Baby-led weaning has nothing to do with weaning from breastfeeding or from bottle feeding. Instead, it has everything to do with introducing food and, instead of starting with pureed baby food, letting your child feed himself solid foods (BabyLedWeaning.com). Talk with your pediatrician to see whether your child is ready to start solid foods, but most babies are ready for food by 6 months. Signs your baby is ready to be introduced to food are being able to sit up by himself, having lost the tongue thrust reflex and being able to grasp food with his hands and hold onto it.
Getting started is easy and doesn’t require any equipment or food you do not already have in your kitchen. Begin with the fruits and vegetables your family is already eating and make those friendly for the baby. There is also no reason the baby can’t have spaghetti or meatloaf and mashed potatoes if that is what the rest of the family is having.
“I love baby-led weaning, because it makes mealtime so easy,” Patty S., Olathe mom, says. “I don’t dirty additional dishes and I can feed my baby the same thing I feed the rest of the family.”
Baby-led weaning offers many benefits. Away goes the pressure to buy or make pureed food. Baby leads the process and gets to explore what and how much he likes, and parents generally don’t have to take time away from eating their own meal to feed their baby.
To start the adventure, sit Baby down with the rest of the family at mealtime and place a few pieces of food in front of him—a couple is all you need. Make these pieces the size of a chip or a little larger for starters; the smaller pieces come later when Baby develops the pincher grasp. The first foods should be soft and able to be squished between two fingers (see below for ideas of first foods), and repetition is key. Baby may have to encounter a food multiple times before he decides he enjoys eating it. Finally, be prepared for a mess! There is nothing neat about babies’ feeding themselves.
Stepping back and letting your baby guide the way when it comes to food often can be difficult. All babies are different and will eat different textures, as well as different sizes of food. As the parent, you have the responsibility to prepare the food and introduce it in the safest way possible. Never feed the baby by placing the food in his mouth. Instead, guide the baby’s hand to his mouth so he learns to feed himself. Your baby will gag. This is his way of moving the food around in his mouth and experimenting with eating (BabyLedWeaning.com). While gagging is not reason to panic most of the time, being present when your child eats is always a good practice.
If your family has a history of food allergies, give one new food at a time and wait the recommended three to four days before adding the next one. During this time, watch for any allergic reactions, which can include diarrhea, rash or vomiting. If any of these reactions occurs, stop offering that food and call your doctor.
Only you can be the one to determine whether skipping pureed food and starting baby-led weaning is best for your baby and your family. Be prepared for a mess, because this undertaking is a learning process for both the parents and baby. Most importantly, enjoy this new stage of life and embrace the changes for your baby.
Great foods to start with:
- Avocado (Place in a mesh strainer the baby can grip.)
- Sweet potato cut into cubes
- Cheerios (Dissolve on their own in the mouth.)
- Banana (Peel the banana and press down on the top; banana should separate into four spears. Or cut into pieces.)
- Toast cut into strips
- Scrambled eggs (You may want to delay if family has a history of egg allergies.)
Jessica Heine, Olathe, is excited to begin baby-led weaning with her new little one.
As always, please consult your health care provider with any questions or concerns.