Starting your child’s first food is an exciting milestone. It means your child is developing and growing to the point where they can begin to move past just breastmilk or formula. There are many methods for introducing foods into your baby’s diet. One of the newly popular ways is baby-led weaning.
With baby-led weaning, there are many foods you can give your child based on their age range and your comfort levels. You may be wondering how to set up a meal plan for your six-month-old. To help you start the process, we have put together a complete guide of the best first foods for baby-led weaning.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning moves away from the traditional method of spoon-feeding your child pureed foods and working your way up to solids. With baby-led weaning, your baby chooses what they eat and decides how much they want to eat.
According to AAP, you begin the process when your child can sit upright, usually around six months. You place food in front of your baby and skip the laundry list of creative ways to get your little guy to down a mouthful of creamed peas.
Your baby will choose from a variety of finger foods. With baby-led weaning, your little one can grab whatever morsel catches their eye.
What are the Benefits of Baby Led Weaning?
There are many benefits to baby-led weaning. Many believe that babies will be more adventurous with their foods and skip the picky eater stage. It also gives them control over their eating habits. They begin to assess when they are full and choose to stop eating, instead of you continuing to spoon-feed them past their full point. Other benefits are:
- Simple food preparation
- Higher quality diet
- Healthy weight maintenance
- More cost-effective
- Fun for baby
- Involved in mealtime
- Learns how to recover from gagging
- Lower risk of allergies
- Higher appreciation of a variety of foods
- Learning experience
Your little one can benefit from the baby-led weaning eating experience as long as they are ready to begin.
What Age Should I Start Baby Led Weaning?
To begin baby-led weaning, your baby should be sitting up on their own. It usually is around six months of age. Your baby should no longer be utilizing their natural tongue thrust either.
A few other signs to look for are:
- Holds their head up on their own
- Interested in food
- Ability to pick up and hold foods
- Are twice their birth weight
If you have any additional questions regarding whether or not your baby is ready for baby-led weaning, you should consult your pediatrician.
How to Start Baby Led Weaning
Starting solid foods is incredibly exciting for parents. It is one of the milestones that really can be a lot of fun. Some tips on getting started are:
- Make sure family is on the same page
- Ensure your baby is ready
- Have your high chair ready and fully adjusted
- Offer one food at a time to start
- Pick one food to begin the process with
- Look for signs of fullness
- Introduce new foods every few days
- Add variety with food textures
- Offer water in a sippy cup
- Continue to breastfeed or give formula
Not all little ones will take to solid foods immediately, which is okay. You can press pause and try again later at any time. The most important part is making sure your little one is ready. You never want to force them into anything new, as that can have the opposite effect.
Make sure you understand the difference between gagging and choking before starting. Many parents are completely freaked out by the sounds of gagging, which is entirely understandable. It is incredibly unnerving.
Do not begin solids prior to your baby, exhibiting signs of readiness. You want to set your little one up for success, and part of that is waiting until they are ready. Another helpful piece for success is having a highchair that puts them in the proper position for eating. Sitting up straight with support will get them off on the right foot. If they feel uncomfortable, consider adding a footrest to their chair.
Always sit with your child while they are eating. Little ones should be continuously supervised during mealtimes. Having an adult present elevates their experience and reduces the chances of choking.
Make sure you have a reasonable set of expectations for how baby-led weaning will go with your child. As parents, it can be tough to relinquish control, especially since we are there to protect our kids. A big part of baby-led weaning is letting your baby be in control and following their lead.
Baby Led Weaning Safety
The safety of baby-led weaning is most parents’ concern. Remember, your little one should be completely upright in their chair and always supervised by you or another adult when eating. Having the appropriate size of food will help too. Generally, these three things will reduce the incidents of choking.
Gagging vs. Choking
The biggest concern most parents have about BLW is that their little one will choke on food pieces. However, learning to exercise and control their gagging reflex is entirely normal. Gagging is natural and indicates that your little one is learning how to eat their food.
Gagging sounds a lot like:
- Loud coughing
- Loud gagging noises
Often little ones will put too much food in their mouths, and the gagging is them adjusting. It allows them to move the food around and eat properly. Also, their gag reflex is located further forward in their mouths at six months of age. As they get older, the gag reflex moves towards the back of their mouths.
Choking, on the other hand, is not a natural part of eating. However, it can sometimes happen. If food becomes stuck in your baby’s throat, it will move from gagging to choking. The sounds of choking are usually high pitched sounds while breathing or can even be silent. Signs of choking can also include:
- Bluish skin
- Unable to cry or make sounds
- Non Productive coughing
- Hard time breathing- with ribs and chest pulling inward
Choking can be a terrifying situation for both you and your baby. Remember to remain calm and administer first aid if your little one begins to choke. Have someone call 911 while you are administering aid.
