A Parent’s Guide to Baby-Led Weaning

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While when first introducing your child to solid foods is exciting, it is nerve wracking as well.  It is completely normal to worry about real life threats like food allergies and choking hazards.  So, how do you keep your child safe when it comes to baby-led weaning?  The key thing to remember is that your baby should be leading the way.  It doesn’t always have to be stressful.  You should be able to enjoy this new milestone for your little one.  Not only will your child be able to start enjoying more meals with the family, you can stop spending hundreds of dollars on tiny jars of baby food that are loaded with preservatives and sugars. 

Like most things in life, giving your child solid foods is easier said than done.  While there are many ways to get your child to eat solids like a champ, some parents prefer to use the baby-led weaning method.  While this isn’t a completely new theory, it has come a long way over the years.  So if you’re thinking about using this trick to get your child to learn how to eat, stay tuned!  Here is everything you need to know about baby-led weaning and more importantly, how to have a successful solid food eating experience.

What is baby-led weaning?

Before you can jump into a new method for feeding your baby solids, you first have to understand what exactly it is.  So, what exactly is baby-led weaning?  Baby-led weaning is the process of skipping all of the watered down pureed foods that you may want to feed your child and going right to the hearty stuff.  This means that instead of mashing up those carrots; just feed them to your child.  While this may seem like a dangerous situation, it has been proven to help your child learn to self feed as well as gain some much needed eating confidence. 

One of the biggest misconceptions about baby-led weaning is that you are feeding your child large unmanageable pieces of food.  This is clearly not the case because no responsible parent would ever put their child in that kind of immediate danger.  An important part of baby-fed weaning is making sure that whatever food you are serving to your child is properly prepared and cut up into small manageable pieces.  This way even the most inexperienced of eaters and chomp away safely like a champ.

What are the benefits of baby-led weaning?

If you are still apprehensive about such a straight forward method of feeding your child solids, you should consider all of the benefits.  Here are some things you can expect your child to learn from this method:

  • Eating confidence

One reason why children choke on food is because they are simply eating too much too quickly.  This has a lot to do with the confidence they have in their eating.  Shoving food in their mouth shows inexperience.  Starting them out sooner with larger pieces of food instead of purees allows them to learn how their mouths and body work so that they can better gauge the size of the bites they take

  • More confidence as a parent

Every parent knows that feeling of watching their child eat each and every bite with fear of something getting stuck.  This isn’t a bad thing, every parent does it!  But how much easier would life be if you had confidence in your child’s eating so that you can become a super multi-tasker.  Knowing that your child knows how to handle their food can give you as a parent some great relief and comfort.

  • Helps with dexterity

Your child will be forced to use their fingers and thumbs to grasp onto smaller pieces of food in order to feed themselves.  This not only means that you don’t have to spoon feed them constantly; it means that they are actually doing something good for their mind and body.  Fine motor skills are an important part of learning and growing for any child so giving them a head start will help them learn to grasp onto things like pens and scissors more easily down the road.

  • Learning to self feed

Have you ever dreamed about putting some food on your child’s tray and watching them feed themselves?  Well when you try the baby-led weaning process, you are one step closer to this process.  You may have already been letting your child learn how to self feed without even knowing it.  Have you ever let your child hold their own bottle?  That is self feeding!  This is the just the natural next step, so why not start it sooner?

  • A better taste palette

Picky kids are not born, they are breed.  This doesn’t mean that you are doing a bad job if your child refuses to eat green foods; it just means they might not simply be used to them.  A great way to combat pickiness is to start them on all flavors, as long as they are safe, earlier in life.  That is exactly what baby-led weaning has set out to do.  Also, many times children don’t like food not because of the flavor but because of the texture.  Puree is not the best feeling texture so by giving your child actually pieces of food they may be more likely to enjoy the flavor.

  • Next step utensils

The following step after using their fingers to feed is to use spoons and forks.  This may seem like a pipe dream for some parents but if you are using the baby-led weaning method, you are almost there!  This is because your child is building their important fine motor skills which mean that they will soon be able to grasp easily onto spoons to self feed.

  • Money saver

One of the main reasons why parents love the baby-led weaning method is because it is a real money saver.  You are not wasting money on expensive jars of baby food or wasting time specially preparing the food you cook.  You can simply use any fresh, or ever frozen, fruits and veggies that you already have to make your child a healthy and easy to eat meal.  Best of all, they can eat right alongside the rest of the family which will promote some serious family bonding time.

Is your child ready for baby-fed weaning?

Baby-led weaning does not mean that you have to completely skip the pureed baby foods.  Many parents are encouraged by their doctors to feed their child pureed foods before they can start on solids, so it is important to not only follow your child’s led, but their pediatricians as well.  So, how do you know when your baby is ready to start?  First of all, you should always wait until your child is at least a year old.  This is for the safety.  Children who are given certain foods before they are 12 months of age are much more likely to develop a food allergy.  This is only true, however, for certain foods like fish.  Most fruits and veggies should be safe enough for babies as little as six months to eat.  So no matter what, wait until their birthday!  You also should be sure that your child has some teeth.  This way they can easily chew and swallow food without choking.

