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.
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:
- Sweet potatoes
- Steamed carrots
- Steamed green beans
- Boiled chicken and beef
- Whole wheat pasta
- Grilled fish
- Pasteurized cheese
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.