If you’re like me, the term “Baby Led Weaning” wasn’t very familiar until more recently.  I have heard it mentioned, but thought it was related to a baby weaning themselves from breast feeding without Mom’s guidance. While this isn’t entirely incorrect, it does leave out the foundation of what baby led weaning is all about.

What is baby led weaning?

Baby led weaning is a feeding style that is very popular in the U.K. More recently it is gaining ground among many American families as a preferred method for helping babies transition from a solely liquid diet, to one including solid foods.

Imagine a world where pureed food didn’t exist for babies (none of those super convenient baby food pouches?!).  This is where baby led weaning really comes to life.  The idea behind baby led weaning is that babies skip the purees and jump directly into learning how to gum, chew, and swallow solid foods. Purees can be used to supplement if parents choose. However, many baby led weaning experts recommend avoiding them altogether as it can confuse the baby from effectively learning to swallow solids properly.

Infants as young as six months old can reap the benefits of baby led weaning. Family meal time is a valuable opportunity for parents to model biting, chewing and swallowing foods while offering their child the same food they, themself are enjoying. By now you are probably wondering how anyone could possibly feel safe giving a six month old actual pieces of solid food. How do they chew without any teeth? Won’t they choke? These are questions frequently asked and we will get to the “choking” versus “gagging” piece shortly.

Safety While Practicing Baby Led Weaning

Follow these guidelines to ensure that both baby and caregiver will be successful and have a positive feeding outcome. It’s always a good idea to talk to your pediatrician prior to starting any type of solid food regiment.

  • To start, any foods given to the baby should be cut into a “stick” shape (think long and skinny rather than small and diced). This shape allows the baby to grasp the food easily and to gum or chew from the top down.
  • The caregiver should be able to smush all foods given to the baby between their pincer finger and thumb. If they are too hard to mush easily, they are not safe. Examples of safe foods are banana, cooked apple, avocado, toast, boneless fish, and soft (easy to break up) cooked chicken. Foods that are too chewy or crunchy are not considered safe choices, such as raw vegetables, uncooked apple, whole grapes, raisins, chewy meats, or large chunks of nut butter.
  • Baby should always be sitting upright in a high chair while eating. If at six months, your baby is not yet able to sit up, baby led weaning will need to wait.
  • As the baby learns to bite, chew and swallow, there will be moments where the child will gag while eating. This is where it is so important for caregivers to know the difference between gagging and choking. Gagging is the body’s natural response to move food out of the airway, and will happen less and less as the baby practices swallowing. If the baby gags, caregivers should remain calm and encourage the baby to swallow when ready.
  • So, how do you know if the child is actually choking? There will be either no sound or very slight wheezing, the lips will begin to turn blue, and the baby will look scared. It is a good idea for any caregiver of young children to have an infant/child CPR certification. Touching the baby, panicking, or patting the baby’s back can actually cause the food to become lodged in the airway rather than moving it out of the way.
  • There are tons of great baby led weaning groups on social media platforms that can provide additional guidance, parent experience, and helpful hints to parents choosing to join the baby led weaning community.

How much food should a baby be given and how often?

Babies can actually learn to stop eating when they are full more easily through baby led weaning than they can being spoon fed purees. When the child is in control of how quickly he eats and how much food to put in his mouth, he will also learn to recognize when he is no longer hungry. When parents spoon feed their child, they often do so quickly and with a specific amount of food they are hoping baby will eat. If mom is still breastfeeding, meals can take place around what is most comfortable for her. Babies should not participate in a baby led weaning mealtime until at least an hour after breast or bottle feeding, as it is important for them to be hungry for the experience.

So what are the benefits of baby led weaning?

  • Babies exercise their fine motor skills and gain dexterity through picking up and manipulating finger foods.
  • They are exposed to more flavors and textures which leads to less picky eating in the future (although there are no guarantees!).
  • Babies learn to recognize the body’s signs for feeling hungry and full.
  • They get to share in the social aspect of mealtime as they sit and eat with caregivers.

 

About the Author

Sarah Proctor has worked with young children for over 25 years as a teacher, childcare director, nanny, and mom of two girls. She has her Bachelors Degree in Early Childhood Education and Administration from UMass Amherst. In addition, Sarah has her Director 2 certification from the Department of Early Education and Care. 

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