Starting solid foods is an exciting milestone that many moms look forward to.
Baby-led weaning is one way of introducing solids and means you don’t have to deal with messy purees or expensive baby food. Your baby joins the rest of the family at mealtimes from the beginning, and introducing solids to your baby is a fun and easy process!
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning (BLW) is one way of introducing solid foods to your baby. With BLW, you skip purees and rice cereal completely and go straight to giving your baby chunky pieces of finger foods. Your baby self-feeds from the start and is introduced to a variety of tastes and textures from the beginning.
No spoons, no mushy foods, and no cajoling baby to take one more bite using the airplane technique.
Your baby can feed themselves the same foods (or slightly modified) that the rest of the family is already enjoying!
When to Start Baby-Led Weaning and Signs Your Baby is Ready
Most babies are ready to start solids with BLW between six and eight months. Here are some signs that your baby may be ready:
- Is at least six months old
- Can sit upright unassisted for at least a minute
- Shows interest in food when you are eating
- Is able to hold his head up and steady
- No longer has the tongue-thrust reflex
How Do I Start Baby-Led Weaning?
One reason we loved baby-led weaning is because it is so easy. I don’t think feeding a little one can be any easier! Once your baby is showing the proper signs, you can start baby-led weaning.
Here’s how to start baby-led weaning:
- Sit baby upright
Make sure your little one is sitting up in the proper position to avoid choking.
- Let baby eat when everyone else eats
Instead of offering new foods to your baby in an isolated pocket of time, bring him to the table with the rest of the family so he can see everyone else eat. This also makes it handy to feed him from your plate.
- Be prepared for messes
Babies make messes. It’s bound to happen. Even spoon feeding a baby when you are in control of the spoon can produce a mess. Be prepared for your baby to explore her food with her hands and mouth and to make a mess while doing it. Use a large bib and go with the flow.
- Serve soft foods
Take one or two “soft-ish” foods and cut them into fry-like shapes. Start with just a couple pieces so you don’t overwhelm your little one. The food needs to be long and thick enough for your baby to hold half of it in his fist while sticking the other half in his mouth.
- Know that your baby may not each much at first
At first your baby will likely just play with the food, smell it, explore it, and eventually gum it in their mouths. They may even eat some. As time goes on, and self-feeding becomes more regular, your baby will begin to bring the food to their mouths and eat more of it.
- Offer a variety of foods
One of the reasons for baby-led weaning is to offer babies a chance to try different textures and tastes. With that in mind, offer as many different varieties of foods that are safe so your baby can get use to more variety.
- Be patient
As with anything that is brand new to a baby, getting them use to new foods can take a while. Be patient and let your baby take his time getting use to the variety of foods he’s offered. And most of all, make it enjoyable and let him have fun.
What Consistency Should Baby-Led Weaning Foods Be?
“Soft-ish foods” means that your baby will be able to break the food down by gumming it. Their gums are stronger than you think!
A good rule of thumb is if you can squish the food between your thumb and index finger easily, then it is a good consistency.
Pros and Cons of Baby-Led Weaning
BLW has many benefits which is why so many parents choose this route of introducing solids to their baby. There are however, some down sides to it. Below is a list of some of the pros and cons associated with baby-led weaning.
- Baby eats what you eat. No preparing separate baby food, mashing up purees, or buying expensive jarred baby food.
- Baby eats when you eat. Everyone can enjoy mealtime together. Watch your adorable little one chow down on some broccoli while you chow down on yours!
- It’s easy! Just feed your baby a few pieces of food from your meal and let them go to town. No worrying about how many ounces of baby food they need or when they should eat it.
- Exposure to new foods. Your baby gets exposed to a variety of tastes and textures early on, hopefully lessening picky eating down the line.
- It is MESSY! Food gets everywhere, including baby’s legs, face, arms, chair, and head. Food will also get all over the floor. (You might want to get a dog if you don’t already have one!)
- Fear of choking. Many parents worry that their little one will choke with BLW. Note that choking is different than gagging. Gagging is common with BLW, but safe. (Read below in the FAQs for more info on gagging).
- Food waste. Not all food will make it in your baby’s mouth, especially in the beginning. Start with one or two pieces until your baby works up to more. Food will end up on the floor or in their lap.
- Acceptance from others. Daycare providers or grandparents may think this way of feeding is odd and have a hard time doing it.
FAQs About Baby-Led Weaning
- What if my baby doesn’t have any teeth?
Your baby does not need teeth to start BLW. Their gums are really strong. Remember, if you can squish a food between your thumb and index finger, they can squish it with their gums.
- What about choking?
Baby-led weaning choking is probably the main reason some parents steer away from BLW, but choking is different than gagging. Gagging is normal in BLW and can be common as your baby learns to push food that is too big to swallow away from its airway. Gagging is actually a safety mechanism to prevent choking. Know the difference between the two before you get started and always supervise an eating baby.
- What about allergies?
The AAP recently revised their guidelines and now recommends parents introduce foods likely to cause allergies sooner rather than later. The old rule of thumb when introducing purees was to introduce one new food at a time and then wait a few days to see if there was a reaction. You can still introduce allergenic foods one at a time (don’t serve your little one shrimp-smeared peanut butter), but you really don’t need to follow the 3-day rule. Watch for reactions and talk to your child’s pediatrician if you have any concerns.
- HELP! My baby isn’t actually eating anything!
It’s totally okay! Your baby might not eat much at first. Part of learning to eat is exploring the food, and your baby may do that through ways other than taste. Keep serving foods to them and they will eventually start bringing them to their mouth and gumming away.
- Are there any foods I should avoid?
Yes, while the majority of foods will be safe, there are some that you should avoid feeing your baby including:
-Honey/foods with honey
-Foods with too much added salt
-Fish with high levels of mercury
-Foods that pose a choking hazard such as whole nuts and popcorn. (For grapes and cherry tomatoes, I always quartered them.)
-Fruit juices and sugary foods
Overall baby-led weaning is super simple and makes eating with your little one a lot of fun! Gear up for a fun and messy way of introducing solids to your little one!
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