Photo by Scott Sherrill-Mix & Devinf via Flickr Image altered.
Hopefully you have read 3 Reasons Not to Spoon-Feed for an overview on baby-led weaning. Now onto the next! The following is an easy to read, condensed version of how to begin with baby-led weaning.
When to Begin (a very brief summary)
Up until recently, it was recommended that babies begin cereal at 4 months. Now, it is known that holding off until around 6 months is preferred for a multitude of reasons including, but not limited to, possible allergy prevention, healthy microbiota development and to prevent intestinal discomfort (1). If your baby is near 6 months old, look for these three criteria:
- He can sit up by himself without support
- He grabs things and brings them to his mouth
- He bites on his toys
If all the above are true, your baby is likely ready to start baby-led weaning (2).
How to Start Baby-led Weaning (Step 1): 6-8 months
First things first, always remember to wash your baby’s hands before each meal.
Before eating, your baby should be in a fully upright sitting position, preferably in a highchair.
Start baby off with one food at a time; it’s a good idea to begin slow, with one ‘meal’ a day for the first few weeks or so. Ideally, wait a couple days before introducing another new food. Be observant for rashes that may indicate a food allergy. Gradually work up to providing a few different options at each meal.
The first time, he will likely fumble around, attempting to pick up that slippery morsel, but once he gets it, he’ll bring it to his mouth and suck on it. Gradually, sucking will turn into gnawing and gumming.
The beginning of baby-led weaning is about learning how to chew and getting baby comfortable with the idea of food in their mouth, not about the actual act of eating.
If he manages to take a bite into his mouth, more than likely, he will spit it out. For the first couple weeks not much food will be “eaten”. This is normal. At 6 months, baby doesn’t need more than breastmilk or formula anyhow, so don’t fret over how much he is eating at this point in time. The beginning of baby-led weaning is about learning how to chew and getting baby comfortable with the idea of food in their mouth, not about the actual act of eating. Let them go at their own pace. If your baby doesn’t seem interested, or isn’t bringing the food to his mouth, he may not be ready. Try again in a couple weeks.
Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods - and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater suggests to start with “finger” food, as in foods that are cut into the shape of a finger. Prepare fruits, vegetables and breads into slender pieces, finger size, so it’s easy for baby to hold. At this point your little babe has not developed her pincer grasp skill yet, so all foods must be big enough to hold in the palm of her hand and long enough to have some hanging out to be able to put in her mouth. Prepare the food fingers at least 2 inches long. Slippery foods like banana and avocado may be easier to hold if a piece of the skin is left on for grip. Just be sure to wash with soap and water before handing it over.
Good Starter Foods Include:
- Cucumber fingers; she will learn how to scrape out the seeds and swallow.
- Tomato slices; he will learn to suck out and swallow the pulp.
- Banana (either attached to part of the peel or split into fingers); at first she’ll spit it out, but will learn how to gum and swallow.
- Avocado slices; same as banana.
- Asparagus spears, recipe here: Perfectly Roasted Asparagus.
- Green beans, cook till soft to the touch but not mushy; he will suck on the bean for a long time and will likely spit out any bite he manages to get off.
- Kale chips; she will love these! They disintegrate into her mouth, easily.
- Halved stone fruit; you can hold the fruit for her if she can’t manage to pick it up. Take a couple bites to remove the skin first. She will suck the juice out of the fruit and make the cutest mess you’ve ever seen!
- Corn on the cob (partially eaten already by you makes it easier); you can help her hold it while she gnaws on the cob. Another option is to cut the corn cob into 1 inch rounds.
- Chicken leg bone (already eaten by you); he will suck and gnaw on those little bits of chicken still stuck to the bone.
- Toast fingers dipped in humus; he will learn to suck and swallow quickly with these!
- Potato wedges, roasted in the oven with a bit of olive oil; she will suck and gnaw and will likely swish the piece she bit off in her mouth for a long while before spitting out or swallowing.
- Seedless watermelon; slice in fingers or wedges and watch her suck the juice right out.
- French toast fingers, recipe for Banana French Toast.
There are some foods that require the use of a utensil like whole-milk yogurt and unsweetened applesauce. Load the spoon with a small amount of food and place it in your baby’s hand. Assist her in guiding it toward her mouth the first couple times, then let her do it. Quickly she will learn how easy and fun it is, because she now gets to swallow a mouthful! So invest in a set of bendable plastic spoons, these are the easiest for her to handle.
