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The Ultimate Guide to Baby-Led Weaning

It might seem as if you were just in the hospital delivering your little bundle of joy, but those first months will go quickly.

During your baby's first year, you'll have to determine when and how to introduce solids to your baby. Instead of starting foods at a particular age (typically, 4 months), many parents are choosing to do baby-led weaning.

This method of introducing solids relies on the parents being attune to their child's needs and wants and gentle easing him or her into the exciting new world of solid foods when he or she is ready. As you begin to think about your baby's first food experiences, you likely have questions and concerns on how best to go about the weaning process.

In this article, you'll learn everything that you need to know to begin this process with your baby, create a plan that's right for your family, and go about it in a confident, consistent manner.

An Introduction to Baby-Led Weaning

Baby-led weaning involves starting your little one on small chunks of finger foods and allowing your child to feed him or herself when he or she is able.

Instead of offering pureed fruits and vegetables, babies who are weaned in this manner are given an array of foods that are more or less in their original solid forms.

Traditionally, babies were spoon fed purees, rice cereal or oatmeal starting at young at 4 months.

The baby-led weaning approach first began to gain traction around the turn of the 21st century when several leading infant feeding publications presented the idea of infant-centered solid food introduction (mostly notably Pre-feeding skills: A comprehensive resource for mealtime development by Suzanne Evans Morris and Marsha Dunn Klein).

The term "baby-led weaning" or "BLW" wasn't coined until 2008, when Dr. Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett wrote and published Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food. Because of the popularity of the book, this food introduction process is also referred to as "Rapley weaning."

Since 2008, the idea has quickly gained traction with Millennial and Generation X parents, many of whom see it as a natural progression of attachment parenting, a style that emphasizes baby-wearing, co-sleeping, and being in tune to their babies' needs.

As it is a process that puts the baby's needs and wants at the forefront-a major trend in today's parenting styles-baby led weaning continues to grow in popularity.

While there are still no definitive large-scope studies done on baby-led weaning, those in favor of the practice believe that it promotes a healthy relationship with food, fewer food allergies, and a more confident baby.

Why Should You Do Baby-Led Weaning?

Child specialists support this new trend in baby feeding for several reasons.

First, babies are given control of their food, which allows them to stop feeding when they are full instead of when the parent chooses to end the feeding session.

This begins an important lesson than will help your child later in life that links meal satisfaction with the physical signals that he or she is satiated.

Secondly, babies are able to build autonomy with their food choices, as they can pick and choose from the variety of foods that are offered at each meal.

Finally, it allows your baby to experiment with foods.

Since all of the food options are in their original state instead of in similarly textured purees, he or she can experience the creaminess of an avocado, the tenderness of chicken, or the crunch of an apple.

When Can Your Baby Start Eating Solids?

Although some parents begin feeding their babies rice cereal or oatmeal around 4 months of age, you'll want to wait at least until your baby loses his or her tongue thrust reflex and can sit up unassisted.

However, at that young age, your baby will not be able to fully reach, grasp, and pull foods towards his mouth, so those planning baby-led weaning typically wait until 6 or 8 months to begin the process.

When your baby begins to show interest in the foods that you're eating-by reaching for what's on your plate or hungrily eyeing your meal-that's a good time to try those first solid foods.

Don't worry if your baby still doesn't have all (or any!) of his or her teeth: baby-led weaning can still be successful with those baby gums.

Which Foods Should Baby Start With When Starting Solids?

Most pediatricians recommend beginning with a vegetable or fruit, but you can choose any food that is relatively soft and small.

Great first foods include baby puffs, plain cooked pasta, rice, well-cooked and shredded chicken, or boiled eggs.

If your child is interested in those, you can add in cooked, flaky fish (flounder, mahi mahi, or tilapia make for great first options), very soft green beans, or avocados are also popular.

Consider calorie rich foods and ones that have a high content of vitamins and minerals.

Your baby won't eat a large amount of solids, so you'll want to make sure that every bite of what he or she is eating packs a punch.

How Should You Prepare Baby's First Foods?

Any soft, easy-to-pick up food is great for baby-led weaning.

Ripe fresh fruit is naturally soft enough to serve a baby's first food.

For vegetables, steam or boil them to get them to the right consistency.

When presenting the foods to your baby, shred or cut them into pieces that are large enough for tiny fingers to grasp but small enough to avoid choking.

At What Rate Should You Introduce New Foods to Your Baby?

Once you begin the process of baby-led weaning, you can introduce a new food every few days.

You'll want to leave enough time in between each introduction to ascertain if he or she has any food aversions or allergies and can talk with your pediatrician if any issues arise with a particular food or food group.

Are There Any Foods to Avoid in the Baby-Led Weaning Process?

Even as your baby is eager to explore new foods, he or she is still susceptible to choking, as little mouths are still learning about the process of eating at this stage.

Keeping those foods as soft as possible goes a long way in avoiding choking, but you'll want to stay away from certain foods until your baby is older.

Whole grapes, uncut hot dogs, peanut or almond butter, popcorn, or raw vegetables can provide difficult for babies who are just leaning the ins and outs of chewing and swallowing, and are choking hazards that should be avoided.

