What is Baby-led weaning?
“Weaning” means moving a baby from a liquid to a solid diet, which usually begins to occur between the 4-6 month old mark. “Baby-led weaning”, as the name suggests, means introducing solids at your baby’s lead, letting him feed himself and thereby controlling what’s going on and how. It’s introducing soft finger foods that he can grab and hold, rather than spoon feeding purees.
Many mums, especially with their second and third babies, prefer this method of weaning as it allows their own hands to be free to do other things. Younger siblings also often like to imitate older siblings and grab foods off their plates, and so automatically begin the weaning process themselves.
However with your first bub, when everything is still a great unknown and maternal confidence is still building, baby-led weaning can be somewhat daunting and ‘scary’, especially as we are all terrified of our bubs choking. However as long as bub is sitting upright and in a supported position, and the food is cooked nice and soft, there should not be a greater risk of choking with baby-led weaning compared to spoon feeding. All babies will move the food around their mouths and even gag, so this is normal and all part of the learning process. Just make sure your bub is always supervised during mealtimes, and foods are offered that are an appropriate size and texture.
There are a number of pros and cons to baby-led weaning:
- Greater sense of control for the baby
- Builds self confidence
- Builds fine motor skills
- Promotes chewing and developing the muscles needed for speech
- Bubs get to see the food and feel the texture, and this may reduce fussy eating later on and promotes healthier food preferences (if good, healthy options are offered from the beginning)
- Let’s parents have their hands free and even eat their own meals at the same time, creating an easier transition to family meal times
- Teaches bubs the sense of fullness and a regulation of food intake, as they are more likely to stop eating when full
- Allows for play and exploration, and may be met with less resistance and anxiety than spoon feeding can sometimes create
- Messy, as a lot may end up on the floor
- More food wastage (as a lot may end up on the floor!)
- Increased maternal anxiety around choking, particularly at the beginning
- Babies may choose to eat just one thing, rather than being able to incorporate and hide lots of variety into a puree
- May lead to a lower meat diet and lower intakes of iron, zinc and vitamin B12, while the babies are not yet able to chew meats like steak and chicken
- Potentially may create resistance in using cutlery later on
- It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeding toast, crackers and other carbohydrate rich foods as they are easy to grab and go
The key for baby led weaning is to ensure that nutritious, natural and soft foods are offered, to ensure a good healthy diet is created. Avoid processed snacks and crackers, as this is likely to create fussy eating in the future. Ensure there is a safe, relaxed environment and a safe, supported seating position, and that you are monitoring your bub at all times. Ask your Maternal and Child Health Nurse for more tips if you are unsure at all.
So give it a go. If bub isn’t ready or it’s not right for him or her, that’s ok too! And you can always use a combination of styles, for example allow some finger foods, but also offer purees too (for example with slow cooked, good quality meat).
Ideas for first finger foods for baby-led weaning:
- Well steamed veggie sticks such as soft carrots, green beans, broccoli florets
- Steamed fruit such as apple or pear
- Ripe soft fruit such as avocado, banana, mango
- Soft plain fish fillets
- Soft pieces of wholegrain bread (later with toppings eg nut butters, avocado etc)
- Scrambled eggs or omelette strips
- Thin slices of cheese
Later, once confidence is built:
- Rice cakes with nutritious toppings, eg hummus, avocado or nut butter
- Roasted pumpkin and sweet potato cubes
- Homemade soft meatballs
- Homemade fish fingers
- Tuna and sweet potato fingers (pictured on the image)
- A lamb cutlet (mainly to suck and chew on)
- Corn on the cob
- A frittata made with eggs and veggies
- Homemade, sugar free banana bread
For more tips on babies first food, please click here.
And for more snack and finger food ideas, please click here.
And to get more of an idea on how to create a healthy, balanced diet, please click here.
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