Advantages of BLW
BLW has many benefits. If your baby is ready and eager (more on readiness signs later), and is at least six months old, he is definitely capable of picking up, holding, chewing and eating solid foods. It may take him a little while to get the hang of it, but he can and will! (For my son, it only took a few weeks to learn how to grasp and eat food more effectively; he quickly learned to use both hands and open his mouth before he brought the food up to it, for example.) Major advantages of BLW* include:
- It’s fun! BLW babies look forward to eating; they enjoy learning about different foods and doing things for themselves. This has been my experience with my son from the very beginning of BLW. He has had a lot of fun exploring; he often moans with pleasure when he likes something or when he eats a favorite food.
- It’s natural. Babies can explore food at their own pace and follow their instincts.
- It’s a learning experience. Babies learn about the appearance, smell, taste and texture of different foods, and how different flavors work together. They also learn how to eat safely; by feeling pieces of food in their hands and then putting them in their mouth, they learn how to chew and move food around with their tongue. They learn to chew first and then swallow, which is actually safer. Furthermore, babies learn more about the world. By handling food, they use their senses, how to pick and hold different foods and about the properties of foods (size, shape, weight and texture).
- It helps babies reach their potential and gain confidence. BLW babies get a lot of practice with hand-eye coordination, dexterity and chewing and swallowing. As babies feed themselves, they gain confidence in their abilities and judgment. They love the independence to explore and feed themselves. From firsthand experience with my son, it is incredible how quickly they hone their skills and learn how to eat efficiently – and with gusto! Being able to feed himself makes my son very happy.
- It teaches babies to trust food. Because babies are allowed to use their instincts to decide what (and what not) to eat, they rarely show any suspicion of food. Knowing they are allowed to decide what to eat is empowering.
- It allows babies to participate in family mealtimes. Babies can eat the same food as the rest of the family (with some minor modifications) and join in the family’s social interaction. Family mealtime is fun and provides ample opportunities to copy mealtime behavior.
- It promotes appetite control, better nutrition and long-term health. Babies are allowed to self-regulate, stopping when they’re full or continuing when they want more. This teaches them to eat according to their appetite, making them less likely to overeat when they are older. Furthermore, anecdotal evidence suggests that BLW babies are less likely to choose unhealthy foods when they are older.
- It allows babies to deal with textures and learn to chew. Given the chance to practice chewing and moving things around in their mouth, babies learn to manage and enjoy different sizes, shapes, textures and flavors more quickly. Chewing effectively is also good for speech and digestion. Being exposed to a range of foods makes mealtimes more interesting and more inclusive of a variety of nutrients.
- It provides the chance to experience real food. Babies are able to experience some of the real pleasures of eating from the beginning! The individual flavors and textures in a meal can really contribute to one’s enjoyment of it.
- It helps babies develop a positive attitude toward food. Problems such as food refusal, pickiness and food phobias are less likely if experiences with food are enjoyable and healthy from the outset. If there is no pressure on babies to eat, mealtimes won’t become a power struggle.
- It is easier for everyone. There is no need to purée foods. During meals, parents are free to eat their own food or just enjoy the experience of watching babies explore. Furthermore, there is no need for games or tricks, and eating out is easier and fun! My son is a great dining companion; at a restaurant, he will eat anything, he enjoys the experience, and we all get to eat our food together.
Disadvantages of BLW
I wouldn’t consider these disadvantages, per se, but here are a few potential “negatives”:
- It’s messy. In the beginning, it was very messy! A lot of food ended up on the floor for at least the first month, much to our dog’s delight. That phase was quite short, however, as my son quickly became a pro at eating. The dog gets a lot less of my son’s food now. ;)
- Others may have concerns. Others may be skeptical or worried about BLW (especially about choking), but once they see it in action, they usually change their mind. ;)
- Some pediatricians are uninformed about / skeptical of BLW and may discourage you from doing it. My pediatrician, for example, expressed concern about BLW; he said it was “wacky” and he was worried about choking. While I considered his opinion, I decided to proceed with BLW because I was well informed and prepared from my reading and research. I felt confident in my choice then, and I feel increasingly assured now, having had tremendous success with BLW so far (months 6-9). I think it is important to remember that pediatricians are not nutritionists, and depending when they were trained, may not be current with the newest and best feeding practices. Although there is a lot of new research available about feeding babies, some pediatricians may not be familiar with it or may be more traditional. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what you feel comfortable with and what you think is best for your baby. My best advice is to inform yourself about the different options and then make an educated decision.
*Summary of Rapley and Murkett, p. 20-28, plus my own experiences
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.