What is Baby-led Weaning?

baby eating by themselves

Figuring out the best solid food for your baby isn’t easy. You have to balance what your newborn needs, with what you think they’re actually going to eat. Unlike older children who can be encouraged (or bribed) to eat healthy snacks, babies won’t eat something they don’t want to! As you’ve no doubt discovered,  ‘Here comes the aeroplane’ doesn’t always work…

This is where baby-led weaning comes in!

In this article we’re going to take a look at this method of feeding and whether or not it might be right for you and your child.

What is Baby-Led Weaning and How Well Does it Work?

Coined in the early 2000s by health worker Gill Rapley, baby-led weaning is a relaxed and unstructured approach to baby feeding.

This method of feeding your baby involves providing a selection of foods for them to feed themselves, with no help from an adult! It should be soft food and in small pieces that can be held. Rather than requiring spoon feeding…like yoghurt, or pureed food.

Baby-led weaning puts your child in control of mealtime, rather than leaving you to try and work out what they’re ready for!

What are the benefits of baby-led weaning?

1. Promoting good eating behaviours

Baby-led weaning could promote better and healthier eating behaviours as your child gets older.

In one study, babies raised with baby-led weaning found it easier to recognise when they felt full, reducing the overeating that is such an issue in our society. As a result, baby-led weaning has also been linked with reducing obesity in later life…

2. Reduces food fussiness

A child can be infamous for being a fussy eater, but baby-led weaning could reduce the likelihood of your child becoming a picky eater.

A sample of mothers was asked to rate the fussiness of their children at 18-24 months old. The mothers who practised baby-led weaning rated their babies as less fussy than those who didn’t.

3. Makes feeding time easier

Feeding time can be tough, and sometimes it can seem like our babies would rather throw their food around than eat it. Baby-led weaning removes this friction between what you want (to feed your child) and what they want (to cover you in food). Instead, you allow your child to self-select what and how much they eat.

Research has shown this can reduce parental anxiety around baby feeding too (bonus)!

What difficulties are involved?

Baby-led weaning isn’t without drawbacks, and there are a number of things you should be aware of before pursuing this approach

1. Potential safety concerns

The most important issue with baby-led weaning is that, if you’re offering food types to babies before they’re ready for them, it could lead to gagging, vomiting, or potentially even choking (which we don’t want!).

Babies might be able to intuitively know when to start or stop eating based on how hungry they are, but that doesn’t mean they know what they shouldn’t put in their mouths. After all, that’s why they try to eat literally anything that’s not nailed down.

2. Negative mealtime experiences

If your baby does eat something they’re not quite ready for, either because the piece of food was too large or too difficult for them to chew (like raw vegetables). It could lead to negative mealtime experiences that develop into ingrained negative feelings towards eating.

3. It’s hard to identify allergies

If you have a family history of allergies your baby is also more likely to be allergic to something — but it won’t necessarily be the same food as you! With this in mind, paediatricians will sometimes recommend introducing foods one at a time, which isn’t compatible with baby-led weaning.

When to encourage baby-led weaning?

Baby-led weaning should only be started when a baby is ready to start eating solid foods, but how can you tell when that is?

First of all, for baby-led weaning to work your child has to be able to grab whole pieces of food and bring it to their mouth themselves. Babies typically develop this skill at around six months old. Your child needs to be able to hold their head up well and sit unsupported, which should be possible at this age. But don’t worry if they’re not quite ready.

How to start baby-led weaning

Sit your baby upright and facing the table (on your lap or in a high chair), and put the food out in front of them. You could start with small sticks or chunks of food (like carrots), and make sure you offer it — don’t just give it to them.

At six months old your baby will only need a small amount of solid food once a day. By seven months your baby will have had plenty of practice, and you should be eating together as much as possible. Your child will learn a lot from watching you, so it’s important to maintain this early in their life. Over the next three months, your baby will move gradually towards three meals a day.

What food should you give your baby when they’re starting to eat solids?

Just because you think your baby is ready for solids, that doesn’t mean they can eat anything, even if you cut it up small enough…

The following foods are safe to introduce into their diet from six months old:

  • Cows’ milk, used in cooking or mixed with other foods
  • Eggs
  • Foods that include gluten, including wheat, barley and rye
  • Crushed or ground nuts and peanuts
  • Crushed or ground seeds
  • Soya
  • Shellfish (do not serve raw or lightly cooked)
  • Fish

Monitor which of these foods your baby is choosing to eat and the quantities they’re eating too. This can help inform your baby’s diet moving forward!

Remember, it’s important to be conscious of possible allergic reactions at this age, so introduce foods that could trigger an allergic reaction one at a time and in small quantities. This is particularly important if you or the other parent suffers from allergies.

Tips for parents attempting baby-led weaning

Thinking that baby-led weaning might be right for you and your child? Here are seven tips to help you get started:

  1. The best age to start is six months old. At this age, they should have the hand-eye coordination to feed themselves, while they’ll also be able to hold themselves up.
  2. Make sure your baby is sitting comfortably and is able to use their arms and hands freely.
  3. Avoid feeding your baby in locations where they might get distracted, like in front of the TV. This helps prevent choking.
  4. Prepare yourself for your baby making a mess. They’ll squash, drop and throw their food, not to mention wipe it all over themselves, so be ready with a cloth. For this reason, a lot of parents simply put food straight onto the high chair tray rather than bother with plates or bowls.
  5. Avoid the temptation to feed your baby if they’re not eating themselves. Baby-led weaning is all about putting them in control of mealtime, and this will undermine that effort.
  6. Choosing the right time to offer your baby food is key. If they’re tired they’re likely to be disinterested in eating.
  7. Maintain milk feeds as this is still your baby’s main source of nutrition until they are 12 months old. They’ll reduce the amount of milk they drink themselves when they’re ready.

Need a break from all the chores of parenting and take a look at what new foods you can make for your kids!

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