What is Baby-Led Weaning?

Long before there were food processors to puree foods, and long before there were baby food companies to sell you jars and boxes of baby cereal, there were babies. What did they do back then before it was possible to make a puree? Babies ate real foods.

Shocking though it might be to some people, it isn’t necessary to completely blend a food in order for it to be fed to a baby. In fact, if the baby is ready to start eating solid foods (ie they have achieved all of the milestones of readiness, including the ability to sit unaided, have lost the tongue thrust reflex, have reached six months of age and are showing interest) then they can eat whatever you are eating. This is called baby-led weaning.

There is a growing movement of people interested in baby-led weaning today, and it started with a British midwife called Gill Rapley. Large numbers of health professionals too are backing it, stating that it’s a wonderful way to allow baby to control how much they eat, and so not over eat. It leads to a broad range of tastes in baby, and is far, far easier for parents to do as it requires no special preparation in order to feed the baby.

Certain foods are more suited to baby-led weaning than others. Babies under the age of one year cannot have more than 1g of salt in their diet a day, so foods that are seasoned with salt or that are particularly salty (such as gammon, and salt based stocks) cannot be given. Other foods can be adapted, and when cooked for longer so that they are softer, are perfect for babies. In particular, perfect foods include those that are long and thin so that they can be gripped yet still have a chunk sticking out for baby to chew. Broccoli and carrot sticks are a popular first choice.

The biggest drawback of baby-led weaning is that you have to be eating reasonably healthy meals yourself. For some families this can be a good time to clean up their diet, as it serves as an incentive. Others get around a liking for junk food or take out by batch cooking larger amounts of baby-safe foods, so that they have an easily available selection of meals for the baby when they aren’t going to be having something that is safe for baby.

Other things are messy but perfect, and easy for the baby to eat. Spaghetti and other pastas, though the baby will end up wearing them (or at least it seems that way) are great fun for baby, and potato and soft cooked vegetables are good too. Some families wait to introduce meat, but there is no need. Though baby won’t have the teeth yet to bite off and chew large amounts, they will be able to taste the meat simply by sucking on it, and will still benefit from some of the nutrients in it, such as iron.

Soups are a consideration in and of themselves. Though easy for a baby to eat when fed to them, they are harder for them to feed themselves. Don’t let this put you off though. You can either pre-load the spoon with soup and hand it to the child, or just deal with the fact that there will be a lot of mess. A drop mat on the floor, and bibs or messy clothing helps with this. Consideration needs to be given to the salt contained in soups before allowing a baby to have them, making home-made soups a popular choice.

Dangerous foods include popcorn, and others that are a choking size and shape. Sausages for instance, when introduced, should be cut length wise to give the child something to hold onto. Slicing them into disks not only makes them harder to hold (as they require the pincer grip that isn’t developed till around nine months old) but they are the right shape to cause the child to choke if they swallow them whole.

There is a lot to consider if choosing baby-led weaning for your family, but once started it can be a great deal of fun!

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