Has your child’s pediatrician advised you to introduce solid foods to your little one soon? You might picture piles of mushy rice, cereal, and puréed peas to get the infant to open that little mouth. Although many parents do decide to start their babies on solids in the form of purées, there is another method that you may also take into account for your baby’s introduction to solid foods : baby-led weaning.
Baby-led weaning is quite common in the U.K. and is gaining popularity in the U.S.A. It is a method in which infants of 6 months of age or older skip the phase where they have everything pureed with no texture and move on straight to finger meals after being introduced to solids. It is based on the idea that your child should be allowed to choose the healthy foods that she wants to eat from the very beginning. This also gives them the freedom of choice. Though, it is only effective for babies at least 6 months old and can feed themselves.
When to Start Baby-Led Weaning
Most infants can sit independently, grab, and hold onto objects by the time they are six months old. So, it is suggested that by then you can start introducing solid foods to your infant. There is still a grey area when it comes to determining the proper age to introduce solid foods to your infant, as the individualistic requirements come into play.
If your baby looks pleased with breast milk or formula and has started to sleep through the night, wait at least six months to introduce solid foods. Yet, you could start to question if your baby is ready to be weaned earlier if they start to wake up more frequently during the night and exhibit signs of increasing hunger. It is recommended to mix some solid food with purees so that it is easier to swallow.
It also should be noted that before the age of six months, babies should not be introduced to finger food due to the increased risk of choking as they have not developed the proper tongue-thrust reflex to expel foreign objects from their mouths.
There are some signs which may indicate that your baby is ready for baby-led weaning:-
- After previously sleeping through the night, they begin to wake up hungry.
- They appear to still want more as they begin to empty an 8 oz bottle.
- They desire additional breast milk feedings.
- They begin to masticate and chew things in their mouths.
- They possess the fine motor abilities to pick up food and place it in their mouth, rather than just chewing and spitting it out.
- Being able to sit and hold their head up in a steady position.
Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning
The question that might come to a parent’s mind is why should they consider baby-led weaning. Is this just some current fad that’s just going around? Why not just stick to traditional spoon-feeding? Are there any added benefits to it?
- Baby-led weaning encourages infants to experience a variety of flavors and textures. In the long term, they might be more likely to have a wider variety of healthy dietary preferences.
- Several studies have revealed that infants who consume a variety of foods, such as fish and items containing peanuts, may be less prone to develop food allergies in later life.
- Parents should keep in mind that some of the most common childhood allergies include nuts (in the form of nut butter) and seafood, should always be consulted with a child’s pediatrician about the safest approach to introduce these foods to their infant.
- Baby-led weaning can significantly lower the risk of developing childhood obesity. It is similar to breastfeeding and enables the baby to self-regulate how much she eats based on her hunger levels. Spoon-feeding, on the other hand, places the parent in control (which may cause babies to eat faster and more than they need, potentially resulting in ignoring feelings of fullness).
- Baby-led weaning encourages the growth of fine motor skills. Choosing finger foods over other types of food promotes the development of manual dexterity. By the time a baby is 6 months or older, they have developed their pincer grip, which helps them to pick up finger food. They also have good hand-eye coordination.
How to start?
The rapid development of the baby’s physical ability to grab, hold, and chew foods may amaze you when you first start baby-led weaning. But, it is essential that parents also take baby steps when they first start their child with solid foods. Here are some of the basic principles that parents can follow :
Don’t adjust the baby’s milk feedings
All of your baby’s milk feeds remain the same when you start weaning. Baby must continue to receive the nutrition she requires from her bottle or breastfeeding.
Soft, gentle finger snacks
Start baby-led weaning by feeding your infant mild, easy-to-digest soft foods, and then gradually expose them to different tastes and textures. An easy indicator will be if they can mush the food with their fingers.
Cut your baby’s first foods into batons
Cut the baby’s foods such that they are big enough to fit into their fist with a small portion sticking out for them to chew. As a rough sizing guide for them, use your index finger.
Make them sit next to you during mealtimes.
There is no reason why your infant can’t consume the same foods as you if your meal includes salmon and steamed cauliflower. Let your child see you interact with food because eating is a social activity and allow her to imitate you.
Provide them with a variety
Provide a selection of foods. Introduce your infant to a plethora of foods, as it encourages the development of an exploratory taste and also reduces the likelihood that they will become a picky eater in the future. Offer up food with a variety of textures like roasted sweet potatoes, steaming green beans, roasted tomatoes, smooth avocados, juicy watermelon, and even tender cooked pasta.
It’s normal to worry that your kid might choke when you introduce solid foods to him or her. But, your child’s gums are perfectly capable of chewing soft solids as long as you provide them with safe foods.
