During my 'research everything possibly related to parenting' phase I went through while pregnant I stumbled upon the idea of Baby Led Weaning. I was immediately attracted to the idea after I started reading all of the potential benefits of Baby Led Weaning. It's still a rather new approach to feeding babies so there's a lack of a lot of research done but in theory Baby Led Weaning is a safe, fun, way to let baby learn how to eat solid foods starting at about six months of age.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
When you hear the word 'weaning' you usually assume it means weaning from the breast. In this use that's not the case at all. Baby Led Weaning is just an approach of letting baby dictate how much he eats, and letting him feed himself. You skip over pureed food completely and go straight into mushy solids. Baby Led Weaning shouldn't begin before the age of 6 months, and some signs your baby might be ready include:
- Able to sit up unassisted
- Loss of the tongue thrust reflex
- Shows an interest in solid food
- Able to grasp and hold onto foods
Is it Safe?
I've spoken with other moms who are terrified at the thought of letting their tiny babies shove giant pieces of potato or banana in their mouths. The fear of choking is very real, and not to be taken lightly. Whenever I'm considering an approach I'm taking to parenting I ask myself, "how were babies doing this 100, 200, 500 years ago?" Obviously there are some new inventions that I'm extremely thankful for and take advantage of (yay, vaccines!) but I also think it's nice to keep things simple.
In terms of eating do babies really need puffs? What are puffs? Do they need bottles of pureed food? Or did our great, great, great grandmothers feed their babies just fine without them? I think Baby Led Weaning is a very natural approach to feeding. I would strongly recommend you watch some videos on what to do when a baby is choking, just in case. Also, remember that gagging is natural and will likely happen a lot. Gagging is how your baby will learn how much food is too much, and what to do when that happens. My baby gags a few times every meal (he takes about 30-45 minutes to eat.) When a baby is choking they will likely make no noise, and look petrified.
[Tweet "Baby Led Weaning: What is it, and is it Really Safe?"]
What are Good Foods to Start With?
For the first few weeks we stuck with introducing one food at a time. The recommendation is to wait 3 days between each new food to make sure your baby doesn't have a reaction, but I only waited 1-2 days. Neither of us have any allergies in our families so I wasn't too worried after we introduced the first few foods.
Some great choices for 6-8 months include:
- sweet potato 'fries' (a sweet potato cut into fry shapes and roasted plain.)
- carrot fries
- broccoli (steamed or roasted)
- peeled apple slices
- red bell peppers
Bananas were ridiculously messy at first. I found this feeder on Amazon and love it. It took about a week of giving it to him before baby really got the hang of it. Once he did, I was able to put all sorts of fruits in there for him to try that were otherwise difficult for him to eat on his own. I use it to give him prunes when he needed a little help getting regular!
First Meal Ideas
After a few months of giving him meals that consisted of a few different single foods I wanted to branch out into making actual meals. This is when I started to get frustrated at the lack of information out there. I finally realized I could search for 'toddler meals' and find loads of great ideas. You want to avoid added salt (babies can only tolerate about 200 mg a day which is a very small amount) and never, ever give honey. There's conflicting info on whether you should introduce highly allergenic foods like peanut butter or egg whites before the age of 1. Personally, he's been eating eggs since 7 months and I will probably put a little peanut butter on his banana soon. Some research has found babies are less likely to develop allergies to these foods if they are introduced to them earlier on.
Since Baby Led Weaning is very, very messy I've found the following meal ideas work very well:
- Muffins: I've found a few great recipes that don't have added sugar. We are trying to make it to his first birthday before he has any added sugars.
- Quiches: an easy way to get lots of veggies and protein in.
- Pasta. My son tried Annies organic mac and cheese shells last week and loved them!
- Hummus or Avocado on Toast. I slice the toast up into little fingers like the frittata below.
- Cheese tortilla roll ups. Chicken would be good in these! We will be introducing meat this month.
My son is obsessed with these zucchini, parsnip and carrot frittata fingers.
[Tweet "Healthy Baby Led Weaning Meal Ideas"]
- Plan to spend 30-45 minutes per meal to let baby 'play' with the food, eat some, and throw a lot on the floor.
- Invest in some reusable food pouches if you'd like baby to enjoy some pureed foods like applesauce but still want them to be able to feed themselves.
- Don't be afraid of spices! Think of babies all over the world. Babies in different cultures are likely exposed to strong spices from a very young age. My son has already tried curried lentils and loves hummus.
- Don't force anything on your baby. The whole point of Baby Led Weaning is that it allows your baby to develop their own tastes, decide what they like and don't like, and explore different textures. It may take baby a few times of being exposed to a food before they start to enjoy it.
- Avoid things the size of a grape or cherry tomato. These are choking hazards! You can give these foods but cut them up into tiny pieces.
One side effect of baby led weaning is that it really helped develop my sons fine motor skills. For the first few weeks it was a little difficult for him to grasp the food, and put it into his mouth. Now, he's a pro! He's got a great pincer grasp, and loves to study tiny crumbs on his tray and pick them up over and over.
Baby Led Weaning has been such a fun experience. I really look forward to finding new meals to try out for him (and for myself! I love eating whatever I make for him.) When we go grocery shopping I'll give him an apple or banana to eat while we shop and it keeps him happily entertained for an hour. When we are out to eat I can hand him something to gnaw on and he acts so proud to be eating with the family versus watching on.
Have you tried Baby Led Weaning? What are some of your favorite Baby Led Weaning, or toddler approved recipes?