Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) offers an alternative to pureed and mashed foods for babies.
It allows them to have the opportunity to discover, explore and develop their own relationship to food. It also provides lots of sensory (and yes, messy!) fun.
When you follow the internationally recognized guidelines to start solids around six months, it isn’t necessary to reduce foods down to a near-liquid state to allow babies to swallow them.
The old advice to start from 4 months (or even earlier) meant foods weren't ‘solids’ at all, and often led to babies being unable or unwilling to progress to self-feeding a few months later.
6 Simple Steps For Introducing Solids
Being developmentally ready to eat foods is a big step for babies and allowing them to begin when they are physically able means they can enjoy the experience as nature intended. Here are 6 steps to introduce solids the simple way:
#1: Involve Your Baby In Family Mealtimes
When your baby is around 4 months, he will start to show interest in you eating. He's not yet ready but boy, is he studying hard! As your hand moves from plate to mouth, he follows with his eyes. His hand reaches out for what you are holding and he makes chewing movements and even drools a bit! Let him sit on your lap and even hold or taste a little – he wants to see what it's all about!
#2: Wait Until Your Baby Is Developmentally Ready
At about six months, your baby’s body is ready to give it a go. He can sit up mostly unsupported, he has lost that tongue reflex which prevented swallowing solids and he can bring his hand to his mouth with control. As the UK Institute for Health Visitors explains:
“All 3 signs of readiness for solid foods should be present before offering complementary foods: Baby being able to sit in a high chair and hold the head steady; being able to grab foods and put them in the mouth; being able to swallow food (and not just put it in the mouth for it to come out again). Premature babies may be ready for solid food at different ages and ‘baby readiness’ should be the key factor rather than age.”
#3: Make Sure First Foods Have Handles
Baby-led weaning is all about letting your baby explore food and learn to feed himself. Offering him food with “handles” helps: vegetable pieces long enough to hold (broccoli is perfect!), lamb chops, chunks of roast meat or steak, thick fruit slices with the skin left on… it's amazing what you can offer! Here are some more ideas to try.
#4: Be Ready For Mess!
Once he works out what to do, he has to practice doing it! As you introduce other foods he can grasp in his hand – like rice, pasta and other family foods – a plastic mat, shower curtain or other clean drop cloth on the floor means you can return the bits he drops and easily clear away at the end. Smock-like bibs which cover his arms as well as his body keep clothing clean.
#5: Remember It's All About The Experience
How much he eats at this stage isn't really important. Milk (breastmilk or formula) is the main food source in the first year. As his skills improve, you'll start to see changes in his poo, a sure sign food is reaching his digestive system!
As Accredited Practicing Dietitian and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), Joy Anderson explains:
‘Take care that your baby doesn’t take to solids too enthusiastically and cut down his/her milk intake too quickly. From 6–9 months, intake should still be close to 100% breastmilk, gradually reducing as solids increase but breastmilk should remain as greater than half the diet until 12 months.’
So let you baby explore without stressing over how much he eats. Studies suggest that BLW is associated with less parental control of children’s eating and lower BMI (Body Mass Index).
6: Introduce Everything
In the past, lots of foods were delayed in an effort to reduce allergies. New research shows it is actually important to introduce an extensive range of foods before 7 months. That means a varied and diverse diet can be offered right from the start. The only exceptions are honey (not before 12 months) and whole nuts (nut and seed butters are fine). So indulge your little foodie, let him experience as many tastes and textures as possible.
Listen to an interview with Professor Jane Scott from Curtin University explain how these guidelines are meticulously researched and written using scientific publications, expert studies and the very best information available in the world.
Like to know more? Read 4 Reasons To Skip The Rice Cereal.