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Everything You Need To Know About Baby-Led Weaning

Everything You Need To Know About Baby-Led Weaning - There are so many ways to introduce solids to a baby, but baby-led weaning is becoming more and more popular. Here's what it is and why we love it!

Hooray! Your little one is finally old enough to begin solids. Buuuut what do you do now? There are so many roads to go down when choosing how to introduce solids to your baby. We went the baby-led weaning route which is a very popular route to go down these days. And we loved it! So before I jump into what baby-led weaning is and how to do it, first let’s start with a little background on our baby-led weaning journey…

We had gotten the okay to start solids at 4 months old. Some moms are eager to start solids. I wasn’t. I knew it was recommended to wait until 6 months, but I went against my mama instincts and did what most first time moms do: I ran to Target to pick up some purees. It all of a sudden became exciting to feed our little one foods. So I got a couple purees and was eager to try them when we got home.

Allie had ZERO interest. None. Whatsoever. I found this to be a bit weird because this child was constantly trying to take food from us whenever we were eating so I knew the interest was there. But the spoon feeding just wasn’t working. She didn’t want it. And to be honest, I was almost relieved because like I said before, I wasn’t a fan of starting solids so early. So after a few days, we stopped them altogether and waited until she was 6 months as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

Once Allie was 6 months old, we revisited solids but this time I tried actual solid foods: food right off our plates. I’ll be honest, even at 6 months, Allie really wasn’t that into foods. Which is totally normal and okay! There’s no rush to have them eating three meals a day. But we introduced berries and bananas and yogurt melts and things like that. She’d eat them, but I had to feed them to her. She’d put things in her mouth all day long, but for some reason, she had no interest in putting food in her mouth.

It wasn’t until Allie was 8.5 months old that she fully dove into solids. I don’t even know what it was. She and I attended a baby shower where I offered her snacks all day long. She only had a bite here and there. And then I gave her a nibble of the cake (literally the healthiest “cake” you could imagine so don’t judge here ha!). I’m not sure if that somehow sparked her interest but the following morning she was willing to eat anything and everything completely on her own. She’s been nonstop eating ever since! So let’s move into the baby-led weaning basics.

What is baby-led weaning?

Baby-led weaning is when you skip the purees altogether and start with real, solid table foods. It’s offering your baby age-appropriate foods that are soft-cooked and easy for your baby to manage on their own. This may mean mashing the food a bit or cutting it up into smaller pieces. But really, the big thing is giving your baby real foods rather than spoon-feeding them pureed foods.

Note: Giving babies purees for a few months and then switching to regular solid foods is not baby-led weaning. That’s just the “traditional” method of weaning. 

What are the benefits of baby-led weaning?

There are so many benefits to baby-led weaning compared to going the traditional pureed route. That’s why it’s becoming more and more popular these days.

  • It introduces babies to various textures.
  • It allows them to build their jaw muscles.
  • It allows them to fine tune those fine motor skills needed to be able to pick things up.
  • It allows baby’s to be included in family meal times.
  • It’s natural. Babies don’t know what to do with a spoon. At this age, they’re wanting to explore their surroundings and pick things up. Feeding themselves comes more naturally to them than eating from a spoon.
  • It’s cheaper because your baby is eating what the family is eating.

At what age can you start baby-led weaning?

It’s best to wait until your baby is 6 months old and reaches all necessary developmental milestones. The milestones are super important and should never be ignored when choosing whether or not to start solids.

  • Be able to sit in a high chair unassisted.
  • Have good neck strength.
  • Loss of the tongue thrust reflex (when your baby instantly pushes food out of his/her mouth).
  • Have the ability to pick things up.
  • Brings hands to mouth.

Some babies reach these milestones sooner and others don’t reach them until later. Be sure to go by your baby’s milestones and always consult your pediatrician before moving forward with solids. They’re your best source of information for anything related to your baby.

What foods can my baby try?

