When my son, Thomas, was four months old, my doctor suggested I start introducing solid foods. I tried spoon-feeding him rice cereal, but he really didn’t seem interested. What was I doing wrong? Was he going to starve?
Then Thomas and I went to visit a friend and her one-year-old. I was in the middle of asking my friend how to cope with my solid food woes when her son walked in—eating an unpeeled apple, straight off the core. I was used to kids who won’t eat anything except PB&J with the crusts cut off, so I was amazed.
My friend explained to me that she and her husband used baby-led weaning.
Baby-led weaning is a way to introduce solid foods where the baby self-feeds. It’s a simple idea with a lot of advantages:
- Save time and trouble. Keeping baby food on hand is a lot of trouble. It means either stocking tiny jars from the grocery store or cooking separately and pureeing special foods for your baby to eat. You also have to carry separate food for your baby whenever you eat out. With baby-led weaning, there’s virtually no extra shopping or preparation.
- Make eating exciting for your baby. Babies love to explore. With baby-led weaning, mealtime is a chance for babies to learn about texture and taste and to practice their fine motor skills. Baby-led weaning allows your baby to make decisions for himself and to imitate his favorite people—mom and dad.
- Start a tradition of family meals now. Many parents, even those committed to the idea of family meals, spoon-feed their babies before they sit down to eat themselves. Because your baby feeds himself, baby-led weaning gives you the chance to sit back and enjoy meals as a family.
- Add a little fun to your life. My husband claims that his favorite thing to do as a new dad is to watch our son eat. Thomas loves to examine his food from different angles. He makes faces when he tries something new. He babbles along with our dinner conversation. Having him at the table brings so much joy to our lives every day.
Are you convinced?
- Check out the book. Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods – and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater will empower you to make responsible decisions about your baby’s diet. You can also find them on-line babyledweaning.com.
- Don’t rush your baby into anything. Even though you can buy baby food labeled for kids as young as four months, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast (or formula) feeding until babies are six months old. Babies aren’t ready to self-feed until they can sit up on their own, bring food to their own mouths, and show an interest in joining in at meal time—usually by the time they’re six or seven months old.
- Make it easy. If you want your baby to succeed at self-feeding, try to make his life a little easier. Cut veggies, breads, and cheeses into finger-shaped chunks to start. The chunks should be long enough that he can hold them in his fist and still gnaw on the end.
- Relax. Baby-led weaning puts the baby in control. The first few weeks, he won’t realize he’s eating at all. When he does discover that food is food, he’ll decide how much he eats. He’ll choose what he eats. And he will make a giant mess in the process. Enjoy the madness!
- Set a good example. If your baby is eating the same things you are, you’ll want to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet. It’s especially important to stay away from foods that are high in sodium. That means limiting your amount of processed and restaurant food.
- Play it safe. Some foods just aren’t safe for babies. Those include round foods like grapes and cherries as well as common allergens like peanuts and honey. Check out Baby-Led Weaning for a complete list.
Baby-Led Weaning is a great resource for new parents. You should always discuss your child’s health with your doctor. Many doctors look askance if you tell them you’re using baby led weaning. Tell those same doctors that you’re “carefully introducing table foods” and they’ll usually support your decision.