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Your precious baby is growing before your eyes, and you know the time is nearing to introduce them to something other than breastmilk or formula. While this is a significant milestone for every baby, it can be stressful for the parents! What foods to start with, how to introduce them, and when exactly to start are essential things to consider. You may have been hearing about this not-so-new trend called “Baby-Led Weaning” and are wondering what exactly it is. When you hear this phrase and hear that it often starts around six months old, you may be wondering why wean your sweet baby so early? Baby-led weaning isn’t referring to weaning your infant off breastmilk or formula. It simply refers to beginning to introduce solids on your infant’s readiness schedule instead of baby cereal or jarred baby food.
How To Know If Your Baby Is Ready
One of the first questions parents ask is how they can know their baby is ready to start trying solids? The most important signs are if your child is at least six months old and can support their head steadily while sitting up without help. Even if your infant is displaying every other signal that they are ready, without being able to sit and steadily hold their head up on their own, they are not quite there yet! The other signs to watch for are a curiosity for your food at mealtime, being able to grab and put objects in their mouth effectively, and making chewing or gnawing movements with their mouth. Once your baby displays ALL of these signs, they are ready for the new adventure of solid foods!
What To Feed Your Infant First
Now that you know how to tell when your baby will be ready, let’s discuss what to feed them first! When you look at the first stage baby foods in jars, you will see things such as sweet potatoes, carrots, green beans, beets, pears, peaches, apples, and so on. These are the same foods you can start your child out with when it is time to start baby-led weaning. Instead of purees, you will simply offer them pieces that are about the size of your finger, so it is thin enough to wrap their hand around and long enough that some sticks out the top of their hand when it is in their grasp. You will want to introduce one new item every few days, especially if food allergies run on either family side. Make sure that the texture of the food you are giving your baby is soft enough to squash between your fingers or with your tongue. With green beans, you will want to skin them. Anything crunchy such as carrots or apples, you will want to cook until soft. Many people like to start their babies out with avocado slices or baked sweet potato strips. These are both great options as they are packed with nutrients. Avoid any choking hazards such as grapes, berries (unless mashed), hot dogs, etc.
How Often to Feed Solids
When your infant is just starting with solids, the best thing is to include them during mealtime. Simply put their highchair up to the table and try to have whatever you are giving your baby in your meal as well. In the beginning, your infant is probably going to wear more of the food than they eat. That is okay! It is all part of the learning process. Remember, your infant is still primarily getting the nutrients needed from your breastmilk or formula during this stage of life. The more practice your baby has in feeding themselves by hand, the better they will get at it. If your family is eating something which requires a spoon, such as oatmeal at breakfast, go ahead and give your baby a little bowl and spoon and start teaching them to hold the spoon to get the oatmeal into their mouth. Ripe fruits that are soft such as pears and peaches are a favorite as well. Just remove the skin before giving the slices to your baby.
Benefits and Cautions
There are many wonderful developmental benefits to baby-led weaning. It is an excellent way to help them develop fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, as well as oral motor skills. Also, because your baby is feeding themselves, when they are done whether it be they have had enough or are simply tired, they can easily stop. Once they begin refusing the food or turning their head away from it you know they are done and clean-up can begin! Other benefits include being able to offer a larger variety of foods and textures to your child at a younger age possibly reducing pickiness later on as well as teaching them young how to listen to their body telling them they have had enough to eat. When you are giving your infant solids, you want to be sure you do not leave them alone. While gagging is not a major concern as babies have a much more sensitive gag reflex, it can be scary! Be careful to stay calm as you do not want your infant to associate food with panic. As long as they are breathing and just coughing, they are fine. Choking on the other hand means the airways are restricted and while choking is not likely, you should always stay up to date on your infant CPR certification when you have a baby in the household.
In conclusion, introducing solids to your infant for the first time can be both exciting and scary. Be sure to discuss any concerns or ideas with your pediatrician. Factors such as whether or not your infant has any developmental delays or was born prematurely can affect the timing and method of reaching many milestones including when and how to introduce foods. Baby-led weaning can be exclusive or combined with spoon-feeding purees, whichever works better for your family. As with most things baby and child related, there is no one-size-fits-all method!