Baby-Led Weaning: A Speech and Language Therapist’s Take

Baby-Led Weaning: A Speech and Language Therapist’s Take

Let’s face it, introducing solids is a rollercoaster for parents. You’re bombarded with advice (solicited and otherwise) on purees, spoon-feeding, and the much-discussed ‘baby-led weaning’ (BLW). As a speech-language/feeding therapist I see the world through the lens of communication and development, as well as safe munching and swallowing. BLW can be a fantastic option for many little foodies. But is it right for yours? Let’s take a dive into the messy, hilarious world of toddler feeding.

BLW in a nutshell

Your baby, perched in their highchair, eyes wide with excitement and curiosity reaches out for a platter of food. He/She grabs a fat avocado slice, and curiously explore it with his/her lips, gums and tongue. He/She spits some of it out, mashes bits of it into his/her hair, there was a tiny swallow and the rest is smeared onto the high chair tray. Now he/she grabs a bit of the banana and rinse and repeat as before, except this one he/she keeps in his/her mouth for bit longer and takes a tiny bit more before the rest gets deposited into his/her bib.

This, in a nutshell, is BLW! It’s all about letting your little one take the lead in exploring new foods, textures, and tastes. No spoon-feeding, just pure, messy, self-directed feeding fun.

The pros of letting your little one loose on solids:

  • Motor Skills: BLW is a sensory party for developing motor skills. Picking up that slippery banana or gumming a chewy piece of toast strengthens those tiny hands and mouth muscles. These are the very skills they’ll need for future talking and chewing.
  • Texture Time: BLW exposes your baby to a variety of textures right from the start. Think soft, steamed broccoli florets or smooth, banana half-slices. This sensory exploration helps them develop an understanding of different textures in the world, which can translate to better oral motor skills needed for speech development.
  • Independence: BLW fosters a sense of self-feeding independence. Your toddler learns to control how much he/she eats and the pace of his/her meal. This can lead to better self-regulation later on, not just with food, but in other areas of his/her development too.
  • A wider variety of flavours: BLW encourages exposure to a wider variety of tastes and smells. Let your baby discover the sweetness of roasted sweet potato or the tang of mashed avocado! This early exploration can lead to less picky eating down the road.

There are some valid concerns:

  • Gagging vs. Choking: One of the biggest concerns parents have about BLW is choking. However, gagging is a natural reflex that helps babies learn to move food safely around their mouths. Choking is much rarer, and with proper food selection and supervision, the risk is very low. The con here really is parental anxiety more than anything else and if you can overcome this then a bit of gagging is just fine and part of the process. Choking, again most children do choke occasionally a bit! Of course, close supervision and common sense is very important here.
  • It’s ever so messy!: Be prepared for mashed banana on the highchair tray, rogue peas flung across the room, and a general sense of chaos. But then again, this is an important part of the learning process! I would encourage you to embrace the mess (within reason and your personal tolerance level) and focus on the fun of exploration.
  • Nutritional Concerns: Some parents worry that babies won’t get enough nutrients with BLW. While it might take a while for them to master the art of self-feeding, a healthy child’s body is pretty good at self-regulating. Offer a variety of healthy options, and he/she will eventually get the hang of it.

BLW: Is it right for your Little One?

BLW isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Here are some things to consider:

  • Developmental Milestones: Babies should be able to sit up with good head control and show an interest in food before starting BLW.
  • General good health and absence of food intolerances, allergies, or other significant health issues which might dictatea more controlled feeding regime.
  • Gag Reflex: A strong gag reflex is a good sign. It shows your baby’s natural ability to move food safely around their mouth. If, however, your baby’s gag is overly sensitive and causes frequent bouts of vomiting please consult your health care professional for an assessment (GP, Paediatrician, Dietician, Speech and Language – Feeding Therapist).
  • Your Comfort Level: BLW requires a relaxed and patient approach. If you’re feeling stressed about the mess or potential choking hazards, it might not be the right fit for you.

A final mouthful:

BLW can be a fantastic way to introduce your baby to solids. It promotes exploration, independence, and a love for food. Remember, there’s no pressure to go all-in on BLW. You can always combine it with spoon-feeding or purees to find an approach that works for your family and your child. The most important thing is to create a positive and relaxed mealtime environment where your little one can explore the wonderful world of food at their own pace.

P.S. As an SLT, I always recommend chatting with your health care professional. This way you can address any concerns you might have and ensure your baby is developmentally and physically on track for this exciting new chapter.

Don’t hesitate to contact me!

Sonja McGeachie

Early Intervention Speech and Language Therapist

Feeding and Dysphagia (Swallowing) Specialist The London Speech and Feeding Practice

The London Speech and Feeding Practice

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.