Mar 27, 2020 | Mom Life
By: Kerry Jones, MPH, RDN, LDN from Milestones Pediatric & Maternal Nutrition
Baby-led weaning has grown in popularity over the last couple of years. This alternative method of infant feeding promotes infant self-feeding from 6 months of age instead of the traditional parent spoon-feeding. While baby-led weaning is intended to be easy and stress-free for parents, learning how to feed your baby to meet their needs and keep them safe is something that all parents worry about.
When to Start Solid Foods
At 6 months of age, babies need more than breastmilk and iron-fortified, infant formula to support their rapid growth and development. They now have the muscle strength and coordination to sit upright and to hold up their head and their immune and digestive systems have matured enough to handle solid foods.
Here are some signs that your infant is ready to start eating solid foods:
- They have doubled their birth weight and are about 6 months of age
- They can hold up their head and have good head control
- They open their mouth and lean forward when food comes their way
- They pull in their upper and lower lips as soon as a spoon is removed from their mouth
- They can sit with little or no support
Once your baby is developmentally ready, it is time to start introducing solid foods. There is no medical evidence that introducing solid foods in any particular order has an advantage for your baby. Therefore, it is your choice as the parent and caregiver to determine how you want to offer food to your child. If your child has a disability or was born premature, talk to your pediatrician prior to introducing solid foods.
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning is a method of introducing solid foods that allows babies to transition and progress at their own pace. It allows children to join in with family mealtimes, choose which foods to try, and learn as they go by engaging all of their senses. Research has found that baby-led weaning is just as safe as traditional weaning with no differences in the risk of choking, growth faltering, or iron deficiency.
Remember that baby-led weaning does not need to be all or nothing. You can choose to practice baby-led weaning at some meals and snacks and spoon-feed your baby other times. Likewise, you can start with spoon-feeding for the first couple of days and then transition to baby-led weaning once you know your baby is ready. These are both completely okay!
Remember that when your infant is starting to eat solid foods, the focus is on learning and exploring rather than nutrition. Start by giving your baby a little bit of breastmilk or infant formula before introducing their first solid food. Breastmilk and infant formula will continue to provide the majority of the nutrients your infant needs.
Start by serving your baby foods that are cut into long, thin sticks about the length and width of your pinky finger. These foods can be placed directly onto their high chair tray. Your baby will likely hold these in their palm and suck on them. Make sure to avoid choking hazards and ensure all foods are soft enough that you can smash them with gentle pressure between your fingers.
Some great first foods include: peeled & steamed sweet potato, steamed green beans, ripe avocado, ripe banana, cooked penne pasta, cooked strips of chicken, & stewed strips of beef. Make sure to offer iron-rich foods, such as strips of well-cooked meats, along with fruits, vegetables, and grains. Introduce 1 new food at a time, waiting 3-5 days before each new food is offered to ensure your child is not allergic to any of the foods you are offering.
Progressing to Chopped Foods
Once your baby develops the pincer grasp and is able to start picking food up with their fingers, you can start to serve chopped foods. Make sure all foods are soft enough that you can smash them with gentle pressure between your fingers. Chopped foods should be cut into small pieces, about chickpea size. For small round foods, like chickpeas and blueberries, lightly smash them before serving. Continue to serve good sources of iron, including: ground meat, cooked beans, & cooked peas.
Keeping Your Baby Safe
While there are a lot of foods you can safely offer to your infant, there are some foods you need to avoid. Avoid serving sweets, cow’s milk, salty foods, and common choking hazards to your infant. Common choking hazards should be avoided until age 4 and include: bacon, sausage, fish with bones (such as sardines), popcorn, raw vegetables, marshmallows, hard candy, whole grapes, cherries, & berries, hot dogs, deli meat, large chucks of cheese & meat, chewing gum, nuts, large scoops of peanut butter, dried fruit, chips, pretzels, untoasted bread, and seeds. Additionally, honey should be avoided for the first year, because it can cause botulism. Make sure your baby is always sitting upright when eating and not slumping, slouching, or laying on their back. Make sure that your baby is never left alone with food.
What to Expect
Progressing to solid foods is an exciting time of exploration for your baby. Between the squishing, smearing, and dropping of food, it will be a messy experience. If you are worried about the mess, consider purchasing a sleeved shirt bib, such as this one, and placing a plastic tablecloth under your baby’s high chair. Overall, trying new foods will likely also be a slow progress. Your baby will likely not eat much food in the first couple of months as they focus more on exploring rather than eating the new foods you offer them.
Gagging is very common for babies no matter how they are fed. A baby’s gag reflex is more sensitive than an adult’s. If your baby gags, you don’t need to do anything except stay calm, since your baby’s body will naturally push the food forward out of their mouth or to a place where it can be chewed easier. If your baby is choking, your baby will likely be quieter, since their airway will be blocked. Make sure that you and all of your baby’s caretakers know the signs of choking and how to respond to choking, if it occurs.
Starting your child on solid foods can be stressful, but I hope these tips answer your questions about how and when to implement baby-led weaning. For additional resources on baby-led weaning, I recommend parents check out the following books:
- The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook – Volume 2: 99 More No-Stress Recipes for the Whole Family by Gill Rapley & Tracey Murkett
If you would like additional help getting your baby started with baby-led weaning, consider signing-up for a nutrition counseling appointment. Together, we can determine if baby-led weaning is best for your family and, if so, how to get started in a safe way.
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Kirsten Pierce, certified registered nurse anesthetist, mother to two amazing children, wife of an incredible husband and dog-mom of two fur babies, a Great Dane named Finnegan and a Lab mix named Layla. Besides her role of ‘super mom,’ Kirsten has now added the...