Baby-Led Weaning: What It Is and Its Benefits
Spoon feeding your baby only for them to naturally spit back out everything you give them can be exhausting. This is especially true when you just performed a full-on musical to convince the baby that the puree is fun and yummy. It’s truly a joyful moment when they gladly take the spoon in their mouth and swallow.
Getting rid of this process altogether as early as six months can give you some peace of mind. Baby-led weaning has been an up-and-coming process for babies to take control of their feeding and learn some valuable things along the way.
You may be thinking, “What? Let my baby feed by him or herself? Impossible.”
It’s not! Let’s talk about why.
What Is Baby-Led Weaning?
Essentially baby-led weaning is a certain way to introduce solids to your baby. Instead of going right for the purees you essentially allow your baby to sit in a highchair and feed themselves. They’ll do this by picking from the small solid foods on the tray In front of them. This is finger food and not a fork and knife as this would be too much for a baby’s motor control.
They also won’t necessarily be chewing the food since they don’t have teeth yet but more gumming the food which is why it’s important to choose what solid food you put down with care.
Baby-Led Weaning Benefits
There are a multitude of benefits from baby-led weaning practices that parents just can't get enough of. The benefits are not only for the parents but for the baby as well since they will be picking up new skills faster.
From the food aspect alone, your baby will learn control of appetite as well as learning to incorporate new food into their diet from an early age.
When a baby is being spoon-fed all the time and bottle-fed, they are completely out of control for how much they are being fed and how often. When babies can pick the food up themselves, they can stop when they are full or keep going when they are hungry. This also has been said to prevent child obesity.
Also, puree only has one texture. So, skipping this can introduce a variety of foods and textures to a baby that will result in them being less picky down the road. We all know that a picky eater can be difficult so this nips that in the bud quickly.
The food itself is not the only benefit. Parents get a benefit out of baby-led weaning as well as the baby themselves when it comes to motor skills. Early on the baby can learn how to use their hands and hand-eye coordination to feed themselves. They will have to learn how to control putting the food and their mouth from an early age and can be developmental for them.
We talked about the frustration because of course no matter how cute our little one is, there are always going to be times that a parent feels like they are exploding on the inside. This happens a lot when it comes to feeding your baby. Baby-led weaning can limit this frustration because it teaches the baby to be self-sufficient.
When Do You Start Baby-Led Weaning?
While the usual age doctors recommend to start introducing solid foods is about six months, there are some other things you can consider as guidelines as well.
- The baby has doubled its birth weight minimally.
- The baby can sit up unsupported as well as they have the strength to hold their head up.
- They show signs of chewing “gumming” food rather than spitting it back out.
- Has a general interest in food. This may look like them wanting to eat what you’re eating.
How Do You Start Baby-Led Weaning?
You may think it’s as simple as putting your baby down in the highchair and laying a bunch of foods out but it is not. While it’s not complicated you will want to follow several steps and guidelines to ensure that you don’t have your baby figuratively or take on more than they can chew.
- Use the Right High Chair
- Start with Single Ingredient Foods
- Continue Breastfeeding
- Use Soft Foods
- Give Them Breaks
Use the Right High Chair
If your baby can hold their head up, now is the time to start introducing the high chair. You will want to adjust the straps and make sure the footrests comfortably support the baby. While they may have developed a little strength, if they are constantly fighting to stay up, they will wear out quickly and become distracted from eating food.
Start with Single Ingredient Foods
You may have been able to pick up any allergies during breastfeeding. Sometimes, an infant can get secondhand allergies by the breastmilk being tainted with a particular food the mother ate. Having said that since the baby will be introduced to new foods, it’s best to start with one ingredient, so you can see if there are any allergy developments. This is easier than the elimination method.
You will want to continue breastfeeding your child as most of the nutrients the baby is getting comes from your breastmilk. When eating single-ingredient foods likely they will lack things like iron or other necessary nutrients your baby will need.
Use Soft Foods
It’s a given that the food should be cut up into lengthier thin pieces so that the baby doesn’t choke. But some parents forget that the solid foods still need to be soft enough that a baby can squeeze them and mush them in their hand. This helps prevent choking and is generally easier for the baby since they will be gumming the food in the first place.