Your baby will likely gag himself by sticking the food into his mouth too far or by sticking too much in. This is good; it’s trial and error. Eventually, he will learn how far is too far and how much is too much. Gagging is different from choking. Baby is choking if food blocks the trachea (windpipe); aspiration into the lungs may or may not occur. Gagging is a spasm of the throat in attempt to prevent choking. Some babies gag a lot, others learn quickly and don’t do it much. Some great videos to watch on infant choking are here.
Mom and Dad (and anyone else eating with baby) need to be relaxed. It is normal to be full of worry when starting baby-led weaning. The best thing to do is to be confident by diligently preparing their food and supervise with a smile, don’t show your baby your uneasiness. Take a baby CPR class or watch videos online what to do in the event choking occurs. (All parents and caregivers should do this anyways, despite beginning baby-led weaning!) Research baby-led weaning, watch videos, become part of a support group to ask questions, don’t just jump in unprepared. Learn all about baby-led weaning and know why you are doing this approach.
- Baby doesn’t yet know that this new food stuff will fill his tummy. So don’t sit him down when he is hungry, make sure he has had milk or formula first.
- At this time, 100% of baby’s nutritional needs should come from breastmilk or formula. Any food eaten should not be counted as a meal yet. Continue with your liquid feeding schedule as you were before.
- Start sitting your baby in their high-chair at the dinner table during meal times as early as you can, even before they are ready to begin eating. Allow him to watch the family eat and be a part of the meal experience from the start.
- Don’t put food in your baby’s mouth for her. Let her be in charge of what and how much to put in.
- Only do this when you have time to spend. Baby-led weaning is time consuming and messy! Make mealtime as relaxed as possible and turn off the TV, baby needs to be as alert as possible.
- Talk to your baby about everything! Explain what each food is, about it’s color, texture, temperature, where it came from…anything!
- Don’t be afraid to give your baby certain foods because you don’t think they’ll like it. Especially if you’ve been breastfeeding, babies are open to new tastes. It may take a few tries, but most likely will grow to like all foods IF you provide them a diet full of variety from the very beginning.
- Make it taste good. If you wouldn’t want to eat it, why would they? Don’t just steam their veggies all the time, steam then sauté their vegetables in olive oil and garlic. Add flavor, make it taste good! And if they don’t like the steamed broccoli you made, prepare it differently by roasting it the next time! This is one of the beautiful things about baby-led weaning, most of the time, they can eat what you are with minor modifications. Be sure to cut back on (but don’t eliminate) the added salt in your recipes.
- Start your baby on healthy foods: fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains. Give him the opportunity to go through life being fond of healthy food.
Essentials for Baby-led Weaning
- The official baby-led weaning book: Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods-and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater
- A very easy to clean highchair like Ikea's ANTILOP Highchair with safety belt, white, silver color and ANTILOP Highchair white
- An big apron bib like Kushies Waterproof Bib with Sleeves, White Circle, Infant
- Suction bowls Munchkin Stay Put Suction Bowl, 3 Count
- Spoons that are bendable Munchkin Silicone Spoons - Girl - 2 pk or Num Num Dips
- A small cup like Babycup Baby and Toddler First Cup (Multi Coloured)
- Patience and time to spend (no link to purchase those!)
So baby has been doing baby-led weaning for more than just a few weeks and is now biting off big chunks of food, regularly… now what? Be sure to read:
And if you haven't already, 3 Reasons not to Spoon Feed and FAQ on Baby-led Weaning are great reads, especially when talking to others about why you have chosen baby-led weaning. If you are looking for some great recipes, follow our Baby-led Weaning Pinterest board!
Disclosure: Any links to outside products are affiliate links and I may be marginally compensated if purchased. Don't worry though, I'd never promote something I dislike or wouldn't purchase myself.
THE INFORMATION PROVIDED DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. All content information is intended to be for general informational purposes only. Please see your doctor with regard to information attained from the above article if you are concerned with the health of your child. The content above is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. NEVER NEGLECT YOUR DOCTOR’S PROFESSIONAL MEDICAL ADVICE BECAUSE OF SOMETHING YOU HAVE READ.