Babies reach many significant milestones during the first few years of their lives, from their first smile to their first steps. Among these achievements are vital life skills such as feeding themselves. And in this process, the foods they eat also evolve.
As your little one grows up to become a healthy child, their diet will gradually change from breast milk or formula like Kendamil organic formula to a diet of various solid foods. Since there are numerous ways that babies can get the hang of feeding themselves, this transition will differ from one child to another. Learning how to wean is a great way to do this, with this article focusing on baby-led weaning.
What Is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning differs from the process of weaning infants off of the breast or bottle. In fact, it makes no difference in a child's breast milk or formula milk intake. Instead, baby-led weaning introduces your little one to solid foods by letting them feed themselves to reinforce their satiety and natural hunger cues to develop their healthy relationship with food.
At times, baby-led weaning is confused with baby-led feeding or complementary feeding, which also involves familiarising babies with solids. However, the purist approach taken by baby-led weaning means it bypasses purées and spoon-feeding of baby-led feeding. It flips the script, puts your baby in charge of their mealtime, and ensures you follow their lead. This means looking out for signs of their developmental readiness and letting your baby self-feed once you're sure they are ready.
Moreover, since baby-led weaning skips the traditional baby foods, parents can prepare the same meals for the whole family, albeit with some differences in portions and choice of appropriate ingredients to suit their newest eater. By incorporating your baby into the family mealtime as soon as possible, they get to eat the same foods the rest of the family eats. Doing so offers the added benefit of potentially preventing picky eating habits from developing as they age, saving you from dealing with mealtime tantrums.
When And How To Get Started
Once your baby reaches six months old and starts eyeing what you eat, there's a good chance it's time to get started on baby-led weaning. Other signs of readiness for this transition to solids include:
- Promising hand and finger dexterity.
- The ability to sit up straight without any support.
- Good control of their head and neck.
These show that your child has the proper coordination to handle solid foods. If these are not yet present, or if your baby still has a tongue-thrust reflex (common in infants up to six months old), it's best to put off baby-led weaning for later.
It is also advisable to talk to your baby's paediatrician first regarding baby-led weaning (and even getting them started on purées) once they are four months of age. Discussing the matter can let you understand what steps to take for your child and the resources you can use moving forward.
Consulting them about your plans is especially helpful if your child has special healthcare considerations or drinks thickened or specialised baby formulas. It is worth reviewing your plans to see if there are modifications that can work for your little one.
Best Foods To Start With
It's essential to start with foods your baby can grab and pick up easily in the palm of their hand. Some great examples are mango strips sliced into wide sizes, wedges of sweet potato slices, chunks of baked salmon, or an omelette cut into strips.
At the start, the purpose of eating these foods is to acquaint your baby with stimulating their eating and swallowing body mechanisms and for iron intake. Boosting their iron levels is critical to healthy brain development. Given that their body's iron stores typically run low upon reaching six months old, it is important to prioritise iron-rich foods like eggs, cooked chicken thighs, steamed broccoli, and so on.
Steer clear of choking hazards like:
- Round and firm foods like berries and grapes
- Hard and crunchy foods like nuts
- Raw and hard-textured foods like carrots
- Peanut butter (if served alone, it may be too sticky for your baby to handle)
In addition, take care to keep an eye on your baby as they eat and make sure to learn the difference between gagging and choking. Gagging is normal; the sound when coughing up food means their muscles work correctly to protect the airway. Meanwhile, choking is typically when your baby is quiet yet has a panicked look on their face.
For peace of mind when doing baby-led weaning, paediatricians recommend taking a child-infant CPR course to learn all everything you need regarding choking management.
The Merits of Baby-Led Weaning
Baby-led weaning comes with various benefits for babies and their parents alike, namely:
1. Saves time and money
Not all parents enjoy the time-consuming baby-food-making process, nor are they eager to keep purchasing pre-made baby foods, which can be quite expensive nowadays. With baby-led weaning, these troubles no longer apply since everyone eats the same thing.
2. Early exposure to a diverse range of foods
Pre-packaged baby foods and purées all share one common trait of soft textures, which doesn't help develop their palate. In contrast, baby-led weaning introduces your baby to a greater variety of foodstuffs with a broader array of tastes and textures.
3. Hone essential developmental skills
Letting babies better understand their appetite and sense of fullness or hunger is incredibly valuable, as they can self-regulate over time. They will be less likely to overeat as they fully control what they taste and swallow. Babies also get the chance to try out tasks that require using their fine motor skills, such as picking up food, putting it into their mouth, and finally chewing and swallowing it.
4. Your child experiences valuable social interactions
Besides solid foods, baby-led weaning introduces your little one to the concept of eating together with family, providing positive developmental and social reinforcement. Besides being a wonderful experience for everyone, eating together lets your baby see role models for chewing and swallowing their food. They learn many things by watching everyone else eat.
Baby-led weaning is one way of introducing solid foods to infants once they are ready to explore feeding themselves from a young age. This approach skips the old-school methods of spoon-feeding and traditional soft baby foods in favour of letting your baby explore how to feed themselves from a young age. But at the end of the day, there is no right or wrong method, and parents can even choose to feed their baby with both methods as long as they provide for their bundle of joy responsively.
In the meantime, purchase baby food from our highly curated, top-quality selection at Nurturing Naturally. Contact us today to learn more!