BLW - what is it, when to start, what foods to start with and how to prepare them

What is BLW, when and how to start introducing solid foods to infant's diet

Expanding the infant's diet with BLW (Baby-Led Weaning) method. What are the rules, when to start introducing new foods, what to give at the beginning and how to prepare first meals. BLW advantages and disadvantages.

I've heard about the BLW concept for the first time at the birth school. I began to explore the subject when my baby was almost 5 months old and it was time to think about expanding the diet.

What is BLW?

BLW is a method of introducing foods other than breast milk or formula milk into the infant's diet. In contrast to the "traditional" method of feeding the baby with mush on a teaspoon, BLW relies on the child's independence and on serving the food in pieces or in whole. The child eats with his hands, chooses what and how much he wants to eat and controls the food process himself.

When can the baby start?

There are a lots of theories about when to start, but according to latest WHO recommendations solid foods can be introduced to infant around 6 months old. The latest research shows that only at the age of 6 months the digestive system and kidneys are developed enough to introduce new foods.
Some children will be ready to introduce new meals earlier, some later. This is an individual matter, so when thinking about when to start expanding the diet, you need to take into account the development and preferences of your baby. For example, if the baby can grab objects with his hands or put objects in his mouth. According to the recommendations, we do not begin to extend the diet below 4 months of age.
As one of the signals for introducing new meals, the child's interest in the food of the household members is often given. This is a kind of hint, but in my opinion children are usually interested in what their parents do and trying to steal food from mom's or dad's plate does not necessarily mean that the baby is ready for new foods.
The most important thing when starting an adventure with BLW is that the child can sit straight and reasonably stable. I did not wait for the moment, when my daughter could sit at all by herself. Seeing the growing interest in the contents of our plates, I began to expand the diet at a time when my daughter was able to sit steadily on my knees, leaning her back against me.
You do not have to wait until your child grows teeth to start expanding the diet. Baby gums and enzymes contained in the saliva can cope with chewing the majority of meals.

How do the BLW beginnings look in practice?

The first foods that are introduced into the infant's diet are vegetables.
How to give food in the BLW style? Just cook the selected vegetable on steam or in water, and then cut into pieces. Pieces should be of such size or length that will be easy to grasp and hold in the handle. Cutting into bars is a good idea. The pieces can not be too thick, so that the child would not have a problem with swallowing a larger bite. For example: when giving a carrot, I cut it along in half, and then into pieces about 4 cm long. For larger carrots, I cut them first in four parts. This solution also shortens cooking time, if you cut before cooking :-)
We put the child in a high chair or on our laps and serve him a meal. The child takes food to the hand and ... the rest depends on him :-)
The beginnings may look different. It may be that the baby will only play with food and not necessarily put it in the mouth. Do not be put off by this, because with the next meals the amount of food that goes into the mouth and tummy should increase. Unless you are dealing with an extremely stubborn case, which only tolerates feeding with a spoon (and that also can happen).
Initially, it's not about your child to fill up or eat great quantity of food. The first steps in BLW diet extension are aimed at getting to know the food by the infant. With each subsequent meal, the child will work out the fact that the products given to him serve to satisfy hunger.
At the first BLW attempts, it is good to secure the place around the child, because a large part of what we prepare will land on the floor for sure. For this purpose, we can put on the floor, for example, oilcloth or other clean material. That way everything which will fall down can be rinsed with water and gave to baby again.

What to give at the beginning?

Usually vegetables are served as first solid food. You should choose products that are safe as first meals - those that are rarely sensitizing and which, for example, do not cause bloating. It can be pumpkin, carrot or potato.
Can you start with fruits? There are no contraindications to give fruits as the first meal, for example an apple. But on the other hand, if your child first knows the taste of fruit, accepting the taste of vegetables can come more difficult.
I started to introduce fruits about 3-4 weeks after the first vegetable meal.

When do we serve a meal?

An infant will probably not want to experiment with new food when sleepy or irritable. A child will also underestimate your efforts in preparing the meal when he is... hungry. Exactly :-) Little baby does not know yet, that what we put in front of him serves to satisfy hunger.
Therefore, we offer a child a meal if it is:
  • rested and in a good mood,
  • fairly full.
The above applies, of course, to the beginnings with the extension of the diet, until the little ones do not start to realize that the food is for eating and it causes a pleasant experience :-)

