It all began when I was at my friend’s house having lunch. There I was feeding my 26 month old (I also had a brand new baby boy at the time). I was partly feeding her and she partly feeding herself. And there was my friend’s 9 months old son feeding himself. Hmmm…interesting. Her 9 month old was her 4th child (and she was pregnant with her 5th at the time too) and so my curiosity got the better of me. How is he able to feed himself? And she went on to tell me that she practiced what’s called “babyled weaning” in which the child starts solids when they have an interest in foods and are able to feed themselves.
Well, I liked that! It made total sense to me. Ofcourse a child should be able to feed themselves but I’ll also admit that the idea of not spoon feeding/helping feed a toddler was very appealing. It seemed so much easier, less worrisome and I liked that it gave the control over feeding to the child instead of me deciding/worrying about how much my child should eat. In babyled weaning (here in the States it’s more commonly known as “babyled feeding”) the parent offers the food and the child chooses to eat it. And we know that a child will not starve herself – given balanced meal options a child will feed herself what her body needs.
And so I decided that with my new baby I would try babyled weaning. I asked her as many questions I could think of and she gladly helped me. When it came time for my son to start solids (which was 9 months instead of the usual 4-6 months that a baby starts solids when fed the traditional way), I offered healthy options in small sizes and he was able to feed himself. I also started giving him a small cup to practice with and taught him how to use it and before he was a year he was able to drink water from a cup unassisted.
Comparing my first experience of feeding my daughter with my experience with babyled weaning with my second (and then later with my third), I can tell you that babyled is so much easier as a mother! Meal times are easier, my child enjoyed solids so much more in a totally different way than if I was to have fed him myself, and he was able to decide for himself when he was done and when he wanted more without me trying to figure that out while feeding him.
How do you know when baby is ready for solids?
Ready signs – offer your baby solids when he is truly ready for solids. Here are some signs that baby may be ready for babyled weaning.
Reaching for food – This one sign but on it’s own it’s not a sign of readiness. Babies reach for everything! Is he reaching for your food to eat it or because it would make a great toy? Here’s how you can know – when your baby reaches for your food, offer him his favorite toy or your spoon. If he is happy with either than it was not your food he wanted but entertainment. If he throws the toy down, the spoon gets dropped and he goes back to reaching for your food – bingo!
Baby can sit up unassisted – you’re allowing your baby to eat solids (not pureed foods) so for developmental reasons as well as safety reasons you want your child to be seated up and not eating while half-way falling down or laying down and eating.
Baby has “pincher grip” – this is when baby can grab small objects with his fingers. This is a must since you’ll be allowing baby to feed himself so he needs to be able to pick up the foods.
Baby has a strong interest in eating food – Let’s say that baby seems to be grabbing for your food (not interested in a toy or the spoon but your food), can sit up, can pick up foods, but you give him foods and she has no interest at all. Well, baby is not ready. It’s babyled weaning meaning that baby leads the way. Try again in a few days and see if there’s interest and if not, then it’s best to listen to baby and wait until she’s interested in solids.
Is it really food he’s interested in? Young babies like to reach for anything you have in your hand. Make sure it’s your food he truly wants.
Food ideas for babyled weaning
With babyled weaning there’s no pureeing, mashing, liquifying, mesh bags, etc. Baby eats foods just like you would eat. Very simply you can start with pieces of foods from your own dinner plate. Or you can make foods like steamed vegetables, cut up fruits, small pieces of meat, pasta. I like the Do’s and Don’ts from Gill Rapley.
- DO offer your baby the chance to participate whenever anyone else in the family is eating. You can begin to do this as soon as he shows an interest in watching you, although he is unlikely to be ready to put food in his mouth until he is about six months.
- DO ensure that your baby is supported in an upright position while he is experimenting with food. In the early days you can sit him on your lap, facing the table. Once he is beginning to show skill at picking food up he will almost certainly be mature enough to sit, with minimal support, in a high chair.
- DO start by offering foods that are baby-fist-sized, preferably chip-shaped (i.e., with a ‘handle’). As far as possible, and provided they are suitable, offer him the same foods that you are eating, so that he feels part of what is going on.
- DO offer a variety of foods. There is no need to limit your baby’s experience with food any more than you do with toys.
- DON’T hurry your baby. Allow him to direct the pace of what he is doing. In particular, don’t be tempted to ‘help’ him by putting things in his mouth for him.
- DON’T expect your baby to eat any food on the first few occasions. Once he has discovered that these new toys taste nice, he will begin to chew and, later, to swallow.
- DON’T expect a young baby to eat all of each piece of food at first – remember that he won’t yet have developed the ability to get at food which is inside his fist.
- DO try rejected foods again later – babies often change their minds and later accept foods they originally turned down.
- DON’T leave your baby on his own with food.
- DON’T offer foods which present an obvious danger, such as peanuts.
- DON’T offer ‘fast’ foods, ready meals or foods that have added salt or sugar.
- DO offer water from a cup but don’t worry if your baby shows no interest in it. A breastfed baby, in particular, is likely to continue for some time to get all the drinks he needs from the breast.
- DO be prepared for the mess! A clean plastic sheet on the floor under the high chair will protect your carpet and make clearing up easier. It will also enable you to give back foods that have been dropped, so that less is wasted. (You will be pleasantly surprised at how quickly your baby learns to eat with very little mess!)
- DO continue to allow your baby to breastfeed whenever he wants, for as long as he wants. Expect his breastfeedingfeeding pattern to change as he starts to eat more solid foods.
- If you have a family history of food intolerance, allergy or digestive problems, DO discuss this method of weaning with your health advisers before embarking on it.
- Finally, DO enjoy watching your baby learn about food – and develop his skills with his hands and mouth in the process!
The 4 Day Rule
Most pediatricians and experts in baby feeding recommend waiting 4 days between new foods when beginning baby on solids. The reason for this is for you to be able to monitor how your baby is responding to the new food. In this way you can learn if your baby has an allergy or intolerance to a food. While we personally didn’t follow the 4 day rule (we didn’t since allergies to foods in our family are rare), I do think it’s a wise way of starting your baby on solids.
Finally, before beginning solids it’s recommend you take a Infant CPR/First Aid class so you can be prepared for any emergency. And also be sure to discuss what you will do with your pediatrician before beginning solids.
And finally here’s my favorite video about babyled weaning.