Introducing solids to your baby can seem like a daunting task, especially when there are so many other things going in life. Maternal nutrition Expert Crystal Karges discusses the baby-led weaning approach that helps parents take out the guesswork, and will lead your child towards a positive relationship with food.
I always wanted to be the mom that made homemade baby food, using nothing but local, fresh, organic ingredients to fill my babies’ bellies when starting them on solids.
THEN REAL LIFE HAPPENED.
Not only did I not make homemade baby food, but our babies never quite took to pureed food in the way I had imagined. When our pediatrician gave us the green light for rice cereal for our first daughter, I was ready to embark on the mission of transitioning her to solids.
Only to find myself confused about the entire process.
The baby food aisle at Target was overwhelming, causing me to ask questions like,
- What foods could I introduce first?
- Do I need to buy organic?
- How do I know when she’s ready to try other new foods?
But really, all I wanted as a new mama was to feed my babies nutritious foods and help them develop healthy eating habits from an early age. Which was why I was excited to learn about Baby-Led Weaning.
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) is an approach for introducing babies to solid foods around the age of 6 months. My favorite part about this entire process is how it encourages your baby from a young age to eat intuitively, as they learn how to self-feed. And BONUS – you can skip the runny purees and mealtime battles of trying to spoon feed your baby!
I must admit that I was a bit skeptical about this process and trying it with my own 4 kids. To my pleasant surprise, our babies all did great with baby-led weaning, and it became an important foundation to help them create a healthy relationship with food.
Here are five key tips for transitioning your baby to solids that will get them started on a lifelong appreciation of food:
1. Look for Signs of Readiness
A common question asked is, “When can I start feeding my baby solids?”
Many well-meaning professionals and loved ones might push you to start solid foods at a certain age, but it is important to look to your baby for signs that they are ready for the transition. Ideally, your baby should show the following signs of readiness for starting solids:
- Able to sit up and hold their head, unassisted
- Shows an interest in food (may reach out for food)
- Takes objects to their mouth accurately
- Makes gnawing/chewing movements
These signs are usually evident around six months, but this may still vary from baby to baby.
2. Involve Your Baby In Mealtimes
With our first baby, I initially would feed her before we would eat, as “her” food took its own time to prepare. As I moved toward baby-led weaning, I began to understand the importance of including her in all of our meals. By making your baby part of your mealtime experience with the rest of your family, it gives them the chance to observe feedings as an important part of their learning process. While this may take additional planning and make meal times longer, it will be well worth the effort, especially in the long run.
3. Make Meals/Snacks Simple
The beauty about baby-led weaning is that this process encourages you to feed your baby a range of foods. Offering foods with different textures, shapes, flavors, etc, will give your baby the opportunities they need to practice their eating skills. You can likely share what you have prepared for your family with your baby, provided the foods are manageable and appropriate for your baby.
Soft, peeled and cooked fruits and vegetables, proteins, and grains can all be offered to your baby. Foods should be firm enough for your baby to hold and pick up but soft enough to mash. Begin by offering one to two pieces of a couple different foods when introducing solids.
4. Trust Your Baby’s Appetite
As babies first begin this process, they are more likely curious about food than hungry and may not eat much. As their development progresses, they will gradually begin to take more food. Remember that babies are able to decide how much they need to eat, and their appetites will vary on a daily basis. You may find that at some meals, they seem to want and eat everything you put in front of them; while other days, they may hardly touch anything at all. This is all a normal part of the process.
Signs that your baby is done eating might include playing with food, pushing food away, or squirming to get out of their high chair. Your baby is the only one who knows how much is enough, and there is no need to try to coax them into eating more.
5. Keep Mealtimes Safe
Baby-led weaning encourages your baby to lead the way. However, this does not mean a “hands-off” approach by parents, even if you are not directly spoon-feeding. Always pay attention to your baby’s cues and ensure they are set up with their food safely. Make sure your baby is sitting upright to eat.
Avoid foods that could be hazardous for choking, like whole nuts, skins, pits, and seeds. If you have other children in the home who love to “help” with baby, be sure they know not to put foods into your baby’s mouth. Also keep in mind that solid foods are meant to be complementary to milk feedings, whether it’s breastmilk or formula.
Learning how to eat solid foods is a natural part of your baby’s healthy development, as intuitive as their desire to learn how to talk or walk. Supporting this can help your baby progress at their own pace and lay the groundwork for a healthy relationship with food.
Most importantly, enjoy the process!
Yes, it will be messy and require some planning as your baby learns this new skill. However, investing the effort will not only encourage your baby to develop confidence and enjoyment with food, but also decrease the likeliness of picky eating and mealtime battles in the long run!
Adapted from the original article.
Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC is a San Diego-based private practice dietitian helping others embrace their health for themselves and their loved ones. Focusing on maternal/child health and eating disorders, Crystal creates the nurturing, safe environment that is needed to help guide individuals towards a peaceful relationship with food and their bodies.