What is Baby Led Weaning? [Tips You Need to Know!]
Have you heard about baby led weaning? Within the past couple of years, it has become a very popular method for introducing new foods to your baby. Funny enough, this method is pretty much what it sounds like! It is a method in which the baby takes the lead on what to eat and how to eat it. That’s right, no more schedules and repeated foods for baby. Everything that we thought we knew about feeding baby solids is now becoming a thing of the past!
So, what is baby led weaning? According to mamanatural.com, “baby led weaning is an approach to introducing solid food where the baby is allowed and encouraged to self-feed solid finger foods instead of receiving purees via spoon.” Most professionals and pediatric experts will tell you that your child will typically be ready for solid foods between six and eight months of age. Before you begin feeding your baby solids, be sure to talk to your child’s pediatrician first. They will probably be happy to discuss this new method with you and help you decide what is best!
The Basics of Baby Led Weaning
- Finger Foods are Key: Don’t worry this process is really not that complicated. Baby led weaning means you present your baby with finger foods. You will cut the food into easy to grab shapes (long strips, coin-shaped, crinkle cut) and place them on the high chair tray for your little one to pick up and eat. We will talk about what foods are safe and what ones are not below!
- Benefits: One of the major benefits of baby led weaning is that it helps your baby develop fine-tune motor skills. Not to mention hand-eye coordination, chewing skills, and healthy eating habits since they are in control of how much they eat. It will also benefit the parents because you won’t have to buy or make baby food, saving you time and money!
- “Weaning” is a Little Misleading: This process is about introducing foods to your baby, but these foods they’re trying won’t be their main source of nutrition. They will still need breastmilk or formula until they are about 12 months old.
- Gagging is Common: Gagging is actually your baby’s body reacting as a safety measure, and it shouldn’t be something that scares you. As they are learning, gagging might happen frequently. Knowing the difference between gagging and choking, along with first aid skills, will bring you peace of mind.
When do you start Baby Led Weaning?
When it comes to baby led weaning, it is really important to wait until your baby is ready. As you may have noticed, all children grow and develop at different rates. If you’re talking to one of your friends and their six-month-old baby is beginning to eat solids and your eight-month-old wants nothing to do with it, don’t panic.
Your child will eat solids when they are ready. Your baby will typically begin to show interest in food around six to eight months, but if they aren’t showing signs during that time frame, try not to stress about it.
Signs that Show Readiness
There are signs that your baby will show you when they are ready to begin eating solids. One of the first signs that your baby will show is reaching for food and wanting to put it in their own mouth. Other signs that your baby is ready for solids is if they can sit up on their own and hold their head up, they chew on other things (toys, fingers, ect.), and if they have a good pincer grasp where they use their thumb and pointer finger to pick things up.
If your baby is showing signs that he or she is ready to begin eating solids, get ready to be doing a whole lot more laundry and make sure your camera is ready for some pretty cute pictures. This is a very special bonding time with your baby and when they explore with food, their worlds are opening up that much more.
Starting Out Slowly
When you begin baby led weaning, be sure to start slowly. Make sure your little one is in a safe place such as a high chair, and make sure that it is a fun experience for them. Also, a good time to have your baby eat is during your usual family meals. Mealtime is supposed to be a social and enjoyable experience so try to make this the case for your new little eater as well. As with all kids, make sure you are always watching your little one eat to avoid choking and to keep an eye out for allergic reactions.
If they start throwing the food or getting upset, they are probably done eating. There is no need to push them to continue, remember your baby is in the lead! The feeding sessions will probably last just about 10-15 minutes.
What Foods are Safe to Start Baby Led Weaning With?
Not all foods are safe for your little one to eat. Think of how babies used to be fed: pureed and on a spoon. The foods were boiled down and then blended up so that the baby wouldn’t choke. The same idea still holds true in a sense. You want to provide foods that are soft and easily chewed (or mashed with gums if your baby doesn’t have teeth yet).
It can be scary when starting out to just hand your baby a solid piece of food. First, try mashing it between your thumb and index finger. Foods that you can do this with are great choices to start out with; like bananas and avocados. However, baby led weaning does not only involve easily mashable foods. You are encouraged to let your baby try out foods like celery or a melon slice that they can gnaw on.