Therefore, it’s crucial to be aware of the warning symptoms of choking in infants as well as the distinction between choking and gagging. Gagging is frequent, particularly in the early weeks of baby-led weaning when the infant tries to place strange lumps in her mouth. But, keep in mind that gagging is not the same as choking and is a safety reaction to food moving too far back into the mouth.
It is better to just remain calm and wait for the problem to pass when a baby gags because they are resolving the situation on their own. When the baby becomes used to eating solids, the gag reflex should diminish. Having said that, it’s wise to understand the distinction between choking and gagging as well as how to respond if the latter occurs:
A youngster who is gagging could cough infrequently and produce a small noise.
When a youngster is choking, they will appear afraid, be unable to breathe, and either make no noise at all, or they may gasp or wheeze. Moreover, they might appear terrified, their complexion might be bluish, and they might grip their throat (in toddlers).
Aim to spot any allergic reactions. The symptoms of a food allergy can include hives, skin swelling, tongue swelling, sneezing, coughing, throat tightness, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, stomach pain, and diarrhea. Talk to your child’s pediatrician about how and when to introduce common allergens like eggs, peanuts, and seafood.
Food to avoid during baby-led weaning
- Honey and corn syrup should not be given to infants younger than one year old because they may contain Clostridium botulinum, a dangerous microbe that is known to create toxins that can paralyze infants.
- Similarly, unpasteurized dairy goods and unpasteurized meats can cause life-threatening infections if they contain dangerous germs like Listeria. Ensure that the meats and dairy products you buy are marked “pasteurized” if you intend to feed them to infants.
- Moreover, you must avoid feeding your newborn fish that are high in mercury. Predatory fish like swordfish, sharks, and orange roughy are among them. Mercury is a heavy metal that can damage a baby’s growing nervous system, spine, and brain.
- It is fine to give your infant small servings of low-mercury fish like cod, light tuna, and salmon a few times each week instead.
- Avoid feeding your baby the following foods to lessen the chance of choking:
- Sticky foods include marshmallows, gummies, candies, and a lot of thick nut butter.
- foods in a coin or round shape include grapes, cherry tomatoes, hot dogs, and hard candies.
- Raw foods include carrots, apples, broccoli or cauliflower stems (until shredded for older infants), and celery.
- Popcorn, crusty bread, whole almonds, and other tough-to-chew foods
- Dangerous liquids for infants
Cow’s milk should not be given to infants under the age of one year because their kidneys and digestive systems can have problems processing the mineral and protein content. In addition, the AAP advises waiting until a child is 12 months old before giving them juice to prevent tooth rot.
Foods for Baby-Led Weaning
Fruits like avocados are renowned for their great nutritional value. Both babies and adults can eat them; they are the perfect food. It goes without saying that throughout the first year of life, newborns grow rapidly and require appropriate nutrition to maintain this.
This fruit that can be readily mashed is famous for having healthful fats, but it also contains fiber, potassium, folate, copper, and vitamin E. This fruit has a reputation for improving digestion and lowering the risk of several chronic illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
Yogurt is a tasty snack with calcium, protein, and benefits for your baby’s intestinal health, even though it’s not always a mess-free alternative. Since yogurt is a cultured dairy product, it has probiotic bacteria cultures like Lactobacillus that are good for your health.
Probiotics are important for gut health and can help young kids with gastrointestinal issues including diarrhea and constipation. It is advised against giving young children yogurt with additional sugars because doing so may raise their risk of developing heart disease by raising blood pressure and triglycerides.
Carrots come in a variety of hues, such as orange, yellow, and purple, and each one has specific nutrients. A type of nutrient called carotenoids is transformed into vitamin A by the body. Hence, carrots provide vitamin A to infants, a necessary nutrient for maintaining a healthy immune system Particularly, carrots contain the pigment lutein, which improves vision and might promote brain growth.
Apples can help BLW-fed infants satisfy their vitamin C requirements. Foods high in vitamin C can facilitate the body’s absorption of iron from diets high in iron. Also, infants who don’t get enough vitamin C in their diets run the danger of developing scurvy, which can cause issues with connective tissue.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends introducing foods that could cause allergies, such as peanuts, and tree nuts, to young children. Babies who are at least 4 months old may experience fewer food allergies if they are exposed to probable allergens early on.
Nut butter, such as peanut, almond, and cashew butter, is full of protein and goes well with a variety of different dishes. To promote growing bones and muscle development, babies’ diets must contain a suitable amount of protein. To prevent unhealthy hydrogenated oils and added sugars, choose natural peanut butter.
Sweet potatoes are well-liked, a simple-to-prepare root vegetable that is great for babies. For a healthy digestive system, fiber, which is present in sweet potatoes, is important. Since constipation is linked to poor fiber consumption, sweet potatoes may help keep your baby’s bowel comfortable and regular.