You also need to be sure that your child can hold up their own weight.  This means that they are able to not only pull themselves up but can sit up without assistance.  This will them be able to sit up at the table in their highchair while eating.  When they are sitting up on their own it means that there core is strong enough to eat solids.  This can also help them when it comes to digesting solid foods.  This is especially important for little ones who suffer from digestive problems like excessive gas.

A big hint that will let you know your child is ready for baby-led weaning is how they chew their food.  This has a lot to do with this tongue reflexes.  The best way to test your child to see if they are ready for solid foods is to start slow.  Give them smaller pieces of food, or even a food puree and see if their tongue works to push the food out of their mouth.  If they do this, you should wait a little bit longer until they are ready to swallow the food without spitting it out.

A great way to test your child is to pull them up at the table with you.  Watch to see if your child mimics you and your eating habits.  You might seem them do little things like pull their hands up to their mouth as if they are trying to feed themselves.  This means that they are ready to start eating solids and more importantly, they are ready to self feed.  This is in combination of those fine motor skills we were talking about before.  They will grasp and pinch and foods and attempt to bring it to their mouth.  If you notice any of these little signs in your child, get ready!  It is time to bring on the solid foods.

Getting ready for baby-led weaning

After you understand what baby-led weaning is and are sure that your child is ready, it is time to start preparing.  Luckily for you, most of the things you need to start this method you should already have.  Here is everything you need:

  • Foods

Stock up your pantry full of fresh fruits and veggies and even some grains and proteins.  The more you have on hand, the better off you will be.  If your child doesn’t like one thing, you should have something on hand and ready to try out next.

  • High chair

Every parent has a high chair, so this should be a no brainer!  This way you can pull your child up directly to the table without skipping a beat.

Baby-led weaning does not stop at the home.  In order to be successful in this method, you have to make sure you are implementing it wherever you go.  One of the biggest tools you can have is a booster seat that is portable.  This way you can travel to family dinners and holidays with your little one while always having a place to seat them at the table.  The best part about portable booster seats is that they are small enough to keep in your car at all times.

  • Child safe utensils

While your child will start out self feeding with their hands and fingers, you never know when that curiosity will kick it.  Try keeping spoons and forks close to them at all times when they eat to see if they get interested in picking them up.  More than likely they will just bang and play with the spoons at first but then one day you will turn around and see them working hard to bring that spoon up to their mouth.

What foods should you feed your child?

After you have all of your ducks in line to start baby-led weaning, the fun part begins.  Watching your child discover new foods and flavors is exciting to watch.  So it’s time to stock up!  Here are some great starter foods to get your baby moving on this self feeding journey.

  • Soft veggies

A great starter is fresh veggies.  The most important part about giving your child veggies is that they are prepared properly.  One vegetable to start out with is carrots.  Just remember that whatever veggies you choose to go with should be cooked down so that little teeth can chew it easily.  This is especially important for root veggies.  Wash and peel your vegetables thoroughly and then gently steam until fork soft.  This main difference between traditional ways to feed your child and baby-led weaning is the way you cut the food.  Instead of pureeing it, cut it into small manageable pieces that your child can pick up on their own without any trouble.

  • Soft fruits

For something a little sweeter, try soft fruits.  Bananas are a great starter because they are already soft enough to easily chew.  Don’t be afraid to try something a little tropical like mangos.  Just make sure that they are soft and cut into small enough pieces.

  • Whole grains

Grains are not only tasty, they are high in fiber and iron which are great for your little one’s health.  It should be noted that these foods are a little bit messier so be prepared.  A good trick to remember is to slightly overcook the grains so that they are always soft.  Try out some brown rice or even some couscous to start and then work your way up to larger foods like bow tie pasta and ravioli.

  • Protein

Once your child is a little bit older, don’t be afraid to start upping their food game.  Rich proteins are a great next step.  Shred up smaller pieces of chicken into a manageable size.  Try using proteins that you are already preparing that day, as long as it is safe to eat and small enough for your child to handle, you will be just fine.

Tips for baby-led weaning

One of the biggest myths about baby-led weaning is that you should stop feeding your child breast milk or formula.  This is not the case.  It is important to remember that your child still needs all of the nutrients that comes from breast milk until they are at least a year old.  Keep feeding them the same amount of formula you were feeding them before and use baby-led weaning for three meals a day. 

The most important thing to remember when trying the baby-led weaning method is to follow their lead.  Your child will be able to tell you when they are ready, not with works but with actions.  Do not try to force it.  This can put your child in a dangerous situation.  Take it slow, don’t rush the process.  You don’t want to frustrate or overwhelm your little one.  Babies are sensitive so make sure that you are going at their speed.

Always check with their doctor if you have any concerns.  They will be able to advise and guide you when it comes to feeding your child.  They can check your child’s progress by checking their weight.  You should also always consult their doctor if you notice a sign of food allergy in your child.  This might mean that you have cut out certain foods or hold off feeding it to them until they are a year old.

Most importantly, relax.  Don’t overwhelm yourself.  Your child will be able to pick up on your stress.  As long as you are feeding them foods that are healthy and safe and cut into small enough pieces, your child will be fine.  You are doing them a great service and more importantly, you are setting them up for health eating habits for life.  So when your baby is ready for solids, consider using the baby-led weaning method.  Your child may thank you.  Good luck.

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