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Breastfeeding Magazine

Natural Baby Led Weaning : Babies Can Eat Real Food

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Get Started with Baby-Led Weaning

Are you wondering how to get started with baby led weaning?  When raising your baby, there are a LOT of questions. One of the most confusing things to decide is when baby is ready to eat solid foods, and how to present them.
While one of the trends has been to add cereal to formula, or to mix breast milk with it and offer a “mush” to get baby ready to eat, a new trend has emerged known as baby led weaning.

Much like determining if you want to nurse or feed baby “on demand” or according to a schedule, deciding if this approach is right for you is a personal decision. If you feel comfortable with your choice, your little one will do well.

What is Baby Led Weaning?

Starting Solid Foods

It is one method of solid food introduction that involves directly starting with solids and by-passing the traditional jars and homemade baby foods. This works by having the parent or care-provider offer the baby soft cooked foods in appropriate sizes with meals. Instead of the parent dictating the amount of food taken in, the baby is allowed to make his or her own food choices.
Parents, of course, must not just give one thing to baby, and you are responsible for nutrition and portion sizes. The parent will still supervise the foods, the eating, and how to eat.

Most parents who elect baby-led weaning don’t spoon feed their children, but allow them to use their fingers.

How Do I Know When My Baby is Ready

Being aware of your baby’s curiosity will give you cues when he is ready to try table food. For most babies, it is around six months of age. If the infant has been exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months, he is much more likely to accept the textures of table food.

Don’t feel the urge to rush your little one. Offer different items and see what he or she likes. Just like adults, every infant will have specific likes and dislikes.

If you are worried about choking, babies who are allowed to feed themselves are actually less likely to choke than those who are spoon fed. The reason for this is that your baby can control what goes in their mouth. Infants cannot move food intentionally until after they know how to chew, and spoon feeding doesn’t permit this. When self-feeding, a baby will naturally gum the food.

What Kinds of Food

Your little one can be offered regular table food that the rest of the family is eating. Include vegetables, fruits and grains. Things with high salt content or processed foods should be avoided (such as fast foods). When offering meat, offer a larger piece so baby can acquire a taste and feel for the texture.

While instinctively parents want to dice food up in small pieces for a young baby, this actually makes it more difficult for the child to eat. The best way to offer foods is in sizes approximately chip sized, or with a natural handle. Infants will grasp food and can’t let go, so smaller pieces will get mashed up in balled fists.

A few rules to keep in mind when trying the baby-led weaning approach:

  • Always keep your little one in the upright position when eating.
  • Don’t walk away and leave your baby unattended while he or she is eating foods.
  • Offer water for your baby from a cup. Some will be interested, but often breastfed babies will get enough from the breast and may ignore or reject a cup.
  • Keep offering foods even if baby at first rejects it. He may like it the next time.
  • Be prepared to clean up a mess. You may want to put a carpet protector down.
  • If breastfeeding, continue to allow your baby to nurse when he wants. The nursing pattern will probably change as solid foods are introduced but does need to indicate complete weaning from the breast.

Benefits of Baby Led Weaning

When a parent decides to let baby eat table food, there are distinct advantages for the mother and the family.

Infant foods – particularly those that meet organic criteria, are expensive and messy. It also requires a dedicated time to feed the baby before the family can eat.

For those who want to make their own baby foods, or who have tried, it is well known that you have to plan far ahead, blend, puree, freeze, thaw and feed. This process is very time consuming and in today’s society not very practical.

Baby led weaning allows the baby to socialize with the family at meal time, while eating the same foods. The only special considerations may be leaving the baby’s vegetables in the water a little longer than the adults so it is softer.

There are many charts that parents can use as a guideline or idea board for what foods are ok to offer baby if they aren’t sure. Each child is different, so go with how well your baby responds.

Keep Breastfeeding!

When making the decision to wean your baby from breast or bottle to table foods, don’t feel like you are completely giving up your nursing or bottle feeding relationship with your baby. You will still be able to cuddle and nurse or feed her; this is just a new and exciting developmental phase.

You Know Best!

Baby led weaning is not for every parent. There are still many who will want the convenience of jarred foods, and that is a perfectly healthy choice as well. You know your baby best, and together you can decide if baby led weaning will work for you and your family.

Related Articles:

Babies can eat real food! Learn how to get started with baby-led weaning.