‘Baby-led weaning’ is a process of introducing solid foods into a baby’s diet after the first six months. Unlike traditional spoon-feeding or assisted feeding, the baby eats by using his or her hands to transfer food to the mouth and then proceeds to chew and swallow, unassisted.
Baby-led weaning rose to prominence 10-15 years ago and has been utilized by several parents ever since as a viable approach to introducing their babies to solid foods. Studies conducted on the method have shown that baby-led weaning is helpful in encouraging healthy food habits and in avoiding childhood weight issues (1).
So, if you’re looking to get your child introduced to baby-led weaning, here are a few dos and don’ts that you should certainly keep in mind!
What To Do:
- Wait until the right time: To make sure that your baby will have absolutely no troubles whatsoever with feeding themselves, it’s important to wait for the right time until you allow them to do so! The baby should be able to sit up on his/her chair without assistance and should be able to chew and swallow food properly.
Although the right time for babies to be weaned off of breast milk/formula and onto other foods is generally considered to be around six months, developmental delays could push it up to as much as nine months (2).
- Breastfeeding should continue: Even though the weaning process might have begun, it is important for mothers to continue breastfeeding their babies at least until the baby’s first birthday. The mother’s breast milk is still supposed to be the baby’s primary source of nutrition (3).
- Eat together and supervise: Even though the baby might be feeding himself/herself now, you must keep an eye out to make sure everything goes smoothly. Eating together during the family mealtime ensures the little one is under supervision. So make sure that the baby eats during the appropriate times of the day with everyone else!
- Prepare the food: Since babies use their hands to feed themselves, the food must not be pureed and should be “graspable” for the baby in a shape that’s easy to hold on to. Cooked potato, pieces of cheese, bread, pasta, soft fruits (bananas, carrots, etc.) are all viable choices when presented in a stick-like shape.
Cut long and thin slices of food instead of small, thick ones to avoid choking hazards (4). Also, a “squish test” might be useful in determining whether the food is soft enough for your baby. You can do this by only giving those foods to your child that you can easily squish on the roof of your mouth with your tongue (5).
Now that we’re through with the list of things you SHOULD do let’s take a look at some things that you may want to avoid doing. Here we go!
What Not To Do:
- Pick a bad time: As mentioned in the list of dos, it’s important to have the baby be upbeat, full of energy, and cheery during the time of the meal. Try to ensure that the feeding happens during appropriate times instead of odd-hours when the baby might feel grumpy or tired.
- Introduce too many new foods: Your baby will take a while to understand the taste and texture of different foods. Try to space the introduction of new foods out with a few days between them to help them get acquainted in an easier and more convenient manner.
- Rush the meals: When your baby starts feeding himself/herself for the first time, they are certainly going to take their own sweet time to do so. Remain calm and allow them to finish at their own pace instead of rushing to get things done quickly.
- Avoid getting emotional: Do not panic if your baby experiences mild discomfort and gags while feeding. If you’ve taken all the appropriate steps (ensuring that the food is soft, is not a choking hazard, etc.) then there’s likely not much for you to worry about.
Also, don’t get frustrated if your baby eats slowly or creates a big mess. Take cues from the baby’s behavior and determine a peaceful and calm direction in which to take things forward instead of losing your cool.
If you follow all the advice mentioned herein, we’re sure that not only will you and your baby be able to transition to baby-led weaning successfully, but that it will be an immensely rewarding experience for all involved. All the best!