How to Cut Food
In the beginning, the food presented to your baby should not be small. It needs to be larger in size so they will not cram the whole piece into their mouths. Tips:
- Cut finger size food for your baby, around 4-inch spears
- Feed them foods that are simple for them to grasp and eat
- Pick foods that are not super slippery
Baby’s do not develop a pincer grasp until they are nearly 9 months of age. Making these adjustments will make it easier for your little one to eat and enjoy their new foods.
Introducing Allergenic Foods
Parents often shy away from introducing their babies to foods that may induce an allergic reaction. However, pediatrician guidelines have changed dramatically over the last five years. Many foods are now being introduced earlier. Recent research suggests that this earlier introduction may actually prevent severe allergic responses to these foods. Potential allergenic foods are:
These foods are now deemed safe to introduce as soon as your baby starts eating solid foods unless there is a strong family history of allergic reactions. In that case, speak with your pediatrician about what would be the best course of action.
Best First Foods for Baby Led Weaning
There is a large variety of foods available to feed your child. Baby-led weaning does not mean you are limited in any way. AAP recommends starting to feed your child solid foods and cereals around six months of age.
Some great first food to try first on your six- month-olds menu are softer foods like:
- Roasted apple wedges
- Steamed or roasted broccoli heads
- Cooked sweet potato slices
- Slices of melon
- Larger pieces of mango
- Banana spears
- Avocado spears
- Bread spear with avocado on top
- Meat on the bone, or cut big enough for your baby to chew on
You can also offer baby foods like yogurts and cheeses since those are perfectly safe. According to the CDC, your child can begin to have cow’s milk at 12 months old and may eat more of the same food you and your family does.
While there are many fabulous foods to introduce to your growing baby, there are still a few foods to avoid. For the under 1 year group, stay away from foods such as:
- Unpasteurized drinks or foods
- Cows milk
Limit foods that are
- High sugar foods such as cakes, candy, cookies, and ice creams. Little ones do not need all that in their diets, and it should wait until at least 24 months.
- High salt foods such as canned foods, processed meats, and frozen dinners. Try to avoid high salt snack foods as well.
- Also, limit juices and sodas. All of these have a high amount of sugar and can cause problems with your child’s incoming teeth.
Make sure your child has a wide variety of textures for eating. Textures in baby-led weaning foods can help your child develop fine motor skills, chewing skills, and a variety of food tastes.
Favorite Baby Led Weaning Products
There are many products on the market for feeding your baby. Each baby is different, and they will likely choose which feeding tools suit them best. With that in mind, it never hurts to have a selection of products that have helped fellow parents with their baby-led weaning journeys.
When working with first foods for your baby, it is nice to keep the pieces contained. Plates offer a specific place to put the foods and prepare your child for moving through the various stages from a baby with no teeth eating softer foods up to a nine-month-old working of pieces of banana. Here are a select few to use as a launching pad into the world of baby plates.
- Bumkins Silicone Grip Dish is a microwaveable, silicone plate that suctions to your child’s tray. What more could you ask for? It’s also non-toxic and BPA free.
- Munchkin Splash 4 Piece Plate is a divided plate set gives you sections for each different food.
- Baby Feeding Set comes with an easy to clean plate along with bibs and utensils.
Many babies will start using their fingers. However, when you plan your baby-led weaning menu for your 9-month-old, you may want to incorporate the use of utensils. Forks and spoons help your child develop eye-hand coordination and improve their fine motor skills.
It is also a skill your pediatrician will likely ask you about. Baby utensils are organized by age range and type. Some have safety measures, like changing colors when your little one’s food is too warm. Here is a selection of well-rated utensils.
- Olababy Silicone Soft-tip Training Spoon: The soft tips of these spoons are great for beginners and are easy for your baby to hold.
- Munchkin Splash Toddler 6 Pack is a full set of forks, spoons and knives that are ergonomically designed so your baby can hold them. They are also dishwasher safe.
- First Essentials by NUK set has a rest so the spoon does not sit directly on the table. The spoon has a soft tip so it is not harsh on gums and is BPA free.
Mealtime can be messy whether you are feeding your child, or they are feeding themselves. Protecting your favorite little outfit from becoming green via the quickly squashed avocados will likely become a priority. Enter, bibs.
Bibs can protect your little one’s clothes from top to bottom, all while making it easier to clean up after mealtime. They have come a long way from fabric and velcro with a wide variety of designs and materials. Here’s a look at a few options.
- Silicone Baby Bibs: This silicone bib is easy to clean with a pocket that stays open to catch falling morsels.
