My second baby recently turned six months old, (which went so fast!) so it’s time to begin feeding him solid foods. I haven’t been in too much of a hurry to start because…well, second baby, and I’m also breastfeeding and pumping when I’m at work. So while I love nursing and starting solids is fun, at this point it can feel like a ton of time is devoted to feeding the baby in some way. But nevertheless, the time has come so we have started feeding him food using “baby-led weaning.” We did this with our oldest son also, and it worked out wonderfully.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby led weaning may seem like a new “fad,” but it’s actually been around forever. Before there were jars of baby food manufactured by large companies, moms and dads just fed babies what they were eating. Essentially that is all baby led weaning entails; providing foods to babies who show the signs of readiness, which they feed themselves. Since the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends beginning solids at six months, most babies are developmentally ready around this time.
What I love about baby led weaning is that it’s easy! It allows babies to be independent and involved in family mealtimes, and also uses whole, healthy foods. It’s awesome to watch your baby explore new foods, feed himself, and see that he feels proud and excited from his new experience. And, since I’m not spoon feeding a baby, I’m able to eat and enjoy my meal too!
Is Your Baby Ready?
You first need to make sure your baby is showing the signs of readiness for solids since all babies develop on different timelines.
- Babies should be able to sit unassisted.
- Babies have lost the “tongue thrust” reflex which pushes things out of their mouth.
- Baby is willing to chew and seems to wants to participate in meal times.
- Your baby has a pincer grasp, picking things up with his/her fingers and thumb.
These are all developmental milestone that help babies feed themselves.
Choking vs. Gagging
The biggest concern I have run across when talking about baby led weaning with others is that they are afraid babies will choke on solid foods. It’s critical to remember that gagging is NOT the same as choking. Gagging is a natural and normal reflex that often happens no matter what food babies first start eating. This is because it’s a new experience for the mouth and body. Choking is the blockage of your airway, which can be avoided by ensuring that the foods you are providing are suitable and well-prepared for a baby. Also consider that when a baby is fed pureed or liquefied foods with a spoon, they learn to swallow before they learn to chew. But when they are able to feed themselves food, they learn to chew first, and then swallow, and they are also able to control what goes into their mouth themselves. My oldest never choked on food while learning to eat this way, and so far my baby has not either.
The foods provided should be soft enough to suck on and chew and easy for baby to grasp with their hands. Some good starter foods for this are listed below.
- sweet potatoes that are cut into fry or chip shapes and baked so they are soft
- slices of ripe avocado
- small slices of whole wheat toast
- cooked carrots
Food should be soft enough to smash easily between your fingers. As your baby grows and their pincer grasp develops further, you can cut foods into smaller pieces for them to pick up. You can also start to provide them bites and pieces of what the family is eating! It is so easy and straightforward for you and involves your baby in meal times while letting them be independent. Also, it’s fine to offer small amounts of water from their cup or sips from yours to compliment meal times.
The same safety guidelines apply for starting solids foods with babies. Avoid foods babies can easily choke on (for example, grapes or hot dogs) and foods that are considered potential allergens and/or choking hazards like strawberries and nut products. You can follow the “wait three days in between introducing new foods” guidelines if that makes you comfortable too. However, with this method of feeding whole foods instead of processed foods, I find it less necessary to do this. Of course, your baby should still continue to receive breast milk or formula as their main form of nutrition, and in the same amounts as before starting solids.
Basically, just use your best judgment and talk to your Pediatrician. If you need more guidance, there are several books, websites, and Pinterest pages devoted to baby led weaning. I linked to a few of my favorite websites below.