As of last night, Baby #3 is eating solids! I can’t believe we’ve already hit this milestone, but I’m also super excited about it. This is the third child we’ll have done Baby Led Weaning with and likely the third child to be about as un-picky as they come. Our kids eat everything from spicy Indian and Tex-Mex to every vegetable under the sun. We both truly believe it’s because of Baby Led Weaning. Allowing them to choose what they eat and how much has given them the confidence to know that we aren’t going to force foods in them and made them more likely to try new foods.
Not only has Baby Led Weaning made our boys less picky, but it’s easier, too! If you’re new around here, I refer to myself as “accidentally crunchy.” In other words, I do all the crunchy stuff (like cloth diapering) for reasons that generally can be filed under “lazy” or “cheap.” In this case, it’s both. The baby eats what we eat, so there are no expensive purees or special food to buy, and I can just feed them what we eat, so no extra dishes, no extra work to make different foods, and I get to eat with both hands!
Because I simply can’t cover every detail in this post, I HIGHLY recommend you pick up this book off of Amazon. Baby Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater (that’s a mouthful! Pun intended) is hands down the best resource I’ve ever seen. It covers all the questions you might have in immense detail!
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What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning is weaning that allows the baby to decide when weaning should start and finish, based on his instincts and abilities. Rather than a parent offering a spoonful of food and deciding how much baby will have, as well as when to stop offering the breast or bottle, the baby will slowly start supplementing the breast/bottle with real food as he is more capable of feeding himself, as well as his body being ready for real food.
This is not a new concept. In fact, if you ask your grandparents, I’d be willing to bet that this was the way they and their siblings were fed as babies. Spoon feeding only began because the new advice was to start feeding babies solids at 3 to 4 months, much too early for baby to feed themselves.
The biggest concern I hear from mamas I talk to about Baby Led Weaning is worrying about baby choking. The reality is, baby is actually LESS likely to choke on solids than purees.
First of all, there’s a difference between gagging and choking. Gagging is a retching movement that looks and sounds scary, but is actually just moving food AWAY from the airway if it’s too big to be swallowed. Your baby will open their mouth and push their tongue forward, possibly vomiting a little. It’s over quickly and baby usually just keeps eating.
Why isn’t this a big deal? In an adult, the gag reflex is at the back of the tongue. On a six month old baby, though, that same reflex is MUCH farther forward on the tongue, triggering the reflex long before baby is actually choking. Because of this, they learn how to manage food safely.
As he gets older, the reflex will move to the back of the tongue regardless of whether they’ve been exposed to solid foods that aren’t purees. As a result, baby is much more likely to choke as you move to solid foods if you’ve spent their 6 to 9 months of age spoon-feeding them, rather than letting them learn to manage chunks of food in their mouths while their gag reflex is further from the choking point.
This is also why you don’t want to do both spoon-feeding and solids– they need to be able to decide and learn how much of a food to put in their mouths. If you want to do purees, either pre-load a spoon for them or use them as a dip (see below for fun ideas!).
Benefits of Baby Led Weaning
- Babies learn to eat safely
- Babies gain confidence in themselves
- Babies learn to trust food
- Babies get to be a part of family mealtimes (and Mama and Daddy get to eat with two hands!)
- No separate meals or purees for Mama to make
- No expensive baby food to buy
- Appetite control and better nutrition– babies are more likely to consume only what they need, both in quantity and type of food, if they’re allowed to listen to their body and choose the foods their body needs
- Eating out is easier– they just eat whatever you’re having!
- Less pickiness as a toddler– because they aren’t having to get used to new textures or tastes as a toddler after months of purees, they’re more likely to continue eating the foods they’ve been eating!
What are the signs of readiness for Baby Led Weaning?
- Baby should be six months of age (prior to that, their gut doesn’t have the correct enzymes to process food)
- Baby should be able to sit up by themselves
- Baby should be able to grasp things and bring them to their mouths
- Baby is gnawing on their toys or making chewing movements with their mouths
What are NOT signs of readiness for Baby Led Weaning?
- Teeth (or the lack thereof)– no baby needs teeth to eat food! Their gums are SO hard that they act as teeth for the purposes of mashing and gnawing food to be swallowable.
