When we had our first child I read everything I could about everything baby-related, and one topic that kept coming up was this thing called “baby led weaning”. Simply put, baby led weaning is a feeding philosophy that allows babies to be in control of their eating from their very first foods. I delved deeper, and was quickly converted to a believer. We fed Aria this way, and nothing could have been easier. We don’t have food power struggles, I never have to cook or puree anything different from what we’re eating, I don’t have to pack extra food when we go out to eat, I don’t have to spoon feed while my meal gets cold, and Aria has learned to enjoy the flavors Andy and I enjoy – there are no separate meals in our future. Sound too good to be true? I assure you, it’s not!
Previous medical knowledge dictated babies might begin to be spoon fed from three or four months old. We now know that, not only is this almost never necessary (regardless of the size of your baby – mine were both born over 10 lbs), it can actually be harmful because their little digestive systems are not yet equipped to handle more than milk. There is no reason to feed a baby earlier than six months (that’s at the earliest – you can wait longer). If you wait until six months, your baby is likely to be sitting up and able to move food to his mouth on his own – the only skills he needs to begin eating finger foods. So, simple as that – wait until at least six months – and spoon feeding becomes unnecessary (and you’ve already simplified your life just by waiting a bit longer to get started!).
With baby led weaning:
- Your baby eats along with the family. He’ll observe you eating, and be part of the social aspect of the meal. As with every other developmental milestone your baby hits, when he gets to the appropriate point in his development, he will eat on his own as long as he’s given the opportunity. Think of it this way – if you give your baby the opportunity, he will simply start crawling on his own when he is ready. We all know this, but when it comes to feeding it’s become the cultural norm for us to interrupt their development by spoon feeding. Life is so much simpler and happier for everyone if you let your baby follow his instincts!
- You give your baby the same food you are eating, and he chooses what to eat. This approach gives him control over his eating, removing the need for the spoon-feeding power struggle (and your confusion regarding when the baby is full). There’s no more coercing the baby to eat the food you are offering. Just offer a variety of foods, and your baby will eat what tastes good to him. You’ll be amazed at the variety he gets in a week.
- Because you are waiting until your baby’s digestive system is prepared to digest solid foods, there’s no need to offer only bland foods. Offering the flavors you prefer from the outset teaches your child that those are the normal flavors to expect. You are less likely to have a picky eater, and you will not have to stick to the bland (and often unhealthy) kids menu options at restaurants.
- You want to nurse or offer formula to your baby before he eats a meal. You can simply have him eat at his regular times, but make sure he’s not hungry when you offer table food. Since he doesn’t realize it’s intended to stop his hunger, he’s likely to just get frustrated.
- Begin with foods that are larger, that your baby can easily guide to his mouth. It may take him a little while to move from experimenting to eating, since at first he really doesn’t associate food with hunger. At first it’s best to offer food in larger strips that will stick out beyond your baby’s fist. As long as you are eating a healthy diet, the size of the food is more important than what the food is. (In the photo above, Noah is eating half a banana. That photo is literally from his first meal – notice how good he is at it already. He doesn’t need our help.)
- There are a handful of unsafe foods, such as honey, nuts and excessive salt. And, of course, if you have allergies in your family you should keep that in mind when deciding when to introduce those foods. Our family philosophy is that if one of us can’t eat it, none of us eat it. It’s simpler to just not cook with those foods.
- Teeth, or lack there of, are not relevant. Your baby will be able to gum far more than you would think possible.
- As long as you eat healthily, they’ll eat healthily. A side benefit of this approach to feeding your baby is that your entire family will likely eat more healthily! Back when we were starting babies on food before they were truly ready, we had to offer them things like rice cereal, which we now know is really not a healthy first food. Aria has never eaten rice cereal, and we don’t buy any sort of teething or dissolvable food. I don’t buy any baby food, period, and we’ve never missed it.
- Nope, your baby isn’t going to choke! This was my main concern when I started researching, and what I learned really surprised me: when we are under a year old, our gag reflex is far forward in our mouths. So, if your baby starts eating solid foods immediately, he may gag, but he is extremely unlikely to choke. Instead, he’ll gag the food out (my kids have both done this, and it doesn’t phase them), and keep right on eating. It’s part of the learning process, and it’s as safe as anyone can be when they’re first starting to eat. On the other hand, if we teach our babies to swallow pureed food first, then later they have to relearn how to eat – oh, hey, suddenly you’re supposed to chew before you swallow! Not only are we working against ourselves, but we’ve waited until our kids gag reflex has started to move back, making them actually more likely to choke. Is it just me, or is that shocking?
For a comprehensive look at Baby Led Weaning, I highly recommend this book (affiliate link). You can find more tips for getting started here.