.
Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning
1. Develop Lifelong Healthy Eaters
In BLW you can eliminate “kids food” from your vocabulary. Not to say that you won’t ever have a night where pizza or mac and cheese is on the menu, but when it is the whole family will be eating it. Your little one, starting with their first bite (so exciting!!!), will be eating what you and the rest of the family are eating. When babies are exposed to high quality food from the beginning they don’t develop preferences for processed foods like chicken nuggets, Ritz Crackers, American Cheese, JIF Peanut Butter, white bread, etc. because as far as they know it doesn’t exist. These processed “kids foods” are a HUGE contributor to the childhood obesity crisis and it isn’t hard to understand why. They are massively addictive foods that set off pleasure centers in the brain leaving anyone and everyone craving more. According to Ashley Gearhardt, a researcher who focuses on food addiction at the University of Michigan and helped establish the guidelines for the Yale Food Addiction Scale, children may be even more vulnerable to food addiction than adults because their brains haven’t developed impulse control yet. I digress.
The bottom line is that with BLW you set a precedent from the begininng that everyone in the family eats the same thing. This give you an unbelievable opportunity to expose your child to a variety of whole foods with numerous textures and flavors that will build the foundation for what they prefer and expect in the future. If you are reading this thinking, “Ummm we don’t eat very healthy in our house” and feeling overwhelmed, remind yourself that you are reading this article and are already headed in the right direction! Food habits don’t change overnight and it is never too late to start taking baby steps. In fact, BLW might be the perfect motivation to improve you and your families eating habits and health. For healthy feeding inspiration click here.
2. Foster Adventurous Eating
As I shared in a previous post, “One of the main things we know about taste is that liking is a consequence of familiarity, so the things that our mothers eat, even before we’re born, affect the way we’ll respond to those flavors when we later encounter them because they seem familiar.” NPR’s, In Baby’s ‘First Bite,’ A Chance To Shape A Child’s Taste
- Note: I disagree with the author’s advice on feeding a baby before six months. From my research, their digestive system is not developed enough to properly handle food until six months.
As you begin to include your little one at meal times you will be pleasantly surprised by all the textures and flavors they will try. Think of eating time as a fun sensory adventure where your little one becomes an explorer of every facet of the eating experience: working on the motor skills of bringing food to their mouths; learning how to gum, chew, and manipulate food; smelling food as they cram it onto every inch of their face; tasting the bits that make their way in; feeling the various textures between their chubby little fingers; and making the connection that food makes them feel full and learning about satiety signals. By introducing multiple textures and flavors of food to your baby you will foster adventurous eating and decrease future power struggles.
3. Create Independent Eaters
These little sponges soak up everything you are teaching them. This includes who feeds them and how much they eat. By letting your little ones feed themselves they are not only learning about satiety signals as well as motor and sensory skills as mentioned above, but you are also fostering a healthy relationship with food that does not include power struggles for you or them (no need for airplanes into the mouth or kids at the table after everyone else because they won’t eat their food). It’s simple, you provide the healthy food options and they decide which foods they want to eat and how much (I always give my littles protein and veggies first and fruit and carbs after). Also, don’t be surprised when your little one swiftly masters the art of using utensils and drinking out of cups without lids!
For more tips on getting kids to eat healthy without a power struggle check out this article 😉
4. Support Mindful Eating
I’ve mentioned this point multiple times because it deserves repeating. After all, how many of us can say that we are mindful eaters who eat with our attention focused on truly tasting our food and stopping when we are satisfied (not stuffed) and with the intention of caring for our bodies? By allowing babies to take the responsibly from the beginning for how much they eat, they intuitively know when to stop and develop natural satiety signals for life (note: this is not true for processed foods high in sugar, fat, and salt because they are addictive and a child–just like an adult–will not be able to stop eating like normal).
We have all been taught to clear our plates and not make waste, but when it comes to food it is more important to only eat until you are sated. Tupperware and leftovers are a better way to avoid waste than overstuffing yourself. Similarly, to build good mindful eating habits (and to learn to stop when they are sated not when they are so full their tummy hurts), children should not be overstuffed by someone trying to squeeze in the last bit from the Gerber jar or feel like they need to clean their plate to be a ‘good eater.’ If you have done this in the past or do it now, don’t feel shame about it (I still struggle with a compulsion to clean my own plate!), just do your best to support your kids (and yourself) becoming mindful eaters. BLW makes it easy, trust that your kids will eat when they are hungry and stop when they are not.
5. Save Time & Money
In BLW there is no buying jarred baby food or contraptions to make puréed foods. You are not wasting what little precious time you have puréeing food or making separate “kid meals” later on, you are just making a few more small plates of the same thing everyone else is getting. Easy. It even pays off when you go out to eat. There is no need to find a restaurant that serves “kids food” (which is almost always unhealthy) because they are used to eating a variety of foods.
Ok, now that I’m done preaching at y’all and making BLW out to be the holy grail, I want to make something abundantly clear: Every child and family’s needs are different and BLW may not be right for you or your child, you can still raise a healthy eater going the traditional route. Just consider introducing a variety of textures and flavors and choosing whole foods vs things that come in packages.
To Creating Healthy & Mindful Eaters from the Start! Chris
*Please do not start giving your baby solids without reading about how Baby Led Weaning works by following the links above. It isn’t hard, but there are specific things that need to be in place in order to make it a safe experience!