The term “weaning” describes the time period where there is a progressive reduction milk-feeing to an infant as he/she is gradually introduced to other types of foods (aka “solids”). The aim of the introduction to solids is to lead the infant towards the dietary pattern of an adult within the second year of life.
Weaning should start when breastmilk or formula milk can no longer provide enough nutrients and energy for an infant’s growth and development. The solids offered should therefore contain foods that offer these nutrients and energy needed by the infant. For example, breastmilk contains very little iron, and infants usually use up the store of iron they had from birth by the 4-6month mark. As such, weaning typically begins around that time. A baby naturally also begins to show a lot of curiosity and puts everything into their mouths at that age, so it is a natural clue for parents to begin letting their babies try new foods then. However, breastmilk or formula milk will continue to be the baby’s biggest source of nutrition until he or she is a year old.
Whichever method one chooses when weaning their infant, a few common rules apply:
Watch out for choking
- Always stay with and watch your baby while he or she eats
- Make sure your baby is sitting up when eating. If he or she cannot sit upright without support yet, he or she is not ready for solids.
- Serve foods that aren’t too hard or are choking hazards
- Familiarise yourself with the Heimlich maneuver for infants
Watch out for allergies and develop healthy eating habits
- Start with single-ingredient foods and serve the same foods for 3 days in a row before introducing a different food
- No honey in any food offered to infants below 12months of age to avoid botulism
- No salt as babies’ kidneys are still developing and may not be able to process much
- No sugar to avoid the baby’s taste buds developing a preference for sugar
- Consider different views on common allergy-causing food like strawberries or mango before deciding when you want to introduce them
Finally, we get to the main part of the post – what is the difference between traditional weaning and baby led weaning (BLW), and which is better? My view is that there neither is better or worse per se, but they are quite different. I’ve described all the different aspects in the table below and hope it helps you make up your mind which you prefer to try.
Baby Led Weaning
|What baby eats initially (4-7months)||Pureed foods, porridge, baby rice or oats mixed with milk and/or purees||Pieces of foods which can be picked up easily (eg. fries-shaped or wedge slices)|
|What baby eats later (8-12months)||Pureed foods with thicker/lumper textures, before progressing to adult foods cut into diced portions.||Pieces of foods which require finer motor skills, eg. pincer grasp|
|How baby eats||Adult scoops food with a spoon and puts into baby’s mouth||Baby picks up food by him/herself and places in mouth|
|What baby learns to do with his mouth||Swallow||Bite, chew, manage portions, swallow|
|Likelihood of gagging||Less likely, though initially there may still be some gagging, and some when lumpier textures are introduced||Expect a lot of gagging in the initial weeks as baby figures out how to manage portions|
|Likelihood of choking||Not much, except when introducing lumpier/harder textures later on (and gag reflexes reduces)||Not much, since baby would have figured out how to manage portions through gagging|
|Portion control||The caregiver usually gets to decide how much to feed baby, and usually does not stop feeding until the prepared portion is finished, so traditional weaning provides better portion control by the caregiver.||Baby decides how much to put in the mouth (or throw away!) and how much to swallow, so there is little portion control by the caregiver.|
|Messiness||Mess usually around the mouth of the baby, bib/clothes, chair table due to baby turning his/her head, spitting, waving his/her hands, etc||Mess usually all over baby’s head and hands, bib/clothes, chair table and floor as baby mashes food with hands and touches him/herself, the chair and the table. Baby also tends to drop or throw food on the floor as a sign that he/she is done eating.|
|Food Preparation||Usually, quite some extra time is spent preparing baby’s food besides the food the rest of the family eats. Purees can generally be frozen so keeping a variety of purees in the freezer may take up significant space.||Usually, less extra time is spent preparing baby’s food as baby will be able to take similar foods as the rest of the family; less the sauces if the food is prepared with salt.|
Now you know the differences, you can make up your mind which you prefer or chat with us to understand more about how to do it. Also, bear in mind – sometimes the choice isn’t yours! Some babies may clearly prefer one method over the other. This was something that I experienced. My baby #1 was not very keen on eating so traditional weaning was the best choice for him – BLW would mean he would probably not be eating any solids. Baby #2 was the entire opposite – she displayed great interest in feeding herself, so BLW worked out great for her. In fact, it was quite funny that during mealtimes, I would be spoon-feeding her 3yo brother while she fed her under-1yo self! With Baby #3, I tried BLW with him first, but even after figuring out how to bite, chew and manage the portions in his mouth, it seemed he was always felt like throwing the pieces of food on the floor and asking for more. It was frustrating for me so I decided to try feeding him instead, and he enjoyed eating a lot more! Since he was already used to processing large solid pieces, I could then feed him like I fed my toddler and kid – he ate what we ate, except without the sauces and was spoon-fed instead of self-fed.
Before I end this post, I wanted to add a comment on “mixing” the two methods. This can be your family’s choice but I do feel that at the initial stage of weaning, the baby may get quite confused. They would need some time to figure out that some solids need to be bitten/chewed into portions which can be swallowed, while others can simply be swallowed. As such, traditionally weaned babies should wait till they are more comfortable with lumpier textures of food before pieces of finger-food are introduced to them, and baby led weaned babies should only be introduced to purees/porridge after they are comfortable with always processing any food they are given without gagging.