What if you could skip one stage of weaning your baby, hence giving yourself more mummy me-time? Or perhaps extra time to bond with your darling? In addition, doing this could help your little one develop motor skills, eye-hand coordination, as well as the pincer grip. Sounds like a dream? It’s not. This movement, called baby-led weaning (“BLW” for short) is gaining popularity in Singapore. Currently, there are more than 19,000 members in a Baby Led Weaning Singapore Facebook Group.
With BLW, your baby starts eating solids when weaning, skipping the puree stage entirely. Your baby sits at the same table with the family to eat the same (whole) foods. The only difference? No salt in their food, and the food has a (softer) baby-appropriate texture. In comparison, traditional weaning is spoon feeding baby with purees, increasing food texture to small solids as your baby progresses.
Early childhood educator Clarissa Ng did BLW with her son Elwen Chia, 24 months. “His pincer grip matured early and he eats well with utensils,” the Centre Manager of LeClare Preschool says. She tells us more about BLW, and how you can do it with your baby.
Starting the journey
“My sister-in law sent me an invite to a BLW Facebook group. I watched the videos and loved how engaged and happy all the babies were with their foods. I was so excited to start Elwen on BLW!
We started BLW when Elwen was six months and two weeks old. His first food was broccoli. Elwen was able to sit for one and a half hours with his food. When we were done, he wasn’t. We had to wait for him, and if we cleared his food, he would get upset!
BLW allows us to eat at the same table as Elwen. We don’t have to feed him. His noodles and most of his food do not need to be cut up as he prefers them whole. We can give him a good size corn cob or the whole drumstick, and he will munch it himself with no help.
Baby-led weaning empowers the baby to take the led to be in control of the process of their meals. There is so much respect in letting go, trusting the child and empowering the child with a sensorial experience in looking at whole foods, touching the food, tasting it at their own pace, and having them decide how much they would like to have.
As an early childhood educator who is passionate about educating or raising a child in the most natural manner during early childhood, I believe that a big portion of it should be child-led.
Learning from the BLW community in SG and overseas
I’m in multiple BLW groups, one of which is based in Singapore. We talk about recipes and how to prepare the food. For beginners, it should be finger length strips to assist the pincer grip of the babies. As they become more proficient, the strips can be smaller.
Within these groups we also talk about the types of bowls, plates, cutlery, cups, and even the types of high chair to use and where to get them. We always share excitedly (with photos too!) when we spot the cutlery in NTUC or at Daiso!
There are also times when we share our worries about our babies not eating enough, and disapproval from loved ones who may not agree with BLW. Usually the administrators (whom I think are mums or are health experts) will moderate and correct wrong advice. I learnt a lot!
I took my mum’s phone to join the BLW groups on Facebook so she had already watched babies doing BLW for a few months before Elwen started. My mum responded amazingly. She took the lead for BLW when I was not around, and shared about it with my dad. My dad however still feels weird about it.
How to start
The most important thing is that the child has to be able to sit up on the chair so that the child will not choke. This is the same for traditional weaning.
I was conservative about the way foods are introduced, so we started with the typical first foods – pumpkin, potato, peas, long beans, capsicum. There is no history of food allergies in our family but as we were testing new foods, we found out that he has milk and egg allergies. So we concocted creative ways to make foods for him. For calcium and other vitamins, we give him tofu, spinach, and different varieties of nuts.
Modifying meals for Baby
For beginners, it should be finger-length strips — to help babies with the pincer grip. I bought a crinkler cutter to create more friction so the food is less slippery. I’ve also baked the food so it’s firm enough to be held but still soft enough to be gummed down.
I was a lousy cook and making food easy for my baby to grasp in the beginning stages was a challenge. There’s no need to steam the food so long that it is too brittle for baby to grasp, yet it should be soft enough for the gum to break it down. Also, it takes continual patience to understand the ever-evolving taste buds of the baby! His favourite food can become his least favourite, and after some time, became palatable to him again. It is important to offer a variety of foods!
Advice for parents who are thinking of doing BLW with their Baby
• Go for it! Sign up for infant first aid course. My husband and I signed up for both infant and Child First aid together at less than $160 each (depending on the provider). I’ve regularly certified myself as an educator for the past 10 years at St John’s and Red Cross, which you can use the SkillsFuture Credit for it as well. I believe there are other providers which tailor their courses to mums.
• Secretly join BLW groups for the grandparents! There is lots to learn and prepare yourself for. It looks exciting but it is not for the faint-hearted either. BLW requires the baby to manipulate the food in their mouth instead of only swallowing for the puree. In the process, as they are gumming down the whole foods, they might gag, and it looks very worrying. But the belief of BLW is that babies can naturally gag very well to protect themselves from chocking. Once they understand how food should be eaten, they get better!
• Help to pace the food portion as babies can get too excited and end up eating too quickly. We usually video the whole eating process to watch later, so we explore how to improve and assist in the process. Then, there’s the whole mess to clean up too.
Biggest challenges in doing this?
My family members and my helper admitted to feeding him or distracting him with toys at times to assist him to eat faster, as BLW can take a long time. Aligning my own personal beliefs with the caregivers is challenging. I am aware that it can be tiring to wait for my son to finish eating, so I try my best to be respectful when I speak to them.
Strictly speaking, BLW should not be done together with traditional feeding, as this can confuse the child. For working parents, this can be incredibly challenging; we just have to work around what we CAN do!
Clarissa Ng is also the founder of Farmers and Chefs, a BLW-friendly cafe with a children’s menu and the necessary tableware and utensils for babies and children to eat with.