Why You Should Give Baby-Led Weaning a Try
Baby-led weaning is a simple process that many babies enjoy. Rather than spoon-feeding puréed foods to your little one, soft, easily chewable foods that baby can pick up and put into their mouth by themselves are offered instead. The benefits are many, the rules are few, and with a little caution and a lot of humour, you’ll find baby-led weaning an experience that helps your child become the best eater on the block!
Baby got bite!
No teeth? No problem! It may sound improbable, but babies can gum foods almost as well as most people with teeth can chew! Any nursing mother can attest to the strength of a baby bite! However, you still have to be careful about the types of foods you offer. Ideal bites would include:
Soft, cooked chunks of skinless fruits & vegetables such as pear, apple, carrot, squash, or zucchini. Roast, steam, boil, or cook them however you like (just no deep-fried foods!) and feel free to spice them up!
- Pieces of very ripe avocado, melon, or banana
- Strips of whole-wheat toast with thin layers of nut butter
- Well-cooked pasta
- Boiled and shredded chicken or beef
- Cottage cheese, shredded cheese, or yogurt mixed with soft chunks of fruit
- Cooked egg yolks (egg whites contain allergenic compounds and should be delayed until one year of age)
- Puffed cereals or special baby food puffs (check labels and be wary of added sugars)
Avoid these potential choking hazards
Despite babies’ mighty jaw strength, there are still foods that must be avoided until the baby has the ability to safely chew and swallow hard foods; approximately 12 months.
- crunchy raw fruits and vegetables
- grapes, blueberries, blackberries, cherries, raisins
- nuts and seeds (butters are fine but big gobs can be a choking hazard too)
Choking is a substantial concern so never leave a baby alone with food and keep them sitting upright in their highchair. This may be an ideal time to take an infant CPR class, if you haven’t already.
Baby-led weaning benefits
While there is no right way to teach a baby how to eat solids, there are some advantages to be had by introducing food that baby has a (literal) hand in!
Baby-led weaning is all about cultivating a healthy relationship to food and teaching babies to respect their own comfort and preferences. It allows children to self-regulate how much they eat from their earliest days so they don’t get into the habit of overstuffing themselves or feeling expected to eat whatever we are offering them. Ignoring sensations of fullness in favor of “cleaning their plate” can lead to bad eating habits later in life.
Acceptance of texture
The early introduction to a wide range of textures may help them to develop a more varied palate. Texture plays a big role for picky eaters, especially for children on the autism spectrum and introducing textures early on can help children adjust to unfamiliar sensations more readily as their palate develops.
Development of dexterity
Picking up and eating solid bites of food helps babies develop their fine motor skills and dexterity as well as strengthen their jaw muscles and perfect their ability to chew food well—important for good digestion!
Making a chunky transition!
Observe a few points so the new routine is enjoyable for everyone!
- Introduce new foods cautiously so you can keep an eye out for allergic reactions. The standard rule is one new food every three days.
- Start small. At six months of age your baby is not going to eat a whole piece of toast. They might only manage to gnaw a little bit on one end. Babies who start with puréed foods begin with just a tablespoon a day so one small piece of food is enough to start with method as well. Continue breast or bottle-feeding as normal.
- Don't be disappointed if it takes your baby some time to adjust. Most gag the first time they are given food—even puréed mush! Gagging is instinctive and helps prevent them from choking on all the things they shove in their mouths.
- Don't get discouraged. It can take up twenty exposures for a child to accept a new taste so don’t give up hope even if most of the meal gets spit out.
- Prepare for a MESS. Invest in some bibs and toss an old sheet under the highchair because food will go flying! Get your camera ready and prepare to laugh!
In many cases, you can adapt whatever meal you have made to include your little chomper, making less work for you and setting the scene for a more mindful eating experience where you share and connect. Baby-led weaning can be a valuable tool for cultivating love of food and family-time!