One of the biggest “I can’t believe they’re already…” moments in every parent’s life comes when their baby starts weaning. After months of relying on you to provide a boob or a bottle of formula several times a day, your little one suddenly wants to start eating the foods they see you eat — and they want to do it themselves. Welcome to the world of baby-led weaning (BLW).
BLW consists of letting your baby feed themselves finger food right from the get-go, instead of feeding them smooth mash or purées from a spoon. The main difference between the two methods is that with traditional weaning, babies learn to spoon-feed first and chew later, but with BLW, they learn how to chew from the beginning.
“There is no consensus as to what age baby-led weaning should start, but it often coincides with the maturity of the baby’s digestive tract for optimal nutrient and calorie absorption, which is at around six months,” midwife Risa Klein tells SheKnows.
“Our babies tell us when they are ready to wean — if we just listen and are mindful of their cues,” adds Klein. These cues may include your baby reaching for your food, staring intently at you while you are eating, leaning in closer to you as you eat or drink, or refusing the breast when you try to nurse.
When your baby is ready to wean, make sure you’re ready too. These BLW essentials will make the process easier (and a little less messy, too).
First things first: a high-quality high chair. For many parents, this is number one on their baby-led weaning shopping list. It keeps baby in one place and keeps mess to a minimum. Because if there’s one thing that’s a hallmark of baby-led weaning, it’s mess — and there’s not much you can do about that (you are, after all, leaving an infant to their own devices to eat). But a high chair does keep things tidier. However, some infants start BLW on their parents’ laps, and then transition to a high chair later. Basically, aim to be guided by your kid; they might love sitting in the high chair, or they might be more interested in trying food if they’re sitting on your lap and sharing your plate (obviously, wear your oldest pants for this pleasure).
When you’re shopping for a high chair, go for something that’s easy to wipe down and doesn’t have too many crevices or too much padding, which can hide crumbs and harbor germs. A tray with a lip helps to keep food off the floor. An adaptable chair with a removable tray is a good investment as it can be used at the dining table as your baby gets older. Some models, like the Stokke, can even be used up to age 10 or older.
Ashtonbee highchair, $159.99 at Amazon
Did we mention that baby-led weaning is messy? So you don’t want your tot in their Sunday best when they’re feeding themselves with those haphazard baby paws. If you don’t want every item of their clothing to end up stained, invest in a few comfortable, wipe-able, long-sleeved bibs that don’t have any special washing instructions. And always have a spare one to hand. Another option is a bib with a scooped plastic front that’s designed to catch any bites that drop out of little hands. It keeps food off the floor and within reach for a second (or third, or fourth, or fifth) attempt.
Long-sleeved baby bib, $9.98 at Amazon
Protecting your floor won’t encourage your baby to eat their cooked veggies, but it will make the cleanup a lot quicker. If you have a carpeted floor, you’ll definitely want to stick something down before your little one starts launching breadsticks and pasta around the place — unless you’re ok with cleaning the floors after every feeding, Special weaning “splash mats” are available, but cheap, washable table cloths or shower curtains work just as well.
Waterproof splash mat, $20.99 at Amazon
All-in-one placemat & plate
Baby plates have come a long way; today’s designs are cool, quirky and functional. A great weaning item is an all-in-one placemat and plate that suctions to the high chair tray or table (meaning it keeps most of the mess contained and avoids upturned bowls and plates). Some come with reusable bags, perfect for dining out (if you’re brave enough) and travel with baby. And the designs aren’t just for the cute factor; they’re created with portion sizes in mind.
ezpz Mini Mat, $19.99 at Amazon
You should offer your baby a beaker of water as soon as they start eating solid foods. The sippy cup range is vast, but go for one with a free-flowing spout to teach them to sip instead of suck and to protect their developing teeth. Some training cups adapt as your child grows, moving from a straw to a lidded beaker with a spout, to an open-topped cup.
1-2-3 Sip! training cup, $12 at Miniware
Strictly speaking, the only cutlery required for BLW is little fingers. You can also encourage your baby to use chunks of veggies, pasta shapes and breadsticks to scoop up sauces and yogurts. But if you want to get your tot used to handling cutlery, go for short, chunky spoons designed for baby-led weaning. Flexible spoons with soft tips make it easier to scoop up food and won’t hurt your baby’s tender gums.
Olababy training spoons, 2-pack, $14.95 at Amazon
Of course, what’s even more important than a highchair and a cup is patience, perseverance — and a sense of humor when you’re scraping pasta sauce off the kitchen walls again. Enjoy!