Baby led weaning! Or, in layman’s terms, “the lazy way to feed your baby.” (Haha!)This is one of the main reasons I chose this approach for introducing solids to both of my children. Is that okay to say? That I’m just a tad lazy? I spent a lot of years in childcare before I ever had children of my own. Sitting there, spoon feeding a baby, when there were a million other things to get done…there had to be another way! Besides my own laziness, I also wanted to raise capable, independent children. This approach also encourages those qualities. Not to mention, it will save you time and money since you will not have to purchase or make your own baby food. Are you interested yet? Let’s get started on how to do baby led weaning with your baby!
What is baby led weaning? Baby led weaning is just that: baby led. It puts feeding time completely in your child’s hands and boy, does it take the pressure off. There is no worrying about how much they eat or what food groups they are getting or when. During the first year of a child’s life, milk is their primary source of nutrition. Solid food can remain a “just for fun” thing alongside their milk intake. Because of this, there is no need to stress if your child at first doesn’t actually get much food in their mouth. And believe me, they will get more than you think those first couple of months.
We waited until just before 6 months old to start introducing any solids. When they were sitting up independently and reaching/grasping for things, looking interested in our food, those were clear signs they were ready. Foods that are great to starts with are naturally soft, mushy foods: bananas, avocados, cooked sweet potato, mango. The key is to cut the food into strips, sometimes with the skin still on part of the food, to allow your baby to easily grasp it and chew on it.
Won’t babies choke if you don’t puree their food???
This is perhaps one of the best things about doing the baby led weaning approach to solids. No. They don’t choke. Here’s why: when a baby eats pureed food, they simply swallow it, just like their milk. No chewing required (thank goodness, since they have no teeth, right?). When a baby starts with soft solid foods, they learn to maneuver food in their mouth “chewing” it, even without teeth, before swallowing it. They learn that what goes in their mouth must be made ready to swallow by working it around their mouth. Gumming their food, along with the digestive properties of their saliva, enables them to eat a lot more than you might think they are capable of with none or only a few teeth. This carries over into putting non edible objects in their mouths. When my babies put something hard in their mouth that isn’t digestible, (something like a piece of plastic or a small bead, or whatever else they might find on the floor) they will just keep it in their mouth, sucking on it, waiting for it to be ready to swallow. Which it won’t be. That doesn’t mean I’m not still vigilant about making sure my little ones don’t put things in their mouths. But it does mean that I don’t panic over it. I’m confident that they will hold it in their mouth, rather than try to swallow it.
One aspect of baby led weaning that you will need to prepare yourself for (especially if you are afraid of them choking) is the gag reflex. This is an important tool your baby uses while learning what to do with the food in their mouth. It is natural and normal and it does NOT mean your baby is choking. Occasionally, a piece of food may make it to the back of their throat before it’s ready to be swallowed. They gag, and it coughs right up. I have been impressed by the forcefulness with which my kids have coughed up a piece of apple or some other food. So if your child starts gagging while eating, STAY CALM. See if they can handle it. If they can’t cough it up, then you should by all means intervene. But you will likely be surprised at how well they will do on their own.
Once they are handling those first foods well, move on to others. We tried broccoli (they really only eat the tops of the florets at first), scrambled eggs, crackers, beans and rice, pasta etc. Eventually, they can eat pretty much whatever is on your own plate. My kids favorites by 8 or 9 months old were chili and spaghetti. They also love strawberries and whole apples. That’s right. Whole apples, with the skin on. I take a bite out of the apple to get them started and then they go to town! It’s adorable and keeps them busy for quite a while. Great for when I’m grocery shopping!
My 10 month old loves using utensils and can spoon feed himself cereal, oatmeal or yogurt. He loves using a small fork (plastic baby fork) to spear other foods too. He might alternate between using his utensil and his hands but we are laying the groundwork for later. There is some mess involved with this approach. But I would imagine that’s always the case when feeding a baby. Just be prepared to wipe up some floors, change some clothes and maybe run an extra bath now and then. It’s all been worth it to me. I have two great eaters and I would recommend this approach to anyone.
You may have questions or be wondering about baby cereal, introducing fruits or veggies first, possible allergens. I basically threw the “rule book” out the window. That may sound reckless, but let me explain. That rice cereal, contains no real nutritional value for your baby. It’s mainly meant for practice, to get your baby used to taking food from a spoon that is thicker than the milk they are used to. That seemed a little pointless to me. Or at least something that could be substituted by a banana or other soft food. Introducing your baby to a lot of different foods and textures is really great for their palate and for ensuring no issues with food textures or aversions. As far as allergens go, feel free to move as slowly as you want and watch your baby for any reactions. We have no family history of any allergens and so I was a little less cautious in that area. Both my kids have had peanut butter before age 1 as well as cow’s milk (in cereals or oatmeal, not in place of breastmilk), almond milk, eggs, etc. with no problems.
I’ve never been the type to ask my pediatrician what I should feed my baby or how long I should breastfeed or how long they should be sleeping. If you are, then of course, by all means, ask away! That’s what they are there for. I have just always been independent myself and enjoyed doing things my own way. I’ve been called a control freak, but I don’t know if that’s entirely accurate. I LOVE handing over the control to my babies when it comes to solid foods. It has taken a load off of me and my already full plate…no pun intended ;-). So whichever category you fall into: wanting guidance or wanting independence, this can work for you. Make it your own! Just remember to relax and enjoy the ride. That’s great advice for any aspect of parenting, am I right?? Now, I’m off to take my own advice and apply that to the many messes that await me from leaving my children to their own devices while writing this. Cheers!
***Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion and experience, not intended to be taken as medical advice. I am not a licensed medical professional and have received all of my information from other people’s experience and testimony, as well as my own.***