A familiar sight at dinner time for a young family. The baby is sat up in his high-chair. His mother comes in with a spoonful of puréed peas and mushy cereal, making excessive aeroplane noises as she raises the spoon close to the baby’s mouth.
“Here comes the aeroplane” is a line that we all know about. Yet this tradition does seem to be dying out of fashion. This is thanks to several parents deciding to totally bypass different purées and baby foods to opt straight for what’s known as “baby-led weaning”. This results in children having more control about what exactly, and how much they put into their mouths.
What exactly is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is a popular concept in the UK and the US. It is where six-month-old babies will jump directly into small finger foods, instead of opting for soft foods and purées. It’s referred to as baby-led since that’s exactly what the idea is: allowing your baby to eat the foods that s/he wants to from the very start. It gives babies the chance to learn the basics of chewing (mostly still using their gums), before swallowing their food. This stops parents from forcing food into their babies, from allowing them to be fully in control over what they eat.
When should I start baby-led weaning?
It is usually recommended to begin baby-led weaning around the age of 6 months. At this stage, most babies can to sit straight on their one and can grab hold of other objects. By this stage, they have also entirely stopped with what is known as the tongue-thrust reflex. This makes them typically push foreign foods out of their mouth. If you’re still unsure whether or not you should begin this form of self-feeding for your little one, then you can ask your paediatrician for their opinion.
Most parents will be told that they can go ahead with it, while others may have special requirements and aren’t quite able to chew foods alone.
When you try it out with your baby, you may find that they like it, or perhaps they don’t. This is natural. Some babies want to take the lead while others don’t.
What are the benefits of baby-led weaning?
There are numerous benefits to be had from baby-led weaning. It’s astonishing how just a small change in the routine of your baby can have a surprising effect on the development of your child.
For example, it’s a way for your child to become more familiar with a broader range of foods. When you feed your child finger food solids, they become exposed to a wider variety of flavours and textures. The advantage of this is that they are more likely to grow healthier preferences in the long-term. In addition to this, research would suggest that these children are less likely to develop allergies in the future.
Also, babies who feed themselves from an early age are less likely to grow overweight in the future. This is because when parents spoon-feed the baby, there is the possibility that they will overfeed them, leading the baby to form a habit of being overfed. Baby-led weaning, however, would let babies control how much they eat based on their hunger levels.
Less apparent benefits also include improved hand-eye coordination and advanced chewing skills.
What are the disadvantages of baby-led weaning?
Unfortunately, it isn’t all as rosy as it may seem. There are a couple of downsides to baby-led weaning, too. The most common drawback is that it is messy. In the beginning, it is difficult for babies to learn how to be able to hold onto their foods and make sure they can secure it into their mouths.
On a little more serious note, you have to monitor your baby’s level of iron. Until the baby is four, they will get all the iron they need from being breastfed, but if you begin to allow your baby to feed itself, iron levels can fall. Your paediatrician might suggest the use of iron supplements for a while since it’s so hard for babies to chew foods rich in iron. This is because it can be difficult for babies to chew on iron-rich foods such as beef. You can still use meat purée and vegetables to help fill the gaps, however.
Scared of my baby choking?
If you’re concerned about your baby choking with baby-led weaning: don’t be. Your baby won’t come across any difficulties if you can ensure as the foods you offer them are safe. Those little gums are more capable than you might think!
Gagging can be quite frequent for babies during this time. Keep in mind, however, that gagging is nothing more than a reflex from the baby to stop foods from going too far back into their mouth. As your baby begins to try experimenting with strange lumps of food in their mouth, this is natural.
If your baby does gag, it’s best just to stay calm. They can typically handle the problem themselves, meaning it’s best to remain calm until it all passes.
How to start baby-led weaning
It may seem incomprehensible that your baby could start tackling whole food pieces straight away. But the chances are that you will be surprised. If you decide to get your baby started on baby-led weaning, there are some basic principles which you can follow.
The first of which is to make sure you get a decent bib. For backup protection, you might want to spread some newspaper beneath their high chair.
Since babies receive most of their nutrients from their bottle, you should continue with the same frequency and bottle feeding formula to ensure they get all the nutrients they need.
When you begin baby-led weaning, it’s usually best to start slowly. Babies may be overwhelmed with too many choices, meaning it’s best just to place a couple of options in front of them at mealtimes.
Lastly, remember that baby-led weaning is all about experimentation. It gives your baby the chance to have some fun while eating and to let them explore getting comfortable with a range of foods.