What is baby led weaning exactly? Baby led weaning may seem like a trendy new millennial-mom way of feeding babies, but it actually is a traditional infant feeding practice that allows baby to be engaged and involved in the feeding process from the very beginning.
What Is Baby Led Weaning?
If you have decided to try baby led weaning then you probably will get the question from curious friends or family members…what is baby led weaning anyway?
Baby led weaning really is just a fancy term for describing a method of feeding babies that starts right away with safe foods and textures that baby is able to self feed.
The aim for baby led weaning is to take a baby led approach to feeding that allows baby to have involvement and autonomy in their feeding experience. Typically baby led weaning has been viewed as the opposite of forced spoon feeding in that baby is exposed to a wide variety of food shapes and textures and never (or rarely) is being spoon fed by their parent.
Baby Led Weaning vs. Purées
While baby led weaning has been pitched against puréed spoon feeding, it really doesn’t need to be. Purées are just one of many textures that babies will be exposed to as a part of baby led weaning. The difference is that parents and caregivers aren’t forced spoon feeding baby purées when taking a baby led approach, and instead are letting baby bring the spoon or purées to their own mouth themselves.
This is a key difference between baby led weaning and parent-led puréed spoon feeding, which really doesn’t allow baby much involvement in their own feeding experience.
What Is Baby Led Weaning: Benefits
There are many benefits to a baby led approach to starting solids, but the following are just a few of our favorites:
- It helps baby learn how to self-regulate from the very beginning. Babies are born with the ability to recognize hunger and stop eating when they are full. By taking a baby led approach to solids, you are allowing baby the opportunity to decide how much they want to eat and when they want to stop.
- Baby is involved in the family meal. Rather than spoon-feeding baby, baby is able to take part in the foods that the rest of the family is eating and can feel more involved in the cultural aspect of eating.
- Baby learns how to navigate different textures early on. One of the negatives of puréed spoon feeding is that often parents will stay on pureed foods for too long. This can lead to an increased chance of baby resisting new textures and potentially developing picky eating.
- Baby learns how to chew early on. In order to protect against choking, we need baby to learn how to chew foods to a safe consistency to then swallow. Taking a baby led approach with safe finger foods early on can help baby map their mouth, and navigate different shapes and textures while their gag reflex is still very strong and protective.
When To Start Baby Led Weaning
You can start baby led weaning from the very beginning! One of the best parts is that it involves baby in the feeding process from the beginning. Most babies will be ready to begin solids around the six-month mark, but some babies may be ready a little earlier or later.
When it comes to deciding when to start baby led weaning the best thing to do is assess your baby for the following signs of readiness:
Hand Eye Mouth Coordination
Is baby starting to reach out and grab anything in their vicinity and bring it to their mouth? This is a great sign of the hand, eye, mouth coordination that is needed for baby to be able to be involved in the feeding experience. Without this coordination, baby won’t be able to reach out and grab the food you offer and bring it to their mouth to explore.
Good Head And Neck Control
Is baby able to hold their head up strong and straight without a lot of wobbling? This is really important for feeding safety!
Interest In Food
Is baby starting to show interest in your own food when you are eating? While this sign of readiness isn’t a necessity it definitely helps! The fact that baby is expressing interest in the food you are eating is a good sign that when you offer them their own food they will be interested in exploring it.
Ability To Sit Up Unsupported
Being able to sit upright unsupported is another great sign of readiness for baby to begin solids. This trunk support is really important for feeding safety and will help baby feel more secure while eating.
Tips For Getting Started With Baby Led Weaning
When starting solids it is completely okay to begin with just one or two foods, once a day. Baby is exploring a whole new world of tastes and textures, and their immature digestive system is getting used to solid food. So start slow and take baby’s lead.
Make Sure Baby Is Ready For Solids
I mentioned the signs of readiness above when determining if baby is ready to start solids. Not only is this important from a safety perspective, it is also one of the many ways you can help set baby up for success.
Choose Nutrient Dense Foods
In the beginning baby isn’t going to get a whole lot of food into their tummy, but their needs for certain nutrients (especially iron) are increasing. This is why I love choosing iron and other nutrient rich foods as part of your baby led approach to feeding whenever possible. Check out some of my favorite foods for baby led weaning here.
Embrace The Mess
A baby led approach to starting solids will be messy! While I know that this can be triggering for many people, and can take a longer time to clean up, embracing the mess is a great way for you to encourage a positive feeding experience with baby. At this age babies and young toddlers are still exploring so much with their hands and senses, which means getting messy!
You can set yourself up to reduce the mess by choosing the messiest foods to serve when you have more time for cleanup. I also would recommend purchasing some under the high chair wipeable mats to make cleaning up go faster. You can check out all of my favorite tools for feeding baby here.
Eat With Your Baby
Baby wants to do everything you do, and eating is no exception. Eating with your baby helps to make the experience more interactive. This is also a great time for you to show baby how to take appropriate bites and chew!
Cut/Serve Appropriate Foods Shapes And Sizes
When it comes to serving finger foods for babies just starting solids between 6-9 months the main keys to remember are:
- Cook to a soft and squish-able texture
- Slice into ruler thing slices
- Serve in sticks about the size of an adult finger
- Encourage exploration of resistive foods like mango pits that baby cannot bite through
Avoid Choking Hazards
Some foods are more likely to cause choking than other foods. This is why the following foods should be avoided until toddlerhood:
- Hot Dogs
- Whole String Cheese
- Cubes of Cheese
- Whole Grapes
- Firm Whole Berries
- Whole Nuts
- Dried Fruit
- Tough Cubes of Meat
- Thick Spread of Nut Butters
While this list is not exhaustive, it gives you a good idea of the types of foods, and more importantly, the shapes and textures to ideally avoid.
Take An Infant CPR Class
Many parents and caregivers main concern with baby led weaning is the thought that it may increase the risk of choking. While this has actually been disproven in research, as a mom myself I understand parents anxiety and hesitation.
This is why I always recommend parents and caregivers refresh their CPR knowledge before beginning solids of any kind to help them feel calmer during the feeding process.
I also like to remind parents that in the beginning baby actually has many protective measures in place to prevent against choking, and helping baby learn how to navigate food and chew from a young age could actually be preventative against choking in the long run.