- Waking at night– babies wake at night for all kinds of reasons, but giving solids has never been proven to help with that. If baby is truly hungry at night, they need breastmilk or formula, not solids.
- Weight gain slowing– this happens regardless of food intake at 4-6 months
- Watching what their parents eat– all babies observe everything happening all the time. Watching what Mom and Dad (or brothers) eat isn’t a sign of readiness since they don’t know what that act means; it’s purely curiosity and learning about their world.
- Making lip smacking noises– while this IS preparation for solid foods, it’s also preparation for talking, as well as simply learning that they can control different parts of their body.
- Not going straight to sleep after breast/bottle feedings– around 4 months, babies start being awake more. That’s just the way their brain and bodies work, just like how you don’t fall asleep after every meal!
- Small baby– if you have a small baby, they’re either just a small baby (our second is in the second percentile and has been his entire life. As long as baby is on their curve, this isn’t an issue!) or they need more nourishment. If they DO need more nourishment, nutrient-packed breastmilk or formula is the best option, not solids.
What do I feed my baby with Baby Led Weaning?
In short? Almost anything you’re eating! Seriously. After baby has had their fill of the breast or formula, sit them in a safe chair and offer a variety of foods. Often, this is easiest if you choose one or two of everything you’re having.
For example, if you’re having grilled chicken, roasted broccoli, and sweet potatoes, cut the meat into 2″ sticks (so that it sticks out of their fist), offer chunks of broccoli (bonus: it already has a handle built in), and sticks of sweet potato. Our meals generally consist of a protein, veggie, fruit, and carb, so I’ll take those and deconstruct them for baby. Steak tacos mean baby gets a few strips of steak, slices of avocado, cherry tomatoes halved or quartered (depending on their size), and strips of tortilla. Lettuce wraps mean baby gets rice mixed up with the meat and some shredded lettuce.
Once the foods are of suitable size and texture (too soft will just squish in their fists; too hard will be hard for them to gnaw), set the foods on the table or tray in front of the baby, and let baby explore!
Initially, they’ll likely get very little actually in their bellies, but as time goes on, you’ll notice more and more getting eaten! This is why it’s important to make sure they aren’t hungry at the start of a meal or snack– they need to learn to eat before it can be used for nutritional supplementation.
I need Baby Led Weaning Food Ideas!
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Okay, but what about food allergies?
As a mama to two kids with food allergies (both have dairy allergies and one is anaphylactic to peanuts), I totally understand this concern! However, the new recommendation is to introduce allergens early on to reduce the likelihood of an allergy developing. If there IS an allergy, it’s EXTREMELY unlikely that their first response would be an anaphylactic one (per the several allergists/pediatric allergists we’ve seen for our big boys).
If you do have food allergies in the family, I’d highly recommend talking to an allergist just to get the steps they believe you should take with your child (here’s my “I’m not a doctor; this is just what I’ve learned as an allergy mama” disclaimer!).
There’s no need to introduce one food at a time. After all, there’s simply no way you’re going to be able to introduce every food and seasoning one at a time. Note what you’re feeding your baby (either a mental note or in your phone or a notebook) and watch for reactions– rashes, hives, redness, etc. If you see one, look at what you’ve been feeding them the last 8 hours (which is approximately how long it can take for a reaction) and see if there are any likely culprits (eggs, peanuts, nuts, dairy, strawberries, etc.). If not, it’ll be a little harder to narrow down, but either way, try offering the foods you’ve given them the last 8 hours one at a time, in combination with other foods you HAVEN’T offered, so you can start to figure out what their bodies might not have liked.
Remember– thanks to social media, food allergies seem like they’re everywhere and every reaction is terrible. I find myself having to talk myself down, too, so I promise I’m not immune to the worry, but I also have to recognize that it’s rare, especially without a history of food allergies in the family.
One last note before I go… If you DO have food allergies in the family, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your child will be allergic to the same foods (or ANY foods, for that matter). All it does is increase the likelihood that they’ll be allergic to SOMETHING at SOME POINT. So, watch, be mindful, keep Benadryl around, and you’ll be just fine!