Baby-led weaning has been around for a long time but has recently started to become more popular. I actually did not know about it until a few months after our son was born. It sounded very interesting so I did some reading and research. At first I was hesitant and unsure but as I learned more about it I realized how much sense it made. It’s not for everyone but it’s definitely worth learning about!
To sum it up, baby-led weaning essentially means that you feed your baby what you eat (within reason of course). No purees, no baby cereal, no mush. You let your baby self-feed which allows them to control how much they eat. You also expose your baby to various textures and flavors. When you think about purees and baby cereals they are all mush and the same texture. The flavors are pretty bland too. Compare that to the various textures in the food we eat along with all the different flavors. Also, when you spoon-feed a baby you are often dictating how much they eat. Baby-led weaning allows your baby to choose how much and when they want to eat.
When a baby is spoon-fed purees they learn to swallow first before they learn to chew. With baby-led weaning, the baby learns to “chew” first then swallow. A common fear with baby-led weaning is, how can babies chew with little or no teeth?? The thing is babies have powerful gums and actually can use them to “chew” with. A baby with no teeth can do just as well as a baby with a few teeth. Another common fear (that still gets me now) is the risk of choking. This goes along with any time a child is fed. The best you can do is be trained on what to do in case of choking, know the difference between choking and gagging, and use common sense when giving a baby food.
Even a gagging baby can be scary but it’s important to remember that gagging is a body’s natural way of preventing you from choking. Babies will gag during baby-led weaning, it’s normal. (Even puree-fed babies will gag) What’s not normal is when they are actually choking. Real choking involves the baby not breathing or making any noise and turning blue. For this you need to be trained on what to do. Our son has been doing baby-led weaning for almost 3 months now and he has never choked. He gags occasionally and usually only on new textures. He figures it out rather quickly and does well. Even though we have been doing this for months, that fear of choking is always there. I never leave him unattended with food and I feel confident about what I would do in case of an emergency. It’s important to learn to trust your babies as well!
We didn’t start baby-led weaning until our son was ready. Signs of readiness include sitting up unassisted, showing an interest in food and being able to pick it up, etc. One of the most important things to wait for is for baby to be at least 6 months old. A lot of people introduce purees and cereals before babies are 6 months old but after doing some reading I have found this not to be the best and is actually not recommended anymore. There are several reasons but one of the biggest reasons is because a baby’s digestive system is not fully developed until 6 months. It’s also important to remember that solids before the age of 1 should never replace breast milk or formula. Here is a helpful website that has more information on this: http://kellymom.com/ages/older-infant/delay-solids/
So let’s get to our story. We started baby-led weaning when our son turned 6 months old because he was showing all the signs of readiness by then. The first food we tried was avocado. I just cut it into thick slices. He really enjoyed it even though he hardly actually swallowed any but that’s okay. The main thing is to expose them to the food and let them experiment. His main food source is breast milk so I wasn’t too worried about whether or not he was really eating anything. After a few days with avocado we introduced another veggie and went from there. Some people just start off by giving their baby various different foods but I wanted to be careful in case there was any allergic reactions so we chose to introduce 1 new food at a time. After a while with veggies, we moved on to fruit, and now we are introducing meat as well. We served most foods in wedges or chunks. The pieces should be big enough for baby to grasp and not small enough where they can choke. Veggies and hard fruits should be cooked enough for it to be easily mashed by baby. Meats can be given in large chunks where they can just suck juices off or shredded/ground meat are great options too.
When we first started there were moments when I would be at the edge of my seat and even times when I didn’t want to give him anything in fear of him choking. But as time went on I become much more confident and he became much more experienced. I can say I definitely learned which foods he did better with and typically offered those more often. Our favorites were broccoli, squash, zucchini, corn on the cob, and tomato. Luckily, he is a fan of veggies and much prefers them over fruit. We will see how long that lasts! Eventually you learn what your baby prefers and what you feel confident feeding them. I know many people who do baby-led weaning and basically give their baby whatever they are eating. I tend to be more on the cautious side and will give him what we are eating as long as I feel confident about it. There are obvious things to avoid like honey, nuts, too much sodium, etc. But for the most part babies can have what you are having.
Now that our son is almost 9 months old he has developed his pincer grip and is able to pick up smaller pieces of food. We now can serve him smaller cut up pieces of food as well. We are also giving him more items at a time as oppose to only 1-2 types of food at a time. His current favorites are corn on the cob, pork, yogurt, and tomatoes. We currently offer him something for breakfast and dinner and will soon start offering him something for lunch as well. I try to give him a variety of options each time. For things that require a spoon, like yogurt and applesauce, I pre-load the spoon and hand it to him. He then feeds himself and eventually he will learn to load the spoon himself. It’s pretty cool when your 6 month old can spoon-feed themselves! We currently offer a few ounces of water with his meals although he doesn’t drink too much. He is still getting the majority of his calories and hydration from breast milk so there really is no need for extra water or juice.
Our son truly enjoys eating and trying new things and it’s really exciting to watch him taste new foods. There has only been 1 thing he wasn’t too fond of so far and that was ground turkey/beef. He still ate some but he didn’t care for the texture, I don’t blame him! It’s always neat to find out what their likes and dislikes will be. His allergies have made it tricky at times because he can’t always have what we are eating (I’ll make a separate post about his allergies later). But regardless, you learn to make do. So, I would really recommend people to read and research more about baby-led weaning. There are various websites, books, and support groups to help you during this journey. We are very happy we chose to do it and will continue to do it with any future children. We often get comments when we go out about how well our son eats and how surprised they are that he is eating different foods at his age. It’s all due to baby-led weaning and I’m hoping that by exposing him to all these different textures and flavors and by allowing him to self-feed that he will become a good eater as he gets older. I will have to post about that later and let you guys know! If you have any questions feel free to shoot them this way!