Baby Food

What is Baby-Led Weaning?

Baby-led Weaning

If you have a baby who is nearing the age of starting solids, you’ve probably had conversations with other moms about various approaches to introducing baby’s first foods. While rice cereal and purees may be the go-to options often recommended by pediatricians, more and more moms are choosing to bypass the mush and head straight to finger foods. This approach is called baby-led weaning.

Benefits:

Baby-led weaning, a term coined by British public health nurse Gill Rapley, has become a popular method of introducing solids that allows baby to learn to self-feed, self-regulate and explore different tastes and textures. Supporters of baby-led weaning identify a host of benefits with the practice including:

  • Allowing baby to eat when he is hungry versus spoon feeding 
  • Developing the ability to self-regulate and stop eating when full
  • Exposure to a wide array of tastes and textures which may ultimately lead to a child who is more apt to eat a variety of healthy and different foods
  • Development of hand-eye coordination, the pincer grasp and manual dexterity
  • Possible reduced risk of the development of allergies due to introduction to a variety of foods
  • Reduced risk of being overweight due to the ability to stop when they are full and not overeat
  • Learning to mash and chew which ultimately aids in the digestive process
  • Baby eats what the rest of the family eats. There’s no need to prepare separate purees; just offer baby some of what you are having.
  • Continuing the practice of feeding on demand like with breastfeeding by now allowing baby to choose what and how much he puts in his mouth
  • Teaching baby to enjoy healthy foods.

Is My Baby Ready For BLW?

While some pediatricians give the OK to begin solids as early as 4 months of age, it is not recommended that you start baby-led weaning until your baby is 6 months old. By 6 months of age, baby’s intestines have developed enough to digest solid foods. Your baby should also be able to sit unassisted and grab objects with their hands. And similar to beginning any solids regimen, your baby should have dropped the tongue thrust reflex which causes them to push foreign objects out of their mouth. When in doubt, check with your pediatrician to see if she feels baby-led weaning will be a good option for your child.

What Are Good Foods for BLW?

Any food that is nutritious, can be served in fistful size portions and can be easily mashed with the gums is appropriate for baby-led weaning. Just a few of these include:

  • Banana
  • Avocados
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Steamed carrots 
  • Steamed green beans
  • Boiled chicken and beef
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Eggs
  • Grilled fish
  • Pasteurized cheese
  • Broccoli
  • Cauliflower
  • Pears
  • Peaches 
  • Mangos

How to Get Started:

Getting started with baby-led weaning is easy as you will often be feeding your baby nutritious foods that you already have in your home. Here are some tips for a successful experience:

  • Cut food into thick, fistful length strips that baby can hold on to and eat from the top down
  • Start by offering just one or two foods on baby’s tray
  • Have baby eat at the same time as the rest of your family so that they can mimic your behavior
  • Allow baby to try foods of different tastes and textures. You can even add spices but adding salt and sugar is not necessary or advisable.
  • Encourage baby to explore the food through touch, taste and smell and allow him to have fun with the process
  • Show baby how to guide the food to his mouth but let him be in control of what he chooses to eat
  • If baby seems uninterested in eating the foods offered, stop and try again another day
  • If your baby shows interest in something you are eating and it’s a safe food for his age, offer him a taste
  • Continue to offer breastmilk or formula as often as you did prior to beginning solids. Your baby will eventually begin eating more real food and consuming less milk as he gets older.
  • Make sure baby has on a big, waterproof bib. Baby-led weaning is messy!

Safety and Precautions with BLW:

A common concern when considering baby-led weaning is, ‘Won’t they choke?’ While gagging is not uncommon when introducing solid foods, choking can be avoided by steering clear of hazardous foods such as nuts, apples with skin, popcorn, grapes, cherries and other small round foods and fruits. It is important to know the difference between gagging and choking. Gagging is a natural mechanism that allows food to be moved from the throat forward by coughing and actually prevents baby from choking. Choking, however, is when an object or food becomes lodged in the throat or windpipe rendering the child unable to breathe or speak.

In addition to offering safe food options to your baby, always make sure he is supervised and sitting in an upright position when trying baby-led weaning. Also, always monitor your baby for any allergic reactions following the introduction of new foods. Educating yourself and your baby’s caregivers on safe baby-led weaning will help prevent instances of choking and increase the likelihood of a having positive experience with food for your little one. 

Baby-led weaning offers a different and fun approach to solids for you and baby that may increase the likelihood of raising an adventurous and healthy eater. It can be done exclusively or in unison with offering more traditional first foods like purees and cereals to see which method works best for your baby. As with mosst aspects of parenting, the most important thing is to find what works best for your family and follow that path. As long as your baby is receiving vital nutrients from breastmilk or formula and you have begun the process of introducing solids by 6 to 8 months, you are on the right track. For questions about infant nutrition or for any and all topics related to natural birth, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our Birth Center.

