Baby-led weaning basics.

square picture of baby boy in a high chair self feeding
 A big milestone in a new parents journey, and even with subsequent babies, is when they begin eating solid food. However, common problems can be that baby doesn't seem keen on lumpy food or mealtimes become a battle with an older toddler. You want to provide them with healthy fruit and vegetables, they want chicken and chips. My aim for this post is to help parents with the basics of baby-led weaning.

When to start solids.

Current NHS guidelines states to start babies on solids at six months alongside their usual breastmilk or formula. However, some babies seem ready before this but this is a common misconception. 

Parents can be told by others that certain signs their babies are showing means their ready for solids but this is not the case. Parents are told that: 

  • Night waking is a sign of readiness. Babies wake during the night for numerous reasons but if baby is under six months old and does seem genuinely hungry then more milk should be offered rather than solids.
  • Others believe that when a baby starts watching you eat or is 'looking for food' that it is a sign to start solids, however, babies around four months are just very curious about family life. They will also be interested in daddy shaving but that doesn't mean they are ready to. 
True readiness:
  • Baby can sit up with little or no support.
  • They take things to their mouths quickly and accurately.
  • They chew on their toys, make chewing movements with their mouths.
  • Starts to bring food to their mouths themselves.

Choking and gagging.

Following baby-led weaning does not make it more likely that your baby will choke any more than spoon-feeding. In babies the gagging reflex is activated more easily than in adults. This reflex can actually be a beneficial learning tool for self-feeding. Choking happens when the air way is partially or fully blocked and so the baby will be silent. Gagging on the other hand will be loud retches and coughs. Most babies will gag and then resume eating as if nothing happened. A choking baby will need immediate assistance. 

Preparing for Baby-led weaning  

To begin with baby may just be happy sitting with everyone at the table and playing with a bowl and spoon. This allows them to be included with meal times in a more relaxed manner and gives them the opportunity to observes how everyone else eats.

Firstly, ensure baby is sitting in a comfortable upright position, fully supported. Remember, mealtimes at this stage is about fun and exploring, not really about satisfying hunger. Milk feeds should still be given on demand.

To start, 'stick' foods are best offered as baby is better able to handle these than shorter pieces eg. broccoli has a natural 'handle' for baby to hold. As baby's coordination develops you can adjust the size of food offered.

Foods to avoid

  • Nuts
  • small fruits such as grapes should be cut and remember to remove stones
  • avoid bony fish, tough meat and remove gristle.
  • avoid honey until baby is 1
For drinks it is best to stick to baby's usual milk or water.

picture of a baby girl in a highchair self feeding

Adapting food

Raw vegetables such as carrots should be cooked so they are soft but not soggy. Softer vegetables like cucumber can be offered raw.

Round fruit like apples can be offered whole but it may be easier if you take a bite first so baby can have easier access to the flesh.

Chicken is the easiest meat for baby to hold and gnaw on and it is better to stew meat than roasting as it tenderises it.

Cut meat across the fibres, except with poultry which should be cut along the fibres or it will crumble and become very fiddly for baby.

I began baby-led weaning with Jamie when he was six months. I remember at one point he was eating a chicken leg supper from the chippie with me and his dad couldn't believe that this little baby was chewing on a chicken leg and loving it. Rosie is very much the same, she will give anything a try. At Christmas she tried some cabbage and wasn't keen but it's great that she ha had the opportunity to taste it herself and decide that she doesn't like that one flavour. If it was a baby jar dinner she wouldn't have got the variations in taste and texture.

Most meals can be adapted for babies. There is no need for them to be excluded from family meal times due to food options.

Have you tried baby-led weaning? If so how did it go? 

You can also find this as a guest post on mummyitsok.com 

 

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