While many parents start out with smooth purees for spoon-led weaning, baby-led weaning has never been more popular. The idea behind this big weaning trend is that you take a step back and put them in control, allowing your baby to decide what foods she wants to eat, when she wants to eat, and how much. I know, sounds a little scary doesn’t it?
The key to baby-led weaning is allowing and encouraging your independent little one to go at her own pace while exploring a variety of foods, tastes and textures for herself.
It can feel strange handing over the reins to your infant during such an important milestone, but the thinking behind this approach is that those babies who are offered a wide variety of foods at an early age will be less fussy later in life. It is also thought that self-feeding can help to build confidence and make mealtimes more of a social occasion for her (and for you).
However, even with its growing popularity, there is still a lot of conflicting advice surrounding the topic and so it’s natural to feel a little anxious and apprehensive when starting out. So, here are my top tips for those looking to get started on their baby-lead weaning adventure – and an adventure it will certainly be!
Is she ready?
There are some key signs that indicate that your baby is ready to start feeding herself:
- She should be able to sit in a highchair unassisted.
- She has developed sufficient hand-to-eye coordination to pick up food and put it in her mouth.
- She has lost the tongue-thrust reflex (automatically pushing solids out of her mouth with her tongue).
- She is able to chew even if she has few or no teeth.
Start with soft finger foods
Babies around six months will use their whole hand to pick things up so you will need to make sure that she can close her hand around the piece of food on offer. Fairly long pieces stand a better chance of being picked up (roughly 5–6cm is a good guide). Batons and sticks of steamed or roasted carrot, sweet potato and broccoli or pieces of pear, mango, banana and avocado are great first foods to try.
It’s also important to make yourself aware of the foods which your baby shouldn’t eat under the age of 12 months. You can find out more on my website.
Don’t forget milk
Babies should be given breast or formula milk for the entire first year. She’ll gradually consume less breast milk or formula in favor of solid foods, although between six months and one year, your baby will still need 500ml of breastmilk or formula each day.Eat together
One of the many plus points of baby-led weaning is the family factor! It’s all about making mealtimes a social experience. Soft finger foods are particularly important at the beginning, but the beauty of baby-led is that you can also get them joining in on what you’re having as a family – whether that’s your favorite curry on a Friday night, a cosy cottage pie at the weekend or some simple fish with roasted sweet potatoes during the week. Simply offer them a small portion of the same (just be sure to leave out the salt).
She’s in control
Baby-led weaning is all about your baby being in control so you need to ensure you allow her to go at her own pace. Although it might take a little bit of getting used to, it’s important not to rush your baby and there is a reason for this - she must learn to move foods safely around her mouth. Make sure you let your baby pick up food herself and don’t be tempted to put food in her mouth. This way she will only pick up what she can physically manage.
The important thing is not to overwhelm her with too many options at the start. It’s a success if she tries even just a couple of pieces of food, or a small portion of a family meal.
Weaning is such an exciting time for parents and so it is important to adopt the right approach for you and your baby. Just because baby-led weaning is ‘on trend’ doesn’t mean it is necessarily the right route for you. My new Baby-Led Weaning Recipe Book is perfect for those wanting to do exclusive baby-led weaning as well as those looking to combine finger foods and family meals alongside nutrient-rich purees.
I did lots of research for my new book and spoke to parents, dieticians, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals about the various approaches to weaning. Combining both spoon-led and baby-led elements seemed to be the popular option and an option that many parents found the most realistic to adopt. Offering a mix of pureed foods as well as soft fingers foods at the beginning is also advocated by the likes of the Department of Health, the NHS and the British Nutrition Foundation.
The most important thing to note is that there is absolutely no right or wrong and you must go with whichever approach you feel comfortable with or fits in with your routine. As long as your baby is getting critical nutrients into her diet and exploring a variety of different tastes, flavors and textures then you’re on the right track.
ANNABEL KARMEL is the mother of three children and the UK's leading expert on feeding children. She works with leading US parenting websites such as Parents.com and has appeared on many TV shows, including Today show and The View. She created a popular app, Annabel's Essential Guide to Feeding Your Baby & Toddler.