Is your baby ready for solid food? If so, did you know that you don’t have to spoon feed your baby jarred food or make your own purees? Instead, skip ahead and go straight to finger foods with baby led weaning. This increasingly popular option fosters healthy eating habits by encouraging your baby to take the lead and experiment with different foods on his own terms. Here’s what you need to know about this alternative way to introduce solids.
Skip the Purees, Embrace Finger Foods
It’s a little bit funny that it’s dubbed “Baby Led Weaning” because you aren't completely weaning your baby from breast or bottle, you’re just introducing solids in a way that allows your baby to be in control. Instead of “flying” in a spoon full of pureed baby food, you simply offer your baby finger food versions of age appropriate foods. Literally, you set a plate of food in front of your little one and let them explore the textures and tastes on their own terms. If they eat up, great. If they don’t like something, no big deal. They have the power to decide if they are ready to eat something (and whether they like it) or not. It's that simple.
Is Your Baby Ready for Baby Led Weaning?
Baby led weaning teaches a baby to chew and to move food from the front of their mouth to the back of their throat. It takes a little more work than just swallowing a puree, so here are the recommendations to determine if your baby is ready to get going with this approach to introducing solids…
- Baby is at least 6 months of age or can easily sit up unassisted
- Baby can grasp and hold on to objects and move them from tray to mouth
- Baby has lost the tongue thrust reflex
Great Foods to Get You Started
Obviously, you aren’t just going to grill up a steak and slap it down in front of your baby with baby led weaning. Instead, age appropriate foods should be offered that are soft enough for baby’s gums. Over time, you gradually offer your baby a wider variety of foods, including small pieces of meat or the delicious casserole that the whole family is having for dinner.
Suggestions For Baby's First Foods
Please Note: Most vegetables need to be steamed or baked to soften them before cutting or mashing for your little one. None of these fruits need to be cooked in advance, but steaming hard pears and apples will make it easier for baby to actually eat them.
Won't My Baby Choke?
Coughing and gagging can be expected when introducing food in a more solid form, but both responses are completely natural and normal. We all have an inborn gag reflex to let us know when something either doesn’t taste good to us or is too big to go down our throat. When your baby gags, it is protecting them from choking and teaching them that they need to chew or gum their food more. They learn to take smaller bites and properly move food around their little mouth before swallowing.
With baby led weaning it is very important to watch your baby closely through the process. Just because they are in control of the feeding, doesn't mean you shouldn't be there to assist them and make sure they are safe.
Pros & Cons of Baby Led Weaning
- Baby gets to explore textures and “play” with food.
- Less prep work than making purees and much more affordable than buying jarred baby foods.
- Your baby will learn to manage and eat a variety of textures much earlier than a strictly puree fed baby.
- Less pressure on you, the parent. You learn to trust your baby’s instincts through the process. As long as you are providing nutritious foods, there is no worry over whether or not your baby is getting enough to eat.
- Fear of choking.
- It’s messy! There’s no denying that letting your baby do what they want with a plate of food means a greater mess to clean up.
- Not a lot of research on long term benefits of baby led weaning versus starting with traditional purees.
Ready To Get Started?
Are you starting to think that baby led weaning may be the right choice for your little one’s introduction to solids? Here are some tips & tricks to get you going…
Prepare for the mess!
- Buy a splash mat to put under your baby’s high chair (we love Kushies Baby Splash Mat).
- Invest in a few full coverage bibs (like Kushies Waterproof Bib with Sleeves or Bumkins Waterproof Sleeved Bib).
- Consider baby bowls that suction to their high chair tray (like the Munchkin Stay Put Suction Bowl).
- Plan around bath time. For those first few feedings, or at least when you’re offering mushier, messier options, be aware that you’ll probably want to give them a bath afterwards, so plan accordingly.
Have Fun With It!
- Experiment with spices! Try adding some cinnamon to their apples or some basil to their potatoes. Expose your baby to a variety of flavors and watch their personal tastes come out! Avoid salt, pepper and anything too spicy such as paprika or cayenne pepper.
- Use fun kitchen gadgets that will simplify your baby's food prep like the Boon Hand-Held Fruit and Vegetable Slicer.
- Take lots of photos! How much fun will it be to whip out those messy face pictures when your baby is in high school?