Have you given thought to how you might transition your little one from breast milk or formula to solids? Every parent should make their own decision and discuss with their child’s health care provider when and how to start solids. I do not believe there is one right path for feeding a baby since every child and family has their own needs. For my first daughter, baby-led weaning was successful. We are about a month into the experience with my second daughter and still love it.
Baby-Led Weaning, What?
Baby-led weaning is the process of skipping purees and introducing whole finger size foods as first foods. The method has become popular in recent years after the term was coined by Gill Rapley. It became popular with her published book, Baby-Led Weaning, Helping Your Baby Love Good Food by Rapley and Tracey Murkett in 2008. An updated version of their book was released in 2019 titled Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide-How to Introduce Solid Food and Help Your Baby to Grow up a Happy and Confident Eater. I strongly encourage you to read up prior to starting. I’ll let you in on the biggest take away: do not introduce food until they are ready.
Signs of readiness include:
- Child is six months old, adjusting for prematurity as necessary
- Shows interest in food, and may already be grabbing off your plate
- Sits independently
- Grasps toys and brings them to their own mouth
I love baby-led weaning because:
- It’s fun.
I really geek out watching my baby pick up a stick of cucumber or take a bite of toast. Of course there is enjoyment watching the surprise on faces of others who find it amazing just how much food my little ones will try. My mom finds it fascinating and sometimes scary how young my kids are to be eating actual food.
- It’s a form of self care.
We sit down and eat together with our whole family. Let me repeat that: I eat my food hot! Eating is a social event in cultures all over the world, so it feels entirely respectful of this reality to eat together. As a mom, I need to feed my own body and energy as much as they need it. Baby-led weaning allows me to engage in a little self care. I also get to model eating, feeling full, or talking about when I’m still hungry. These skills are hard to teach unless I’m eating together with them.
- Baby-led weaning saves money.
Our family does not have the expense of storebought jars of baby food, puffs, or pouches, unless we really want them for snacks. My eight-month-old does not get purees unless it is a traditional puree like mashed potatoes. I find the smell of those tiny raviolis they sell for babies disgusting, so I am so thankful to make a hard pass on those products. With my first child, we did baby-led weaning but still introduced teething biscuits and puffs. Now with my eight-month-old, we do not find it necessary to give her any of the food marketed towards infants and toddlers, and we save so much money for it.
- It’s healthy.
As someone who has struggled with food issues her whole life, I know I want to naturally present certain messages to my children around food. I want to instill a love for healthy food but also acknowledge that every food has value, even cake (to celebrate and live a little, right?). I want to purposefully instill the idea that they should eat until satiated instead of being motivated by external factors such as the “clean plate club” or how much they weigh.
- Baby-led weaning builds skills.
When is the best time to increase hand strength and practice fine motor skills like the pincer grasp with a baby? Supervised meal time, of course! I love that my infant gets the chance to pick up and drop, poke, peel, and explore her food using her hands. She gets to hold silverware herself and practice bringing it to her mouth. These great pre-writing foundational skills do not happen if I am feeding her purees. Instead, I would be working to find time to practice in other ways. A way of feeding my baby that does double duty as skill building too? Yes, please.
- It encourages sensory exploration.
As a child development trained parent coach, I have learned many tricks in getting picky toddlers to eat. One of those is that children need to touch, smell, and see the food they eat. Playing and touching food or spitting it out after a bite are normal parts of learning to try new foods. With baby-led weaning, my baby touches all her food and chooses what to try and bring to her mouth. She spits out what she doesn’t like and chews what she does. I get to know her likes and dislikes by observing what she chooses to eat more of. Sensory exploration is synonymous with messy play, so I always prepare to give a good wipe down or bath after meals.
- It’s easy to travel with.
There are enough things to pack when heading out of the house without having to think about baby food. I sing hallelujah every single time we leave the home knowing I don’t have to specifically pack food for my baby. She can eat what I am eating, within reason.
- Baby led weaning is less work.
Growing up in a family where there was only one meal at dinner definitely has influence on how I feed my own children. As a child, we ate what was given if we were hungry, or didn’t eat at that meal and caught up at the next meal or snack. There was no forcing, and we usually had options of sides we liked. I, too, believe my family should eat the same meal on most nights. It might just look slightly different for my infant than it does for my toddler. On taco night, she gets all the components of a taco, just deconstructed.
- It’s pressure-free.
I follow the rule that it is the parent’s job to present the healthy options and the children’s job to decide what and how much to eat. This began with breastfeeding and nursing, and I have continued it with baby-led weaning. With baby-led weaning, I do not need to feel obligated to have my child finish a jar of food, and she just eats when we do.
- Baby-led weaning is greener.
We are more green and have less packaging by avoiding pre-made baby and toddler food. Less food is wasted since there are no half open jars of baby food needing to be tossed.
It’s not the same for all children.
Keep an open mind about feeding, because your little one may throw you a curve ball. While we love baby-led weaning, it hasn’t come without bumps. With our first daughter in childcare, our provider was not comfortable offering finger size food. We fed her meals at home until she could show a great pincer grasp. Our second child is more challenging than the first because she overstuffs her cheeks! Overall though, I am confident baby-led weaning is a key reason I do not have a picky toddler. I promise, if you do your research and read up, baby-led weaning will definitely not be too big of a bite.