When it comes to introducing solid foods to their babies, a growing number of parents are passing on purees and spoon feeding in favor of baby-led weaning: allowing infants to feed themselves by giving them larger pieces of soft foods to explore and eat.
While the American Academy of Pediatrics does not officially recommend the practice of baby-led weaning (BLW), it does encourage parents to expose babies over 6 months of age to a wide array of healthy foods and a variety of textures. If you’re interested in trying BLW, ask your child’s pediatrician for more information. Read on for a bit of background regarding the practice.
How it Works
When introducing solids, look for important signs of food readiness, including the ability to sit upright, interest in food and eating, and the disappearance of the tongue thrust reflex, according to Liz Maseth, a registered nurse and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at Akron Children’s Hospital.
Initially with BLW, foods like vegetables should be cut into a stick shape (not round) and cooked to a soft texture, according to Dr. Andrea Preston, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s, who adds, “Foods that are served at first should be able to be mashed between your fingers.”
“When offering whole, solid foods, make sure it is a food that can be offered as a large piece, can be held in an infant’s fist, and that won’t break apart into smaller pieces and become a choking hazard,” says Dr. Brittany Ponziani, a pediatrician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s.
Avoid choking hazards like nuts, grapes, popcorn, hot dogs and apples with the skins on them, advises Maseth. Also, never leave a baby alone when eating food or force them to eat when they don’t want to.
The majority of calories and nutrition should come from breast milk or formula for the first year. When adding foods, breastfeeding moms should nurse first, then offer food; that way the mother’s milk supply will not be affected, Maseth says.
Also, parents should learn CPR, including what to do if an infant is choking, advises Preston.
Save money. BLW means no store-bought baby food or special tools to make purees at home. “I loved that we didn’t have to spend so much money buying baby food or spend the time preparing baby food,” says Beth Mueller, a mom of two from Stow, who tried BLW with her oldest daughter. “We simply gave Ally a little bit of whatever we were eating.”
Eat as a family. “I love that my girls fed themselves; this meant we could eat meals together as a family and all be actively enjoying it, instead of one parent feeding the baby or taking turns,” says Amanda Wagner, a mom of two from Pottstown, Pa.
Less picky eaters. “I firmly believe that Ally’s love of food and extensive taste range comes from baby-led weaning,” Mueller notes. “We already plan on doing BLW with our second baby when she is old enough.”
More mess. Less parental control means that mealtime can be very messy — in fact, Wagner says that if she and her husband decide to have another baby and do BLW again, they will get a better vacuum and floor cleaner.
Increased gagging. With BLW, gagging and possibly vomiting are to be expected — but should not be confused with choking, “Gagging is a protective reflex that moves food away from the airway,” Preston says.