Weaning is the gradual change that a baby makes from having breast milk or formula as her only food source to eventually having no breast milk or formula and this change over can take on average 18 months. When one thinks of introducing the first solids, a picture of an adult spoon-feeding a baby pureed butternut or cereal comes to mind.
This approach is the most common weaning approach in the western world and rarely questioned. If one Google’s the dictionary definition of spoon-feeding you come up with: ‘to provide with so much help or information that one does not need to think for oneself. Baby led weaning on the other hand encourages a baby’s confidence and independence by following her cues. Solid feeding starts when a baby is able to move objects comfortably to her mouth, sit supported with good neck control and starts showing an interest in what the caregivers are eating.
If given a chance most babies will show their parents that they are ready for something other than milk simply by grabbing a piece of food and taking it to their mouths
The process of baby led weaning includes the following:
- Your baby sits at the family mealtime table with you and joins in when she is ready.
- She is encouraged to explore food as soon as she is interested, by picking it up with her hands – it doesn’t matter whether or not she manages to eat any at first.
- Food is offered in pieces that are the size and shape that the baby can handle easily, rather than as purees or mashed food.
- It is up to your baby how much she eats, and how quickly she widens the range of foods she enjoys.
- Your baby continues to have milk feeds and will show you when she is ready to reduce them.
The first experiences of eating solid food can have an impact on the way a baby feels about mealtimes for many years, so it makes sense to make them enjoyable. Unfortunately weaning for many baby’s – and their parents – isn’t much fun. Not all babies’ mind being spoon fed in the conventional way, some though become resigned to spoon feeding as oppose to really enjoying it.
Babies’, who are allowed to feed themselves, overall seem to enjoy food. Baby led weaning is most appropriate for infants over the age of 6 months as these infants are more able to co-ordinate hand to mouth movements.
The benefits of baby led weaning are numerous and include but are not limited to the following ;
- It’s enjoyable and fun for the whole family
- It’s a natural way of weaning – prior to the 1900’s parents would instinctively bring babies to the table when they were able to sit supported on the parents lap. This would lead to baby being given food from the family table.
- Learning about foods: babies who are allowed to feed themselves learn about the look, smell, taste and texture of different foods.
- Learning to eat safely – being allowed to explore food before it goes into their mouth teaches babies about what is chewable and what isn’t.
- Learning about their world – babies never just play, they are always learning.
- Reaching potential – feeding themselves allows babies to practise important aspects of their development at every mealtime. Using fingers to get food to their mouths practices dexterity and pincer gripe. Chewing on food vs just swallowing strengthens facial muscles.
- Gaining confidence – allowing babies to do things for themselves not only enables them to learn but gives them confidence in their own abilities and judgement.
- Trusting food – they are more likely to trust foods as eating is always in the context of a family mealtime so your baby sees you eat the food before she decides to try it.
- Appetite control – they determine how much they can manage and need at one time.
- Less pickiness and mealtime battles – eating is enjoyable and babies eat normal family foods from the start.
So are their any disadvantages to Baby Led Weaning:
- There are some concerns around baby led weaning and the biggest one is the fear that a baby will not take in enough food to nourish itself. This can happen if a baby is drinking too much milk for too long and doesn’t make the transition to solids.
- Breastfed babies who are not eating sufficient solid intake after 6 months are at risk of suffering from iron deficiency inadequate protein intake. Some moms are not comfortable with this approach as it is less structured with minimal boundaries.
- Family mealtimes should be the goal in all homes; however, this may not always be realistic: three meals a day 7 days a week. Baby led weaning requires a baby to consistently mimic eating and eat together with one other trusted person.
Take heart, if you like the idea of baby led weaning, and the idea of spoon-feeding also appeals to you, you can do both. It is more the principles of baby led weaning that you need to embrace, how you implement them will be guided by you, your baby and your circumstances.
Finger feeding and self-feeding together with Spoon-feeding.
If you have successfully spoon-fed and your baby is older than 6 months you can add the concept of baby led weaning alongside spoon-feeding by introducing finger foods at meal times while you are spoon-feeding.
You can introduce baby led weaning snack times using the Baby led weaning principles discussed in this articles. Here are some examples of appropriate baby led weaning/finger starter foods:
- Steamed florets of cauliflower or broccoli
- Steamed, roasted or stir fried veggies
- Raw sticks of cucumber
- Thick slices of firm avo
- Fruit such as pear, apple, banana, peach, mango, nectarine – either whole or in strips
- Take a bite out of a whole fruit before you give it to your baby to make it easier for him to get to the flesh.
- Dried mango strips
- Keep some frozen chunk size cooked veggies in the freezer to heat up at meal times
- Offer meat as large pieces (size of babies fist) so that it can be easily held and sucked on.
- Fish cakes, meatballs
- Sticks of firm cheese such as cheddar or gouda
- Toast fingers, rice cakes
- Rice balls
- Pasta twists, shells and bows are less slippery