If you’re eating it, your baby can most likely eat it as well. There’s not too much in our home that was ever off limits. But here are some great starter foods:

  • Berries (chopped if needed)
  • Cut up fruits
  • S0ft-cooked veggies
  • Crackers
  • Soft meats chopped into smaller pieces – chicken is a great one!
  • Salmon and tuna
  • Mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes
  • Scrambled eggs and/or hard-boiled eggs
  • Avocados – a favorite in our home
  • Pasta and rice

What foods should you avoid?

There aren’t too many big items you need to avoid. Even with babies who don’t have many teeth. The big thing is making sure the foods you’re giving them are cut and cooked appropriately. They should be easy for your baby to chew, easy to hold and no bigger than the size of their esophagus.

  • Popcorn
  • Honey
  • Raisins
  • Whole grapes
  • Uncut meats
  • Hot dog pieces
  • Hard, raw fruits
  • Hard, raw vegetables
  • Fish high in mercury
  • Caffeinated drinks
  • Excess sugars and processed foods
  • Foods high in sodium

What is the difference between choking and gagging?

If your child is coughing and making gagging noises, know that this is not choking. You will know when your baby is choking. I promise! Gagging is totally normal and it’ll happen much more often than you’re comfortable with. Especially in the beginning. Do not attempt to fish the food out of their mouth. I repeat, do not do this. Babies have excellent gag reflexes that occur much sooner than ours do as adults. If they can’t swallow it, they’ll spit it out. Trying to take the food out yourself can cause the food to become lodged in the back of their throat, causing them to actually choke on it. So as challenging as it may be, let your child figure it out themselves first. Don’t jump to the “rescue” every time they gag.

As for choking, you’ll know if they’re choking. Your child’s face and lips could turn blue or purple very quickly. You’ll also notice that your baby isn’t able to get air and is unable to cough or make any sounds.

What do I do if my baby chokes?

I feel that it’s very important for any and all parents and caregivers to get CPR and first aid certified. OR at the very least, take a class on it or watch Youtube videos. Being prepared is so so important and it can help a lot in easing the fears of your baby choking. If you’re in a situation where you’re not prepared and have no idea what to do, then seek immediate help if you’re in a public place. I guarantee you someone nearby knows CPR and first aid.

What if my baby doesn’t eat much? / How much should my baby be consuming?

The term “weaning” is a bit misleading. You are not weaning your baby off of formula or breast milk at this time. You’re simply introducing solids so they can practice and learn how to eat on their own. Your baby’s main source of nutrients should always be formula or breast milk until the age of 12 months. So don’t panic if your baby isn’t eating “enough”.

In Allie’s case, she didn’t consume actual meals until she was closer to 9 months old. By 10 months, she was consuming 3 meals a day in addition to her 32 ounces of formula and at 11 months she self-weaned off the formula completely (always consult a pediatrician when you actually begin the weaning process. Allie had been weaning herself off formula from 9 months onward so by 11 months she was completely done with it and our pediatrician had no issues with her moving onto whole milk).

Offer them foods throughout the day (after consuming formula or breastmilk) and allow them to eat as much or as little as they want. As they get older, they’ll start to eat more and more and eventually they’ll be consuming full meals. But remember: food before one, is just for fun! Don’t stress!

Additional tips:

  • Always be present when your baby is eating. Never step away. You must be available to react quickly if needed.
  • Always put your baby in a safe place to eat, like a high chair. Do not allow your baby to crawl around the floor with food in their hands or in their mouths. Your baby should always be seated when eating.
  • It’s okay to make messes. Baby-led weaning is messy. And that’s okay! Let your baby explore their food.
  • Have all caregivers take a CPR and first aid class. This will ensure that everyone watching your baby knows what to do if choking were to occur.
  • Give very thorough instructions to all caregivers. Again, all caregivers need to be on the same page here. They need to know how to cook and cut food to make it safe for your baby to eat and they also need to know what types of foods are okay to give as well. Safety is key here!
  • Be patient. Lastly, you need to be patient! It’s okay if your little one rejects the foods you give them or if they don’t eat a lot. Remember food before one is just for fun. Be patient and give them time to figure it out on their own.

Did you do baby-led weaning? What tips do you have for new moms just starting out?