Baby-Led Weaning: Review of the WHAT and WHY
In case you missed it, the last post in this series was all about the “what” and “why” of baby-led weaning (BLW), an approach to feeding infants that promotes letting the child direct and control the process of eating solids foods. For some parents, following the BLW approach means that ONLY finger foods are given to their child, while others take a less stringent view and spoon-feed a small percent of time as well. There are several advantages to BLW (you can read them here) and a few key components to making BLW work for you: (1) your baby is showing signs of readiness for solid foods and (2) s/he will continue to received breast milk or formula on demand. “Check and check,” you say? Then sit back and buckle up. It’s going to be a messy, and fun, ride.
How do I follow my baby’s lead?
When parents control feeding (as is the case when spoon-feeding), research has shown that it’s important to pay close attention to signals of hunger and fullness: you don’t want to stop feeding when a baby is still hungry, but overfeeding is equally disadvantageous. These early experiences with feeding are important for establishing eating patterns and weight trajectories through childhood and into adulthood. What’s more, research shows that the more parents are able read and follow those hunger and satiety cues in their children, the more easily children respond and provide the appropriate cues. For example, mothers who sat facing their babies during meal time, spoke in a positive tone during feeding, and were physically relaxed during the meal had children who were equally relaxed and vocal (e.g. cooing as opposed to fussing) which made communication easier.
The need to pay this close attention is somewhat reduced when following BLW because you are not responsible for putting every bite into baby’s mouth. But this doesn’t mean that you can simply put a plate of food in front of your child and walk away. Although choking is uncommon, it is still important to make sure that pieces of food are appropriately sized.
This check-list includes other ways to follow your baby’s lead. Pin it and refer back to it for easy reference.
What foods are good for baby-led weaning?
Here’s the good news: all of them! Following BLW means that you don’t have to make special food for your little one. Of course, there are some foods – and shapes in particular – that are a little easier for small and inexperienced hands to pick up so you might have better luck starting with those. When baby is first learning, slightly larger and/or longer shapes will be easiest because your baby can use his whole fist to hold the food. Think sweet potatoes cut into French fry shapes and baked, strips of toast served dry or spread with almond butter (unless there’s a suspected nut allergy), or carrot sticks cooked until soft.
As your baby becomes more proficient with her pincher grasp and is able to pick things up with her fingers, you can begin serving small pieces of things: cooked root vegetables, peas (my kids loved frozen peas when they were teething), banana and avocado, cooked beans, oatmeal baked and cut into strips or small(ish) pieces. Really, anything goes! For slippery foods, like banana, you might try coating it in nutritional yeast or wheat germ (or crushed cereal) to make them easier to pinch.
And, for those foods that are difficult to eat with your hands, like yogurt, feel free to use a spoon. You can still pay close attention to your little one’s signals even if you are offering the food using a utensil.
If you did BLW with your baby, what were some of your (or more accurately, his or her!) foods?