Starting your baby on solids is a fantastic milestone, but it can also be a daunting prospect. Most moms take the traditional route of starting with pureed fruit and vegetables or rice cereal, but an increasing number of parents are now trying baby led weaning.

Baby led weaning ditches the usual purees and spoon-feeding, and instead pitches babies straight into finger food and family meals. This method focuses on allowing babies to feed themselves as soon as you start weaning, allowing them to learn to eat at their own pace and get used to textures at an early age.

Many parents struggle when they start solids, finding their babies have trouble transitioning to textured and lumpy food, become fussy when they are offered family foods and are slower to feed themselves. Baby led weaning experts such as Gill Rapley, a health advisor who has led the charge towards baby led weaning, say their approach eliminates those problems.

Babies who are fed using the self-feeding approach are said to accept textures quicker than babies fed on purees, and move more quickly towards eating the same food as the rest of the family. Babies fed using the baby led weaning method also learn to chew quicker and improve their co-ordination and fine motor skills through picking up the food.

Preparation for baby led weaning

Preparing for baby led weaning is easier than you think. In fact, it is probably easier than preparing to start solids the traditional way.

Normally, you will need equipment to make, puree, and store your baby food such as blenders or stick mixers and ice cube trays for freezing leftovers. With baby led weaning you don’t need any of this. You might want to invest in a good set of plates or bowls that can be fixed to the table, a sturdy high chair, and a covering for your floor.

Make sure your baby is ready to start solids before you embark on your baby led weaning journey. Signs include:

  • Being able to sit up and hold her head straight
  • Losing the extrusion reflex which makes their tongue push food out of their mouth
  • Not being satisfied by milk feeds
  • Curiosity about what you are eating

Some advocates of baby led weaning suggest delaying the introduction of solids until six months old when they have developed the basic motor skills needed to pick up and manipulate food and their digestive systems have developed enough to cope with a range of foods.

Starting solids the baby led way

So how do you start feeding your baby? It’s really quite simple:

  • Most people start with simple food such as steamed carrots or toast fingers, but you can start with any food that is suitable for their age.
  • Choose a time when your baby is alert and not too hungry. Giving your baby their milk feed a little while before you try solid foods can help reduce their hunger so they can concentrate on feeding themselves later.
  • Do not cut the food into bite size pieces as this makes it more difficult to handle. Instead, aim for fist size pieces cut into wedge shapes, or that have a part your baby can hold on to such as the stalk on a broccoli floret. Your baby will have trouble opening their fist to let go of the food, so these shapes make it easier in the beginning as they can eat the part that is protruding, and then drop the rest when they have finished.
  • Put the food on a plate, or on your baby’s high chair tray and let them get to it. Do not rush your baby or try to feed them. Let them take time to explore the texture of the food and experiment with putting it in their mouths.
  • If you can, offer your baby food when the rest of the family is eating so they can see you eat. If it is suitable, offer your baby the same food that you are eating, so they can copy what you are doing.

Troubleshooting

Like any new stage in your baby’s life, weaning will have its ups and downs.

Many parents worry about their baby choking on finger foods, but if you cut it to a suitable size and shape this should not happen. Remember that although your baby leads in this style of weaning, it does not mean it is a hands-off approach. You should still watch your baby closely while they are feeding and be on hand to deal with any problems.

At first, you might find your baby does not eat much, but at this early stage milk feeds will still provide many of your baby’s nutritional needs. As they get used to solids and the process of eating, they will begin to take in more food.

As your baby gets older and getting nutrition from solid food becomes more important, you will need to make sure the finger food you serve meets these needs. For example, as meat becomes more important in your baby’s diet, think about serving portions of minced meat, which is easier for your baby to chew and swallow as well as bigger pieces of meat for them to chew on.

A final piece of advice

If you are a mom who really cannot stand mess, then baby led weaning might not be for you. With your baby in charge, there is bound to be mess so expect more food to end up over your baby, over the high chair, and on the floor than with the spoon-feeding approach.

The best advice here is simply to relax. Feed your baby in an area you do not mind getting a bit messy, cover your floor with a plastic sheet, then sit back, and enjoy the ride.