All about Baby-Led Weaning (BLW), Part 1: The Basics

Theo's first food experience - avocado in Hawaii

Theo's first food experience - avocado in Hawaii

What is BLW?

BLW is a gentle, commonsense way to introduce solids. While continuing to breastfeed (or bottle-feed), babies are allowed and encouraged to feed themselves real, whole foods – when they are ready. Babies have the autonomy to experiment and discover food at their own pace, while developing “chewing skills, manual dexterity, and hand-eye coordination” (Rapley & Murkett, xiv). In BLW, babies are encouraged to join the family at mealtime. They discover a wide range of healthy foods and learn important social skills, while choosing what, how much and how quickly to eat. They are free to explore a variety of new tastes and textures without any pressure to eat a certain amount of food or a specific food. It is a wonderful, fun journey!

BLW could also be called baby-led feeding (BLF). This may be a more appropriate moniker, as BLW is about weaning babies onto solids. Even as their diet gradually becomes more varied with complementary solid foods, babies continue to nurse (or receive a bottle) as often as before. Remember: Solids complement milk, and are not meant to replace it. Toward the end of the first year (usually between 9-12 months), babies will gradually increase their solid food intake and decrease their milk intake. By the time they are one year old, the split between milk and solids should be about 50/50. It is a gradual natural process, led by babies’ innate instincts and abilities.

BLW & Breastfeeding

According to Rapley and Murkett (2008), self-feeding is instinctual for babies, whether they are breastfed or bottle-fed. Therefore, breastfeeding is a natural precursor to BLW, as breastfeeding babies feed themselves at the breast, are always in control, and use the muscles of the mouth while breastfeeding in a way that’s similar to chewing. Additionally, the flavor of breast milk varies from feeding to feeding based on the mother’s diet, which familiarizes breastfed babies with a variety of tastes from birth (35-37). For example, if I eat broccoli and chicken, my baby can taste those flavors in my milk. In fact, this early exposure to food tastes often increases babies’ acceptance of (and eagerness to experiment with) foods later on. Note: BLW can work just as well for formula-fed babies, despite not having been exposed to different flavors before starting solids. It may take a bit longer for formula-fed babies to dive in and be as adventurous as breastfed babies, but trust me – it’s totally worth it. 

Works Cited
Rapley, Gill, and Murkett, Tracey. Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater. The Experiment, New York: 2008, 2010.