A lot of people have been curious about how we have decided to go about introducing solid foods to Warren. I thought it would be a good idea for me to write a blog post so that I can explain what we are doing, and hopefully help more parents learn about baby-led weaning.
Baby-led weaning is all about letting your child be the leader in introducing solid foods. Food becomes a form of play and experimentation. You watch for certain cues that let you know that your child is ready to explore solids. The baby-led weaning method recommends starting solids around 6 months of age, but if your child shows readiness to start exploring foods before 6 months, go for it. Every baby is different. You need to make sure that you watch for true signs of readiness.
False signs of readiness:
waking at night
weight gain slowing slightly
watching parent’s eat
making lip-smacking noises
not going straight to sleep after milk feedings
True signs of readiness:
baby can sit up with little to no support
baby can reach out and grab things and take them to his/her mouth quickly and accurately
baby is gnawing on toys and making chewing movements
baby starts to put food into his/her mouth himself/herself
Warren started to show true signs of readiness around 4 months of age. Pediatricians don’t recommend starting solid foods before 6 months of age, but with baby-led weaning you are not making the switch from breastfeeding/formula feeding to solid food, you are simply letting your baby explore different tastes, textures, and sensations. You give your child the chance to learn that food is good and that food can satisfy their hunger. It takes awhile before your baby will ingest any food.
Since Warren started to show true signs of readiness relatively early, we let him have small pieces of whatever we were eating to “chew” on around 4 and 1/2 months of age. He didn’t actually “eat” anything until a few days ago. I am still exclusively breastfeeding Warren, but I am giving him the opportunity to explore food at his own pace. When he gets closer to the 6 month mark, we will start offering foods more frequently. Right now I offer Warren anything that I am eating, except for foods that aren’t recommended for babies. I let him grab the food himself and put it in his mouth if he wants to. I never force Warren to put anything in his mouth.
Foods to avoid:
whole nuts or other foods that are choking hazards
foods with additives or artificial sweeteners
raw bran and bran products
peanut butter and other products containing nuts
tuna (high in mercury)
Your baby can have anything that you are eating, other than the foods that are unsuitable for your baby (see list above). Make sure to offer a balanced selection of foods and give your child the chance to choose what they want to eat. If you are concerned about any foods in particular, or if you have a history of food allergies in your family, introduce these foods slowly and monitor how your child reacts. Most babies who do baby-led weaning will avoid foods that later on in life they end up being allergic to.
Foods that Warren has tried:
Carrots (raw and cooked slightly)
It is very important that you let your child explore foods on their own. Breastfeeding provides all of the nutrients that your baby needs. Your baby does not need any other food to get the essentials that help them grow, until they are closer to the one year mark. Food should be used as a compliment to breastfeeding, it should not replace it. If you go about introducing solids with the mindset that your baby is already getting all of the nutrition that they need from breast milk (assuming you are breastfeeding exclusively, formula-fed babies will be different), you will not look at food the same way.
Mealtimes will not become a battle because you won’t be trying to force your child to eat something that they don’t want or need. Parent’s who do baby-led weaning tend to feel more relaxed about the feeding process because they have the reassurance that breast milk will provide the essentials. Use food for learning and exploration, not for providing nutrition. As your baby grows, food will slowly become more of an important part of your baby’s diet. Your baby will transition from exclusively breastfeeding, to exploring foods while exclusively breastfeeding, to actually eating foods while continuing breastfeeding, to finally weaning off of breastfeeding and using foods as the single source of nourishment. The key is to let your child make the transition when they are ready.
Another concern that many people have confronted me about is their fear of choking. Almost every single person who asks me about baby-led weaning says to me, “but what if your/my baby chokes,” or “won’t your/my baby choke?” Much to everyone’s surprise, babies who do baby-led weaning are actually less likely to “choke” on food or have issues with choking in the future. These babies become more confident eaters who know how to handle their food in a safe way. They learn that if they put too much food in their mouth, it will make them feel uncomfortable and they will need to cough or gag to get it out.
Gagging and choking are related, but they are two different things. Here are some excerpts from the book “Baby-Led Weaning” by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett:
“BLW doesn’t make choking any more likely than spoon-feeding – and may even make it less likely.”
“Often worries about choking are based on seeing babies gagging on food and confusing this with choking: these two mechanisms are related, but they are not the same thing. Gagging is a retching movement that pushes food away from the airway if it is too big to be swallowed. The gag reflex may well be a key part of babies’ learning how to manage food safely. When a baby has triggered this reflex a few times, by putting too much food into his mouth or pushing it too far back, he learns not to do it. He will simply outgrow the tendency to gag.”
“Being allowed to explore food before it goes into their mouth teaches babies important lessons about what’s chewable and what isn’t. The relationship between what we feel with one part of our body and what we sense with another is something that can only be learned through experience. So, for a baby, feeling a piece of food in his hand and then putting it in his mouth helps him to judge how easy different sized pieces of food are to chew and to move around with his tongue. This may be an important safety feature, preventing him later from putting pieces which are too big to be chewed into his mouth. Learning from the beginning how to deal with foods with different textures may also make babies less likely to choke.”
You can purchase this book on Amazon. I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to try baby-led weaning. The book really breaks down everything and explains the method in an easily understandable manner.
When preparing foods for your baby with baby-led weaning, you want to focus on making the foods easy for baby to grab and put into their mouth. You want to avoid foods that baby can choke on, such as whole nuts. A good idea is to cut any food that you are eating into “finger-like” shapes so that baby can grab them and still have some food available to put in their mouth. Never force the baby to put anything into their mouth or eat anything that they do not want to eat. You want them to develop a healthy relationship with food.
Babies who are introduced to solids through baby-led weaning tend to have fewer issues with choking, be less picky eaters, be more adventurous with foods, and do not usually have fears associated with foods.