Many people dread giving their kids mushy, messy baby food. They hate spoon feeding it, they dislike the jars of puréed paste or they worry it’s a hassle to make their own. And that game of, “open wide for the airplane” is anything but appealing.
If you’re feeling this way, baby-led weaning (BLW) may be right for you. BLW is a term created by Gill Rapley, a British expert and co-author of a book and cookbook on BLW that is used by people around the world.
And now it’s gaining momentum in the United States, where many parents are adopting this baby-feeding approach. In BLW, you start infants on self-fed finger foods right away, skipping adult-led, spoon-fed baby food altogether.
Finger foods are placed in front of the baby, who feeds it to his or herself.
Experts say BLW promotes fine-motor skills like eye-hand coordination and chewing. Plus, it can promote healthy and varied eating habits as kids explore the textures, flavors and tastes of various foods.
Kids see food in front of them on their tray and decide for themselves how much and what they want to eat. They control the eating process, deciding when they’re full as opposed to being fed until the food is finished during the spoon-feeding approach. Experts say this method makes for a more adventurous and less picky eater.
HealthyChildren.org, a website from the American Academy of Pediatrics, says a baby needs certain physical skills to be ready to start solids. Generally, babies start at about six months.
Babies should be:
- Able to sit upright
- Able to hold their head up
- Double their birth weight and a minimum of about 13 pounds
- Interested in food when it’s headed their way and looking intently at food
- Choose Manageable Foods Good first foods are nutritious while also soft, crumbly, mushy and dissolvable.
- Cut food in baby-friendly sizes that are easy and manageable to hold (such as in strips as opposed to bite- sized pieces).
- Some options include: cooked vegetables like steamed carrots, green beans and broccoli ripe fruits like a piece of a banana grains like pasta (whole-wheat fusilli, for example) or wheat toast proteins like chicken, eggs, and flaky or grilled fish (without bones or skin) Cook foods to the proper temperature, too — babies shouldn’t eat raw or undercooked meats, sushi or eggs with a runny yolk.
- Go Slow: One or two pieces of food on the tray is ideal at the beginning to avoid overwhelming your child.
This one is important: Watch out for choking hazards, keep babies upright during feeding and don’t leave them alone. Make sure you know what to do and are confident to act fast if your baby starts choking. A first-aid course is really worth considering.
Watch for Allergies:
Introduce a new food every few days. That way, you can figure out what foods are possibly causing a food allergy. Symptoms of a food allergy include skin problems like swelling and hives, or wheezing or breathing difficulties. A food allergy may also present with stomach problems like vomiting, diarrhea or nausea.
Prepare for a Mess:
When a baby is learning how to pick up food and put it into their mouth, a mess should be expected. Buy a big bib (consider one with long sleeves and a pocket) or feed him or her in just a diaper or something you don’t mind getting dirty. Cover the floor beneath the high chair with newspaper or a disposable tablecloth. The mess will decrease as your baby gets better at self- feeding.
Skip the Dishes:
Bowls and plates will only end up on the floor, so put food directly onto the high-chair tray.
Make Them Part of the Family:
Encourage your baby to eat with the rest of the family. If you’re having spaghetti, give the baby a handful. Eating carrots? Steam up a few to make them soft. Stay away from fast or processed foods, though, and anything loaded with salt or sweeteners.
Set Aside Some Time:
If your baby is happily eating their lunch, you can’t be in a rush. Expect meals to take longer and set aside ample time.
Heed the Signals:
Is your baby tossing food everywhere? Meal-time is likely over.
Don’t Go Cold Turkey on Formula or Breastfeeding:
That will still be your baby’s main nutrition source since you’re not weaning in the traditional sense of the word. Maintain the same frequency that you have been breast- or bottle feeding.
Don’t be concerned how much baby eats in the beginning. Baby is still getting nutrition from breast milk or formula (which is why he or she may not be eating much). Babies eat more when they get the hang of feeding themselves.
It’s Not All or Nothing:
If your baby isn’t keen on BLW, mix it up. Do spoon-feeding some of the time and BLW others. Or in one sitting, spoon feed your baby and then encourage them to pick up a piece of food BLW style.
Share the Information:
If anyone else feeding your baby make sure they’re aware of the safety aspects of BLW.
Don’t let the process make you anxious. BLW is about letting the baby explore and get comfortable with different tastes and textures.
Before starting BLW, speak with your pediatrician to make sure that it’s right for your child. He or she may suggest adding an iron supplement or iron-rich foods like pureed meat or green vegetables if the baby isn’t getting enough iron from finger foods (since beef and some other iron-rich foods can be hard to chew).
Have you got any tips for getting a baby on solids? Let us know in the comments below…