If your baby does encounter a food that causes him or her to choke, stay as calm as possible.

Even though your baby is small, he or she will pick up on the fact that you are panicking during a time that is already scary, and will cause your baby to get even more scared.

Usually, patting your baby on the back and encouraging him or her to cough will be enough for your baby to move the food out of his or her airway. The choking reflex is a very important part of baby's eating process, so it is likely that your baby will cough as he or she learns to eat.

However, in the case that your child is unable to dislodge the piece of food from his or her throat, you'll want to be prepared. It's important for parents to know the basics of first aid, including how to administer the infant form of the Heimlich maneuver.

You may also feel more confident around your baby if you learn rescue breathing and CPR as well.

These classes are usually offered through your local recreation department or Red Cross facility; the basics can be learned in just a few hours.

If Baby is Eating Solids, Does She Still Need Breastmilk or Formula?

Absolutely.

Even if your baby is an adventurous eater, he or she needs breastmilk or formula as the main source of nutrition until around that first birthday.

Because baby-led weaning is more about exploring and introducing foods, your baby won't be able to get all of the nutrients he or she needs just through solid food.

It's important to note that baby-led weaning focuses more on the addition of solids to the regular routine of breastmilk or formula than it does a daily reduction in baby's milk or formula in favor of more food.

What Will Mealtime Look Like as Baby Begins the Weaning Process?

Involve your baby in meal time as much as possible, so that your child feels like a part of the eating process.

Serve him or her at the same time as everyone else eats, and allow your baby to play with, smash, and feed at his or her own pace.

Avoid picking up the foods with your hands and offering them to your baby; instead, give your baby the freedom to explore different methods and rhythms of self-feeding.

Above all, give your baby as much autonomy as possible.

Allow her plenty of time to go through the foods on the tray or plate; don't be surprised if meal times stretch beyond 20 or so minutes.

You'll know that your baby has lost interest in the meal when she struggles to get out of the baby seat or tries to pitch the food over the side of the tray.

If You've Already Started Purees, How Do You Begin Baby-Led Weaning?

As with many things in parenting, how you feed your baby is a spectrum.

If you've started purees or rice cereal already, you can definitely transition into more of a baby-led weaning approach.

Instead of ending purees and starting solids immediately, you can slowly bridge the gap between the two.

Feed purees as usual, then finish the eating session with a few finger food options.

Another option is to slowly increase the texture of your purees as you transition into solids like shredded chicken, ripe strawberries, or softened beans.

What Else Should You Keep in Mind as You Begin to Wean Your Baby?

One thing to keep in mind is that you don't want to praise or scold.

Your baby is always watching you and your reactions, so it's important to focus on the process of feeding as an extension of daily life.

Avoid clapping or praising your baby when he or she eats a new food; likewise, don't scold your child if he or she doesn't like that day's offerings.

You want to start your baby out on a road to a healthy, adjusted relationship with food, so offering options and staying neutral about his or her response to those foods is the best way to do that.

It's okay to switch feeding methods. Some times, babies just don't take to baby-led weaning.

Some may have an aversion to that many different textures and may find the consistency in purees less overwhelming as they begin to explore new tastes.

Be patient. Some babies will spit out anything you give them on the first try. Instead of giving up on that food immediately, offer it again at that meal session.

Even if your baby continues to reject that food, try it again the next day-and the next.

Often times, babies need a warming up process to get their taste buds used to a new flavor. That initial rejection of a food does not mean that your little one will always dislike it.

Start fresh. Just like adults, babies are most willing to try something new when they are well rested, comfortable, and focused.

Avoid starting the baby-led weaning process or introducing a new food right before bedtime or nap time. Even if your child is interested in food, she will likely be too cranky to get enjoyment out of the process.

Wrapping Up

When approached with patience and understanding, baby led weaning can be a fantastic experience for both you and your baby.

Start your baby's relationship with food off with a sense of excitement, wonder, and exploration, and he or she will soon be on the way to discovering an incredible world of taste, texture, and experience.

Keep the focus on the experience that your baby is gaining from these new foods instead of using these foods as a complete substitute for breastmilk or formula: your baby is growing up fast, but he or she still needs those vital nutrients that can only come from breast or bottle until the end of that first year.

At no other time in your baby's life will he or she be able to learn so much about food while having so much fun doing so!

When starting baby-led weaning, remember to:‚Äč

  • Start slowly with repeated feedings of the same taste.
  • Introduce new foods only after several days have passed to pinpoint any allergic reactions.
  • Delay baby led weaning until he or she can sit up and has lost the natural tongue thrust reflex.
  • Make baby a part of mealtime.
  • Show your baby that trying new foods can be a fun experience.
  • Don't rush your baby at meal times.
  • Stay safe by learning basic first aid maneuvers.
  • Know when to stop the feeding session if baby shows signs of waning interest or tiredness.
Kate Trout
 

Hi there, I'm Kate! I started Maternity Glow to be a place to learn all about practical parenting tips, baby care tricks, and healthy-living hacks for new and expecting moms.

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