- Bumkins Junior Bib: Bumkins has many recognizable baby products. Their smock bib provides maximum coverage for your little one protecting all your favorite outfits.
- Mushie Silicone Baby Bib adjusts around your baby’s neck for comfort and growth. It also has a pocket for catching fallen food.
High Chair with a Footrest
Babies are more successful eaters when they are comfortable. High chairs often leave their legs dangling and them struggling to become comfortable. This tug-of-war of trying to be comfortable can take time and energy away from eating.
Their focus shifts from eating the yummy food you put in front of them to getting out of the chair. High chairs with footrests can make all the difference. A few to look into are:
- Abiie Beyond Wooden High Chair: This wooden chair is adjustable with an adjustable footrest to keep your child comfortable.
- Infans A-Shaped High Chair: The INFANS chair has an easy to use footrest with extra features like wheels and a storage basket.
- Adjustable Baby High Chair: If you want versatility on top of a chair with a footrest, this high chair has 7 different heights and a fully adjustable seat, ensuring your little one will be comfortable.
High Chair Cleaning Tools
Baby-led weaning isn’t necessarily the cleanest way to go. Your little one can get incredibly messy with their foods, and their mess can get into the tiniest crevices on their high chair. While soap, water, and a cleaning cloth work for many things, there are a few instances where you may need something a little more detailed. A few products are:
- Babyganics Toy & Highchair Spray: Babygaincs is a safe organic spray to use on sensitive surfaces like your child’s high chair.
- Dapple Toy and Highchair Spray: This cleaner is pediatrician recommended and fragrance-free. It will help you get sticky messes off of your highchair.
- StarPack Bottle Brush Set: This set has various brushes for cleaning many hard to reach surfaces. The small detail brush is perfect for those hard to get spots on a highchair.
What your baby drinks with is just as important as what they use to eat. According to the AAP, babies will begin to transition from bottles to sippy cups between 6-9 months. By 12 months, they will solely use sippy cups and abandon their bottles altogether.
Much like other baby products, there is an overwhelming amount of options available. You can spend a lot of time and money trying to get one that your little one takes too easily. If you found a bottle brand that your child loves, most often, they will also have sippy cups in their line of products.
- Pura Stainless: These stainless steel bottles transition from infant bottles into sippy cups when your child is ready. When your child is done using them as a sippy cup, they transition into a regular water bottle for your child to drink out of. They come in a variety of colors and styles. They even have adult versions!
- Munchkin Miracle 360 Cup: Munchkin has a very diverse line of sippy cups. These ones are a fantastic set for your little sipper. The handles help your baby’s tiny hands hold onto the cup, and the 360 edge keeps them from spilling.
- Parent’s Choice Sippy Cup: While these sippy cups do not have any handles, they are effortless to clean since they are top-rack dishwasher safe. They also are spill-proof.
Frequently Asked Questions about Baby Led Weaning
Every new milestone comes with many questions. Here is a roundup of frequently asked questions and their answers to help you.
Do babies need teeth for baby-led weaning?
Babies do not need teeth for eating their first foods. Their gums are sufficient for eating their meals. Fun fact- their front teeth are not used for chewing anyway, and those are the ones they get first! The back molars are used for chomping on foods, and they do not come in until later.
Can you mix baby-led weaning and purees?
Yes! If you feel more comfortable mixing baby-led weaning with the traditional purees, it is definitely an option. Whether you want to feed your child the puree or put it on a spoon for them to feed themselves is entirely up to you.
How do I know when my baby has had enough food?
The longer you do BLW, the more your child will become accustomed to recognizing when their little tummies are full. Signs they are full include:
* Turning their heads away
* Refusal to open their mouths
Once your baby begins to show any of these signs, you know mealtime is over.
Is it easy to introduce family foods into baby-led weaning?
One of the beauties of baby-led weaning is the ability to feed your baby the same thing you are eating at mealtime, within reason, of course. The size will be the most significant difference. Feed your baby larger pieces of what you and the rest of your family are eating.
As they get older, the piece size can get smaller. This will also make them feel more a part of mealtime if they eat what you are eating.
Final Thoughts about the Ultimate Guide to Baby Led Weaning
Baby-led weaning is a more recent philosophy. However, it is becoming more and more popular with parents. While it may seem strange to older generations and cause quite a stir at family gatherings, ultimately, you need to decide what works best for you and your child. Having everyone on the same page helps for consistent progress, especially if you have relatives assisting you with childcare.
If you are on the fence about baby-led weaning, additional research never hurts. Being well-informed on a subject can make you feel more comfortable when trying something new. If you give it a try and decide it will not work for you and your child, that’s okay too. As a parent, you always have to do what is best for your little one.
Looking for more tips for your little one? Head over to our Ages and Phases Section to see more topics.
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