From understanding the process, to a list of plant-based first foods and tips for success, here is everything you need to know to make your baby a self-reliant eater.
Introducing solids to a baby for the first time is such a special milestone. The family or nanny delivering a spoon of puree into a baby’s wide open mouth, complete with actions and sound effects, is a familiar scene at mealtime for many. Today however, a growing number of parents are skipping the mush and transitioning their babies from milk straight to nutritious whole foods, as soon as they start solids.
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What is baby led weaning?
Baby Led Weaning (or BLW) is a weaning method that allows your baby to take the lead in progressing to solids. At this stage these foods complement their diet of breastmilk or formula. The baby is put on a high chair before a spread of finger foods, and through trial and error, learns to transfer the bits from the tray to tongue, all by himself.
What are the benefits of baby led weaning?
- It encourages motor skills and coordination
- It makes “eating” an interactive, independent and positive experience
- It’s less time consuming for parents, than preparing and feeding specially made foods
- It’s fun to see your baby explore textures of foods through touch and taste
How do you know if your baby is ready to baby led wean?
Your baby is usually ready when they can sit up, at around 6 months. At this time they start showing a keen interest towards food by reaching for it or watching you eat. They are also likely to be able to grab and hold onto objects, and be able to push foreign objects out of their mouths.
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What are good first foods to start baby lead weaning?
We recommend starting with plant-based foods that are gut-friendly and easy to digest!
Fruits: banana, mango, papaya, chikoo, ripe pear, ripe peach, avocado
Vegetables: steamed broccoli, beans, sweet potato, pumpkin, carrot
Probiotics: homemade coconut yoghurt
Try and choose organic (free of harmful toxins and pesticides) and local (seasonal and not treated for longer shelf life) produce where possible. Avoid sugar or table salt in the first year, Himalayan pink salt in small amounts is okay. But ideally, flavour your steamed foods with herbs if they are too bland in taste.
The rule of thumb is to offer only 1 or 2 new foods every 3 days to check for allergic reactions. The more options you offer, the more likely your new foodie will accept different foods.
Tips for successful baby led weaning
- Be patient and don’t worry about your baby eating enough. The primary source of nutrition for your baby comes from breastmilk or formula in the first year.
- When starting out with BLW, do not offer solids as a replacement for a milk feed. If your child is hungry, he will get frustrated if he has not yet mastered the skill to put food from the tray to his tongue by himself. It’s best to start BLW by introducing solids in between milk feeds. Once your baby gets the hang of it, he will automatically reduce his milk feeds or you can try and swap out a milk feed for a solids meal.
- For babies under 1 year, cut whole foods into sticks or wedges that are easy for little hands to grasp. The pieces should be long enough so they extend beyond your baby's fist, allowing him/her to nibble on the part that juts out. At this stage, babies do not have the developmental milestone to open their fist and put the food into their mouth, so it's important to prepare solids in a way that assists them to self-feed.
- Try placing the food directly on your baby's high chair tray table rather than on a plate or bowl – babies find it easier to pick up their food this way, while they are still learning this new skill and finding their independence.
- Offer solids at mealtime, and let your baby decide if he’s ready to eat them. Most babies are curious and learn about the world through their taste buds at this stage, so it is likely they will try and put the food in their mouth. If your child is resisting or dislikes the food on offer, don’t be disheartened. Simply try again at a later stage.
- Let your baby use their hands to work out the process initially and once they become more confident, you can introduce a fork (spoons take more practice as you need to balance the food). When possible, sit together at the table as a family and let your baby observe how you eat – babies love learning through imitation!
- Your baby doesn’t need teeth to chew on solids, his gums are strong enough – so don’t worry if his teeth haven’t come in as yet.
- BLW is messy! Invest in a good bib, a high chair and a suction bowl or plate that restricts spills to help in containing the mess. Our soft and organic, generously sized bibs are a meal time favourite.
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A few things to keep in mind…
About choking: This is the most common cause for parents new to BLW, but it is less worrying than you would imagine! When you offer soft, whole foods to your baby, it is likely he will quickly learn to chew and swallow them without any difficulty. In the event that your baby does gag – there’s no reason to panic. It’s a completely natural reflex to help dislodge food if it does get stuck, and most often it works. Never leave your baby alone with food and avoid foods like nuts, whole grapes, apples with the skin and cherries in the early days.
About getting enough iron: Since iron rich foods are sometimes harder to eat for babies at this stage, leafy greens that can be blended into a smoothie, soup or chutney to accompany solids are a good option.
Another helpful tip: In case your baby is just not putting the whole pieces of food into their mouth and only busy playing and squishing it on their tray table, take a little bit onto your finger and bring it to their lips. Once they have a taste and know it’s food and not a squishy toy, they might become more included towards grabbing it with their own hands and taking it to their mouth.
The most important thing is for your baby to become self-reliant and enjoy mealtime, so try a few options and let us know what worked out best for you and your family.
Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we’d love to hear about your BLW journey!