Give Them Breaks
It’s natural for a baby to immediately refuse the idea. They like to refuse most ideas. Instead of forcing them, allow your baby to take breaks from the method and come back to it at a later time. Signs that indicate they are done with baby-led weaning will be turning away from food, throwing it, crying, etc.
Best Baby-Led Weaning Foods
By following the guidelines of keeping it soft and keeping it thin, what are some of the best foods to give a baby to eat? Well, you will want the baby to be able to also pick it up with their hands without it constantly falling apart.
Here are some of the best foods to start this process with.
- Shredded meats – chicken, salmon, etc.
- Steamed broccoli florets or cauliflower
- Baked apple
These all can be easily grabbed because babies usually grab with their palms because they don’t have the skills to use their fingers to pinch hold the food.
Best Baby-Led Weaning Safety Tips
As a parent understanding the fundamental differences between when your baby is choking and when your baby is gagging is incredibly important. This is because gagging is a safe reflex that a baby does not choke. Choking is dangerous and requires you to help immediately.
The difference is gagging will cause watery eyes and some coughing to clear the throat. It’s normal as babies adapt to eating for the first time.
Choking symptoms in a baby consist of no breathing or sounds at all. This is why it’s important to keep a close eye on your baby while they are eating.
You should never leave your baby alone when they are eating. While they are becoming self-sufficient in the feeding department, they still can choke on foods that would require adult help. Eating together can also be a quality time and a good association for your baby when it comes to food.
To avoid both gagging and choking, you will want to make sure the baby is sitting up properly with a supported head and back. This comes from adjusting the straps from the highchair appropriately and making sure the footrests are at the correct height for your baby.
Because gagging is a normal response you will not want to make sudden rushed and panic movements. This will alarm your baby that it is not normal and create a bad association with food. Choking requires a completely different response and you are best equipped if you have taken a first aid class. CPR and patting the back may be required.
Baby-Led Weaning FAQs
As mentioned, while it is not complicated there are a lot of things to consider. There are few more things you might want to know when it comes to letting babies lead themselves in learning how to eat solid foods.
Do they have to sit in a high chair?
It may be tempting to feed your baby while they sit on your lap. It seems harmless but actually, it defeats the purpose of the safe feeding environment that baby-led weaning provides. A baby will become unstable when they sit on your lap and can lead to choking. The other issue is that you can’t see your baby’s face and choking is often soundless.
If it’s tiny does that mean it’s ok to eat?
Just the opposite! You want to avoid foods that can break off into tiny pieces. They should instead be able to be squished in your hand like an avocado. An apple is a great example of a fruit that could be broken into small pieces but not smushes unless it is baked. The food should be finger long instead of tiny pieces.
What if my child struggles to pick up slippery foods?
Sometimes pasta and certain fruits can be slick. To avoid your child getting continually frustrated and have a bad association with the food you can combine your food with another ingredient to make it easier to grab. Almond meal or like or powder substances like flour will provide an extra grip.
How quickly can I introduce foods?
Because you only want to introduce one food at a time to look for allergies, it’s best to space the foods out for 2-5 days to see if there’s a general reaction to the food. The baby may also just indicate that they don’t like certain foods.
Then when one food is accepted you can add in another until the point you are introducing 3 meals a day and some snacks throughout the day as well. If a baby is fussing about a certain food or introducing this method of feeding, give them small breaks and go back to breastfeeding from time to time.
The best way to approach baby-led weaning is to take baby steps and try a slow approach. Diving right in may threaten your baby and cause the same frustration you may have experienced when trying to breastfeed or bottle-feed.
Introducing one food at a time is a very important step to follow along with making sure that the baby is in a distraction-free, safe environment in their highchair with the proper strap and foot adjustments.
You also will want to become very familiar with the signs of gagging and choking so that you know the difference. It can be alarming to a parent to see their baby start to cough and have watery eyes, but if you panic you may scare the baby. This can lead to them not wanting to try the food again because of a bad association. Baby-led weaning however is a great way to introduce solid foods and has many benefits.