If you’ve heard of the term ‘baby-led weaning’ and if you’re interested in adopting this approach to wean your little one, we’ve got all the information you’re going to need. Let’s begin with the basics.
What is baby-led weaning?
In baby-led weaning, parents often skip the puree/spoon-feeding stage when their babies are ready to begin eating solids. Instead, the baby is presented with finger foods and encouraged to ‘self-feed’. In simple terms, your baby is in charge of ‘what’ and ‘how much’ she eats. Some of the benefits of baby-led weaning are:
Helps improve dexterity and motor skills
Promotes healthy eating preferences as baby is introduced to a range of different textures & flavours early on
Baby will learn to self-regulate her food intake based on appetite
Babies are less prone to be picky eaters in the long-run
When can you begin baby-led weaning?
As per experts, the best time to introduce solids and begin baby-led weaning is around the 6-month-mark. This is when your baby can typically sit up by itself and hold the head up without any assistance. Babies also begin to show an interest in different foods at this point. This is also the stage when they lose their ‘tongue thrust reflex’ and learn how to accept food and move it to the back of their mouth with their tongues. However, each baby develops differently, and if you’re not sure whether your little one is ready to begin solids, consulting their pediatrician is a great way to move ahead. For more information on when to start introducing solids, you can also read our blog -A Step-by-Step Guide on Introducing Your Baby to Solid Foods
Tips for Success with Baby-led Weaning
If you think that baby-led weaning is the right approach for you and your little one, then here are some important things to keep in mind during the process:
Learn how to distinguish between gagging and choking As a parent, naturally you are worried about the possibility of your little one choking on pieces of food. That’s why it’s important to understand the difference between ‘gagging’ and ‘choking’. Gagging is normal and is simply your baby’s way of learning how to eat. This will most likely happen as you begin the process of introducing new foods and it is fine. If your little one gags while eating, give it a few seconds and remain calm. If a child is gagging, it will typically cough or make a noise as it tries to move the food back to the front of her mouth. If the baby is choking, there will be no coughing noise and the child is unable to breathe. In any case, make sure you never leave your child unattended while they are eating. Be there to supervise the process at all times.
Prepare for messiness Baby-led weaning is a messy process so be prepared for a little food-flinging and general messiness. Stock up on some good-quality Softsens baby organic cotton bibs , Softsensbaby cloth-based wet wipes and an easy-to-clean high chair. Always have your little one sit securely in the high chair at feeding time. Many moms also like to cover the area below the high chair with newspapers or some kind of washable cloth/towel.
Start slowlyand let your baby lead the way While the idea behind baby-led weaning is to give your baby control over their food and to help them develop healthier eating habits, don’t expect them to simply love eating what you offer them right from the start and begin eating a wide range of foods in no time. Go slow with the process. Start by offering them 1-2 foods at a time. Initially, they will spend more time tasting and exploring the foods rather than eating them, so go with the flow.
Introduce a range of textures and flavours that are age-appropriate The key is to help your baby get acquainted with a wide range of foods, as per its age.As your baby grows, they will be able to try different flavours and textures. Keep that in mind during this journey.
Make mealtime a family activity Eat together, if possible. Bring your baby’s highchair to the dining table and sit side by side as you eat together. Watching you eat also helps set a great example for your baby.
Continue breastmilk/formula At this stage, the finger foods aren’t really going to replace your baby’s regular food (breastmilk/formula), but are more of a supplemental food. Your baby is still going to receive a major portion of her nutritional needs from breastmilk or formula at this stage.
Foods offered should be large enough for baby to hold but soft enough to be safe to digest Offer the kinds of foods that are easy for your baby to grip between their fingers but also soft enough that baby can easily digest them. Some great options to begin with are pieces of whole-wheat pasta, avocados, boiled eggs and chicken, bananas, steamed carrots and green beans. Cut the foods in long and thick strips to make them easy to hold. Avoid anything that baby is likely to choke on such as grapes, cherries, nuts, fruits with skin on them.Click here for our age-wise guide on introducing your baby to solids.
Be prepared for setbacks While some babies might take to finger foods with glee, some may reject the process and be more inclined to be spoon-fed or eat mashed, pureed foods. This also happens when baby is teething. Keep your baby’s needs in minds and don’t worry about adjusting this process or reinventing the wheel based on what works for you and your little one.