If you are approaching the weaning stage with your little one you may be wondering where on earth to start and what foods to introduce first. Many parents turn to spoon feeding their babies with purees but there is another option, baby led weaning. This helpful guide will give you an insight into baby led weaning, what to expect and some helpful tips to get you started.
Baby led weaning basically means letting your little one feed themselves. There’s no pureeing and portioning into ice cube trays, no mashers or food processors, no baby rice or unusual blended fruit and vegetable mixes. You simply provide finger foods that your baby can grasp and feed to themself. This helps your baby learn how to chew before swallowing. It also means that your baby can control how much they eat.
Babies tend to start showing an interest and reaching for food at around 6 months which is the recommended age to start introducing solid foods. At this age, most little ones are developmentally able to feed themselves, can sit unaided and generally take notice of what we are eating. They will have also outgrown the tongue-thrust reflex which instinctively pushes foreigh objects out of the mouth. At 6 months old, your baby’s digestive system will have developed the necessary enzymes to process and absorb solid food.
It may seem a little daunting at first and possibly a bit puzzling as to how your little one can go from guzzling milk to chewing solid foods, but we are sure you will be amazed by their new ability.
It’s best to keep the same breastfeeding or bottle feeding schedule because milk should be the main source of nutrition for the first 12 months of your baby’s life. Solids should really only complement their current feeding schedule, to start with anyway, and introducing solid foods at normal meal times helps them to become part of a social, family activity.
Mealtimes with a baby can be pretty messy affairs! Your baby will learn to explore and play with food as they eat. They often like to squish, drop and fling food. It’s probably a very good idea to have a high chair, one that wipes down easily. Many parents opt for placing finger foods directly onto the high chair tray instead of using bowls and plates. We would also highly recommend a messy/splash mat for the floor. It will help to protect your flooring or carpet from any splashes and spills and make the clean up operation a little easier.
The first foods you introduce should be soft enough that you can squash them easily with your fingers or be easily dissolvable in the mouth. It’s best to stay away from hard and crunchy foods such as raw carrots and apples. Offer foods that can be cut into sticks, your baby will be able to hold them easily in their fist and chew from the top. As your baby develops fine motor skills such as the pincer grip (usually around 9 months old) you can start offering bite sized pieces that they can pick up one at a time. Boiled or steamed carrots, sweet potato and parsnip are often a popular choice.
As your baby becomes used to feeding themself, you can explore a wider variety of foods. You can offer the same foods as the rest of the family are eating if they are suitable. If your child reaches for your banana or your slice of toast, there’s no harm in letting them try it. Just be sure to cut it into a manageable size for them to hold.
It’s great to offer a wide variety of foods, this helps to broaden your little one’s palate and getting them used to different flavours and textures from an early age means they will be less likely to be a picky eater when they grow up.
You should encourage your baby to drink water from a cup from 6 months old. You can offer water with their meals to help them to stay hydrated and get them into a good habit from a young age.
You may have concerns over your baby choking, which is only natural when introducing solid foods; however, as long as you offer safe foods your little one will be able to chew them with their gums easily.
It is important to know the difference between choking and gagging. Gagging is very common in the early stages of weaning. It is the body’s safety reflex that prevents food from entering the very back of the mouth. The gag reflex will lessen as your baby becomes more familiar and accustomed to eating solid foods. If your little one gags it means their body is doing what it should. Try to stay calm and let them do their thing. Choking on the other hand is very different and it’s a good idea to know how to detect it.
Don’t be surprised or worried if your little one doesn’t actually eat very much for the first few months. They will be getting all the nutrition they need from their milk feeds until they are a year old. It is best to follow their lead and let them set the pace. Over time they will get used to eating more and learn to love food. It’s a great opportunity for your baby to become more independent, develop fine motor skills and become an adventurous eater. We did warn you though, it’s definitely a messy business and fantastically entertaining so don’t forget the camera!