When you first start looking into giving your baby solids (or, let’s be real, hitting up Google for the right way to do it), odds are you read a lot about purees. And while soft, creamy mushes are still a popular way of introducing real food to babies, lately another tactic has been rising in popularity: baby-led weaning. But what is baby-led weaning? And how (and why) are parents taking this track when introducing solids to their children? Here’s what you need to know:
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is letting your child feed themselves finger foods from the start, typically from six months on. That means no purees and no spoon feeding—your child is in the driver’s seat from their first bite. While Baby-led weaning has been a popular feeding method in the U.K. for years, it’s being adopted more regularly by American parents as well.
What are the benefits of baby-led weaning?
While there is certainly nothing wrong with starting your baby off on purees, there are several benefits to skipping straight to baby-led weaning.
Improved finger dexterity
Letting your little ones feed themselves can have major benefits to their hand-eye coordination and finger dexterity (like that much coveted pincer grasp!).
It’s a fact of life that these tiny humans love to have any sense of control over their tiny worlds. And when your baby is allowed to self-regulate what they eat as they do with breastfeeding, it also can helps them learn to self-identify feelings of fullness.
Decreased picky eating
Babies who start with purees don’t get the benefit of being introduced to a variety of textures as babies who start with baby led weaning. When your child is used to different textures with different flavors from the start, they’re less likely to balk at new ingredients and tastes. It also makes it easier to introduce potential allergens at an earlier age, which studies have shown can actually reduce the likelihood of your child developing a food allergy. Plus, any parent knows that your kid is more likely to do anything if they think it was their own idea—even eat broccoli.
When should you try baby-led weaning?
Around six months is still the magic age to introduce solids to your baby, even if you decide to try baby led weaning. At this age, most babies are able to sit up on their own and have begun to ditch the tongue-thrust reflex (AKA, that thing their tongue does where it pushes everything that isn’t milk or formula out of their mouth). Their stomach and intestines have also typically developed enough to properly digest solid food at this point.
How can I introduce baby-led weaning to my baby?
First thing first, “weaning” is a bit of a misnomer. Children who try baby-led should still be getting the majority of their nutrition from breast milk or formula like puree-fed children. As they start to eat more, they will gradually reduce the amount of milk or formula they consume.
Next, serve your child whole foods—but not just any whole foods. The finger foods should be soft enough to gum and cut into bite-size pieces to reduce choking risks. No matter what you serve, plan to be engaged in meal time to be safe. While you might be tempted to serve your baby exactly what is on your own plate, keep in mind that your baby’s serving should skip salt and that you should still hold off serving cow’s milk or honey until after their first birthday. Focus on vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and spices for peak nutritional benefits. Some examples of baby-led weaning meal combinations are Sweet Potato + Mango + Lucuma Powder + Chia Seeds + Coconut Butter or Broccoli + Green Beans + Chickpeas + Flax Seeds + Avocado Oil. Spices and oils can be added to the top of whole fruits and vegetables so they can be easily picked up.
Finally, enjoy the process! Yes, there will be more of a mess than when you feed your baby yourself, but there will also be a lot of laughs as your little one reacts to new flavors and textures for the first time. (And keep your phone handy to snap photos along the way!)
Interested in baby-led weaning, but not sure how to get started? Raised Real makes baby-led weaning easy. They deliver superfood meals for tiny humans to your door. Meals are ready in minutes and contain whole ingredients that make it easy for your tiny human to feed themselves.
By, Justine Lorelle LoMonaco