BLW safety

The greatest concern among those considering BLW is the risk of child choking with food. Choking is a normal reaction of the organism to an attempt to swallow too much food. The learning of coughing is an inseparable element of learning how to eat - the child learns to remove food from the esophagus and spit it out. Over time, the choking becomes less frequent - the child realizes how big bites of food he can afford to easily chew and swallow. It happened to me several times to have a faster heartbeat at the sight of a large bite that my daughter was trying to eat, but she simply coped with it (she coughed and spat out), without big effort. On the other hand, I often gave my daughter products in smaller pieces to reduce the risk of swallowing too much bite. For example, instead of giving a fresh apple cut in quarters - I cooked apple slices on steam (at the beginning) or I cut the fresh apple into thin slices (later, when there were already some teeth). I did not gave the banana in whole (because the child is quite greedy) - first, I cut it along in four parts.
Allowing the child to independently control the food process, you give him the opportunity to decide how big bite he will take, in which place in the mouth the bite will go, how long will it be chewed and when it will be swallowed. In my opinion, actually feeding with a spoon may cause a greater risk of choking on food - and the publications I have read so far confirm this. Think for yourself - would it be easier for you to eat alone, or being fed by someone, where someone else decides about the size of the portion, the frequency of the next spoon and even how deeply the spoon is inserted into a mouth?
Another thing is that every parent should be familiar with the first aid for babies and children - regardless of whether they feed with BLW method or with a spoon.

What are the BLW rules?

  • Do not leave the child alone, always accompany him while eating.
  • The child should be in a sitting position, do not feed in a lying or half-lying position.
  • Get to know the first aid for the infant in case of choking (although it is best to know first aid in general).
  • Products that the child can easily choke with (such as grapes, raisins, blueberries, olives, nuts, cocktail tomatoes, etc.) should be served in smaller pieces.
  • Always provide something to drink (preferably water).
  • Be patient, do not rush the child, do not get nervous when child does not want to eat, plays with food, is messy or eats slowly.
    (I even prefer, as the child eats slowly, because then I have time for my meal or for still warm tea :-) And this is a big advantage of BLW.)
  • Introduce new products gradually to see if there is any allergic reaction. In this way, it is easier to determine which ingredient caused the reaction. It has been assumed that we are introducing a new ingredient by giving it for 2-3 days while observing the child if there are any allergy symptoms.
  • Avoid (preferably completely eliminate) salt and sugar, at least up to 1 year old (and preferably at least 2 years).
  • It is good when meals are eaten together (the child eats together with the parents). The ideal is when the child is eating the same meal as the parents (we can first prepare the dish in a child-friendly way, put away portion for child and season with salt and spices the rest of the meal).

Why is it worth to expand the diet with BLW?

  • The child gets to know the food - its shapes, colors, textures, consistencies. He can see what he eats, he can learn new flavors by himself, decide what he likes and dislikes. He can check what will happen to the carrot when it is squeezed in the handle or the sound of a potato falling on the floor. Eating in this way is a pleasure for the child, it develops good eating habits and the senses of the child. Not only the taste, but also smell, touch and sight. Besides, it's fun :-)
  • Independence while eating supports the child's development, motor skills and visuo-motor coordination thanks to exercises such as grasping food, keeping food in the handle, transporting food from the handle to the mouth. The child also learns to be independent.
  • The child improves the technique of chewing and biting food, which favors the development of the speech apparatus.
  • When preparing meals for a toddler, we can revise our own diet and eat healthier. BLW is also about the meals being shared (the child eats what parents eat), so cooking the healthy meals for the child means we can also eat healthier (just more seasoned or salted in a separate pot).

Disadvantages of BLW

Mess. As for me, this is the only disadvantage of self-feeding by an infant. In the initial stage of BLW, the mess is inevitable, so you have to prepare for food scattered on the floor, crumpled on the table and chair, dirty clothes. However, it is temporary and every week the mess is getting smaller. I think that with all the advantages of BLW, this disadvantage is not so bad, especially since we can use different types of accessories and tricks to minimize the mess.

Can you still feed with a spoon?

Personally, I do not see any contraindications to sometimes abandon the main rule of BLW and serve food on a teaspoon. I'm not orthodox on this issue :-) Sometimes it's more convenient to feed the child with a spoon, if the prepared food can bring a lot of mess or if the dish is simply easier to eat with a spoon. In addition, I prefer serving warm dinner dishes, and the meal on the table, especially when slowly eating, quickly loses temperature. My daughter likes both feeding methods, and often tries to take a spoon from me and use it herself.

I am very happy with this way of feeding. Maybe it is related to the BLW, maybe not - but so far there has not been a thing that my daughter did not want to eat or try. Well, maybe one time, when she refused the pumpkin soup, but I blame it on the disease. It was enough, however, to add a few pieces of bread to the soup and the baby would eat it with pleasure. I see that eating makes her very happy and she likes to know what she eats. At the moment of writing this post she is still at such stage that sometimes the food put directly into the mouth (whether on a teaspoon or handed) - she must take it out first, touch with fingers and look at it, and eat only after such examination.
I do not have to add what kind of fun it is that the parents' efforts in kitchen are positively perceived by the child. It is really a great joy for the cook.

Have you decided to feed baby with BLW method? What are your initial experiences? You can share them in the comments :-)

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