As your baby grows, you may be considering transitioning from bottle-feeding or nursing to giving them baby food. And while you might be concerned about raising a picky eater or worried about your child not having enough independence, we have a great possible solution: baby-led weaning.
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is a method of introducing solid food to your child’s diet at around six months old, skipping puréed baby food and spoon-feeding entirely in favor of finger foods that your baby eats on their own.
The intention of baby-led weaning is to encourage your child’s independence. Instead of feeding your baby on your schedule, you follow the baby’s cues, waiting for your child to show you they’re ready to eat. As part of the process, babies are brought to the table for family meals and are encouraged to pick up food with their fingers, eating as much or as little as they need.
Babies introduced to solid food with baby-led weaning also continue with nursing or bottle feeding but can determine on their own when those milk feeds should be reduced or eliminated.
What are the benefits?
With baby-led weaning, your child will begin to gain independence. They’ll learn to eat on their own and have control over what and how much they eat. Another benefit of baby-led weaning is the opportunity for your baby to practice critical oral and motor skills. Self-feeding a variety of food enables your child to work on tongue and jaw movement, strength, swallowing, and the fine motor skills required to pick up food.
Another benefit is appetite control. Your child is in control of how much food they eat, and they learn to stop once they’re full. Not only that, but your baby becomes part of family meals. This makes dining out easier because your child can eat solid foods. Baby-led weaning is also less expensive because your baby is eating real food—so no pricy jars or blenders are required.
When can you begin?
A baby is ready for baby-led weaning after certain developmental milestones, such as being able to sit up with minimal or no support from a parent or caregiver, reaching for objects, and bringing objects to their mouths.
As with any new skill or milestone, parents may also have some concerns about your baby’s safety. However, baby-led weaning is no more or less dangerous than your baby eating specially made baby food. For parents who still need that extra peace of mind, Hancock Health offers CPR courses where you will be taught how to perform choking first aid and CPR on infants, children, and adults.
If you feel like your child is ready to begin eating on their own, there are lots of good foods you can start out with, such as spears of soft, ripe fruits like bananas, pears, or avocados. You can also do strips of roasted, baked, or steamed vegetables like potatoes or carrots, and ground meats or soft shredded strips that you can poke your finger through. These options will give your baby the chance to pick food up that’s soft enough for them to gum and chew.There are many benefits to baby-led weaning, but the decision to begin starts with you. Talk to your pediatrician and see if baby-led weaning is the right step for your family.