Let’s go over a list of foods that are safe for your little one to try out.
Fruits and Vegetables:
- Steamed Broccoli
- Steamed or Roasted Carrot
- Roasted Sweet Potatoes or Regular Potatoes (try homemade crinkle-cut sweet potato fries!)
- Melon Slices
- Soft Cooked Green Beans, Zucchini, Squash, Peas
- Soft Cooked Apples
- Bananas (leaving some of the peel on can help your baby’s grasp)
- Ripe Peaches, Pears, and Plums
- Mango Slices
- Bread (think soft, easily mashed bread, not a loaf of whole-grain nutty bread)
- Slice of Avocado Toast cut into Strips
- Cooked pasta
- Homemade muffins (make sure they are free of added sugar and nuts)
Meat and Protein:
- Soft pieces of chicken or turkey
- Egg yolks
When I say “soft-cooked,” I mean foods that have been cooked until mashable. They should still hold their shape but you want them soft enough that if you put them in a blender, they would easily become pureed. I have always made my kids baby food by boiling, steaming or baking the foods before blending them. If you have made baby food in the past too, just stop after the cooking step; no need to blend anymore. Just make sure that the food is cut into bite-size pieces to avoid choking.
My Family Favorite
One of my kid’s favorite foods was my homemade Sweet Potato Muffin Cookies. I made these muffins into cookie shapes so that they were easier for my baby to grab and made less of a mess. A bonus… everyone in my house loves these “cookies” and there is no added sugar. They are naturally sweet from the sweet potato and the applesauce.
Sweet Potato Muffin Cookies Recipe
What You Need:
- 1 cup flour
- 1 egg
- Pinch of salt
- 1 tbsp. baking powder
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup sugar free applesauce
- 1 cup smashed sweet potato
- ½ cup baby oatmeal
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Dash of cinnamon and all spice optional
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl and then use a small ice cream scoop to scoop dough onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 10-12 minutes and enjoy! Not all sweet potatoes are the same so you may need to adjust the recipe if it is too thin or too thick. Add more oatmeal if it seems too thin and more applesauce if it is too thick. The dough consistency should hold a decent shape when spooned onto the baking sheet.
Feel free to get adventurous with this recipe. I’ve also used pumpkin and overly ripe bananas for this recipe. Flavored baby oatmeal cereal is also great in this recipe and is a great way to use up any baby cereal you have sitting around.
If you are interested in other baby led weaning recipes, check out One Handed Cooks. They have a ton of different food options for your little one to try. They are things you will have to make, but they all sound like amazing foods that even picky toddlers would love (two birds and one stone here)! Another great source of baby led weaning recipes can be found on Abbey’s Kitchen. She breaks down exactly what she likes to put on her baby’s plate (fruit, veggie, protein, etc.) and then shows examples of those options.
What Foods are Not Safe During Baby Led Weaning?
There are a LOT of foods that are not safe for your baby to eat. Some are obvious (steak, pretzel rods) and others are sneaky. Here is a list of foods you want your baby to avoid because they are a CHOKING and health hazard:
- Grape and Cherry Tomatoes
- Chips, Popcorn, and other Processed Junk Foods
- Crunchy and Hard Foods
- Sticky Foods like Nut Butter
- Any food that you cannot easily mash with your fingers.
When choosing foods for your baby to try, think first about their texture. You always want to start your kids off with fresh, nutritious foods and not sugary, salty and processed foods.
What if Baby Led Weaning Doesn’t Work?
If your little one doesn’t take to eating right at six months, wait a couple of weeks or a month and try again. If by eight months of age your little one is still resisting this method, try the old-fashioned form of pureed foods. There is nothing wrong with being spoon-fed if that’s what works for you and your baby. However, keep in mind, there is no rush in getting your little one to eat solids. For the first 12 months, solids are just a supplemental food source. Babies should get most of their nutrients from breastmilk or formula. If at first, you don’t succeed, try and try again. Your little one will eventually get there. Rest assured, they won’t graduate high school drinking formula.
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