Starting Solids with Baby

Solid baby foods

Last week, we looked at all the great benefits of making your own baby food from cost savings to reducing baby’s exposure to unnecessary additives and sugar. Now, you may be wondering when your baby will be ready to start solids. To learn the signs of readiness, where and how to start, and which foods to steer clear of, continue reading below.

When to Start:

While readiness will vary from one baby to the next, most babies are developmentally ready to begin solids sometime between 4 and 6 months of age. Gone are the days when pediatricians would recommend putting rice cereal in a young infant’s bottle to help them sleep better. We now know that their digestive systems are not mature enough to handle the complexities of different foods until they are a bit older. Also, by 6 months of age baby’s natural supply of iron has started to diminish and may not be met with breastmilk or formula alone. Here are some signs to watch for that may indicate your tot is ready to expand his palate. 

  • Baby has lost the extrusion reflex which is helpful for nursing but causes him to push food out of his mouth instinctively with his tongue.
  • Baby can sit up with support and holds up his head and neck with ease.
  • Baby’s birth weight has doubled.
  • Baby shows interest in what you eat and may grab for it.
  • Baby displays signs of still being hungry after nursing or finishing his bottle.

What to Serve:

Once you’ve determined your baby is ready to give solids a try, you have several options of where to begin. Many parents choose to start with a single-grain, iron-fortified rice or oatmeal cereal made with breastmilk or formula. While this option isn’t terribly nutritive, it is easy to digest and a good introductory food for baby to experience the basics of eating from a spoon. You can also choose to begin with pureed fruits or vegetables. Some of the best produce options for first foods include:

  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Peaches
  • Bananas
  • Prunes
  • Avocados
  • Pears

As your baby gets a bit older, you can move from purees to simply mashing food to allow exposure to different textures. And once your baby starts to develop his pincer grip around 9-11 months, you can begin to introduce small pieces of finger foods such as cheese, bananas, puffs, pasta, eggs, spinach, poultry, meat and beans. It’s best to wait until baby has a few teeth before introducing finger foods although some soft foods like bananas and avocados can be easily mashed with baby’s gums.  

Keep in mind with any new food introduction that it can take up to 12 times of being exposed to the food before baby will decide he likes it. So don’t be discouraged if your baby rejects his first solids meal, just wait a few days and try again. It’s also wise to only introduce one new food at a time in case an allergic reaction should develop and you need to identify the culprit. Waiting 3 days after introducing a new food should be an adequate amount of time to determine if your child has an allergy. For more information on food allergies, check out - Decoding Baby Poop: Everything You Need to Know

What You Will Need:

In addition to whatever food you have decided to serve baby, you will need to have a highchair or other upright and secure seat in which to feed him. You will also need soft-tipped spoons, unbreakable or plastic dishware and a bib to catch the mess that will likely fall. Introduce baby to his first meal when he is in a happy mood and isn’t overtired or starving for milk or formula. Allowing him to nurse briefly before or have a little bottle of formula is a good idea so he will be satiated but not overly full. It’s also best to try a new food in the morning or during the day in case an allergic reaction should occur.

When you first begin solids, you may only serve baby a meal one time per day or even once every few days. At this point, it is really just for baby to begin learning about food and exploring different textures and tastes. Once your little one reaches 8 or 9 months of age, you should be feeding 2-3 meals per day in addition to their regular nursing or bottle schedule. Always let your child determine how much they want to eat and when they are full. They are still receiving a large percentage of their nutrients from nursing or formula and the food they are eating is in addition to that. 

Some Precautions:

In addition to always ensuring baby is supervised and in an upright position when eating, never feed a baby food that may present a choking hazard such as whole grapes, popcorn or hotdogs. Foods that could potentially cause choking should be cut into small pieces until the age of four and popcorn is not recommended until preschool age due to the risk of it getting caught in the windpipe. 

Also, never allow a baby under 1 year of age to have honey or cow’s milk. Honey contains spores of bacteria that may cause botulism which can be deadly to infants. 

A Special Note about Breastfeeding:

Although the digestive system may be developed enough for baby to begin solids at 4 months, it should be noted that the American Academy of Pediatrics, World Health Organization and many other notable authorities on pediatric health recommend that babies are exclusively breastfed until they are 6 months of age. In addition to the multitude of health and emotional benefits breastfeeding offers to babies, extending exclusive breastfeeding to 6 months is associated with greater protection from illness, lower risk for obesity and a digestive system that is more developmentally ready for food. Solids during the first year should always be an accompaniment to your already established nursing relationship, not a replacement. 

Starting solids can be an exciting time for both parents and baby as you enter a new stage of development and baby begins to explore the wonderful world of food. Use this special time to allow baby to experiment with different tastes, textures and simple pleasures like holding the spoon as he learns what he likes and does not like. For questions about infant care or any and all pregnancy and natural birth related topics, contact Health Foundations for a free consultation with a midwife and for a tour of our birth center. We are here to support you during all the stages of motherhood.