Baby-Led Weaning: A Q+A with Annabel Karmel
Breastfeeding moms have lots of questions about weaning—when to wean, how to wean, what foods to start with—so we talked with child nutrition expert Annabel Karmel. Her new book, Baby-Led Weaning Recipe Book, is chock full of scrummy recipes. (Did we mention she’s British?) Whether you’re looking for advice on introducing food for the first time or need some new baby-friendly recipes, Annabel can help.
How is baby-led weaning (BLW) different from traditional weaning?
The idea behind baby-led weaning is that you hand the control over to your baby, letting her feed herself starting when she’s around six months old. It’s letting her explore a variety of foods, tastes and textures for herself. Whether you plan to opt for baby-led weaning exclusively or decide to offer some soft finger foods alongside more traditional purees, there is no right or wrong – all babies are completely different and it’s about what works for them, for you, and for your family.
How do parents know when their baby is ready for BLW?
Lots of babies will take to self-feeding, but every baby is different, so follow their lead. It’s important not to start baby-led weaning before they’re six months old, as they haven’t developed the necessary hand-to-eye coordination yet. Key signs that your baby is ready include:
She can sit up unassisted.
She has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (automatically pushing solids out of her mouth with her tongue).
She has developed sufficient hand-to-eye coordination to pick up food and put it in her mouth.
She is able to chew, even if she has few or no teeth.
What are the benefits of BLW?
Baby-led weaning encourages babies to be more involved in family mealtimes from the very start. This means they will watch and learn at the dinner table—picking up on how different foods are eaten and even observing the art of conversation. Once they’ve masted soft finger foods, they will start to eat what you and your family are eating. Babies learn more than you might think simply from handling food! BLW involves all of the senses, so it helps babies understand the world around them.
How does BLW work with breastfeeding?
Weaning is a gentle process and so it is best not to change your usual milk feeding pattern at first. At this stage, it’s about introducing new tastes and textures rather than foods that contribute nutrients and calories. However, after six months of age, nutrient-rich foods need to make an appearance in your baby’s diet to supplement her regular breast milk.
What foods are best to start BLW?
Soft finger foods are a great place to start—steamed broccoli, baked sweet potato wedges, avocado wedges, and banana slices. It’s also important to include protein sources like eggs (cut in half), small pieces of chicken and salmon. Babies will use their whole hand to pick things up, so cut food into slices or wedges. Once finger foods have been mastered, try mini portions of a family meal—macaroni cheese, roast chicken and veggies, or a mildly-spiced curry are all great options. Just keep a close eye on potential allergens and omit any added salt and sugar. Don’t worry about how much or how little your baby eats at the beginning. The best thing you can do is serve a variety of tastes, textures, and nutritious foods to get them off to a flying start!
What foods should parents avoid?
Until your baby is twelve months old, you’ll want to avoid certain foods. You can find a list of these here. I also get asked about choking all the time and it’s understandable that parents worry about this hazard. However you feed your baby, they shouldn’t be left alone while eating, and they must always be supported in an upright position. I also encourage new parents to become familiar with First Aid procedures.
Avoid these foods that could cause choking:
· Whole grapes
· Whole cherry tomatoes
· Whole or chopped nuts
· Fruits with pits such as cherries
· Bony fish (always check thoroughly for bones first)
Annabel’s top tips :
1) Introduce critical nutrients such as iron and essential fatty acids when your baby is around six months old. Red meat provides the best source of iron for your baby, so try slow cooking strips of beef or give my Salmon, Quinoa and Spinach Balls a try.
2) Be open, be flexible, and go at your baby’s pace. There is no right or wrong way to wean.
3) Prepare for a mess! Baby-led weaning is about offering lots of different foods, flavours, and textures for your baby to explore. And exploration might mean throwing food on the floor, seeing how food feels in her hair, or what sound food makes when thrown against the wall.
4) Invest in a splash mat for under the highchair (a shower curtain will also do the job). Be careful not to clean up your baby until after she has finished, as constant wiping of her clothes or around her mouth can put her off. The mess is all part of her sensory learning experience!