At around 4-6 months your doctor will tell you that it's ok to introduce solids to your littles. The Academy of Pediatrics suggests waiting to introduce solids until your baby has reached 6 months of age and their intestinal tracts have better developed. For me, waiting until 6 months meant one less task for me to tack on to an already busy day. But when the time is right for you, the approach boils down to personal preference. You could go the typical route of starting with oatmeal and baby purees. Or you could try something new and let baby lead the way. That's where Baby Led Weaning comes in.
Baby Led Weaning can be a bit scary. In simple terms, you're essentially giving your infant the same foods that you eat and allowing them to feed themselves. This allows baby to regulate how much food they're taking in - aka they will stop when full vs. if you're spoon feeding your little, you may push more food than baby needs. Letting baby eat based on their own hunger and fullness cues has been shown to reduce risk of obesity as kids age. Think about it - pushing a kid to overeat (often without even realizing you're doing so) stretches baby's stomach and alters their natural satiety cues. Baby Led Weaning has been shown to reduce the chances of this happening and that's a good thing for the future of their health and body weight.
Now it's not as cut and dry as it sounds. You've still got to cut the food in appropriate sizes for your littles. But really they're not getting anything much different than what you had planned to make for your own meals and snacks.
Here's What You Need to Know Before You Get Started
- Wait until baby shows all signs of readiness before starting with any solids - purees or not. They include: baby can sit up well without support, baby has lot the tongue-thrust reflex, baby is ready and willing to chew, baby is developing their "pincer" grasp, and baby is eager to participate in meal time (grabs for spoon, watches you eat, etc.)
- Your little one will Gag - but it's actually a good sign! The gagging reflex helps them move food that has gone too far back in their mouths forward so that they don't choke. It may be a bit scary at first, but if you wait a few seconds you'll see that your baby is happy and ready to continue the meal.
- Try to let baby pick up the food and bring to their mouths on their own. Avoid doing this for them. BLW is about letting baby lead the way and if you constantly push food to their mouths the goal is not being achieved. You can however preload a spoon and set in front of baby.
- Cut foods in "stick" like portions so that it's easier for baby to pick up with their hands and get in their mouths. Don't worry if your little one doesn't have any teeth, they will chew with their gums which is great practice for when the teeth do come in!
- Don't expect baby to eat much, if any at all, especially in the beginning. BLW is about learning and experiencing new foods, flavors and textures. Over time your little one will figure out how to chew, get food to the back of their mouths, and then swallow. So keep trying mama!
- Be ready for a mess! Babies get food everywhere. It's a fact. Let it go now before you make yourself crazy. Grab some silicon bibs that will catch some of the mess. And feel free to put a tarp or cover down underneath the high chair to make cleanup easier. I don't do this but I'm sure many moms do!
- Model good eating behavior. It's important to eat many of the same foods you serve your little at meal time so they can watch you eat it and then imitate. I've found that when we go out to eat or have more people at the table with us, my son will eat and experiment with more foods. This is probably because he has more models dining with him!
- Go with the flow and have fun! Once you see your baby having a good time with the food, your anxiety will settle. Soon enough your list of "tried" foods will grow and grow, and everyone will be saying how good of an eater your little is.
Looking for more science-based resources regarding Baby Led Weaning? Check out Kellymom.com