Baby-Led Weaning

Weaning BabiesThe prospect of giving your baby solid foods is one that most parents get very excited about! Those first few meals are terribly thrilling, what with dodging the pureed goop being flung about the kitchen and watching your little angel get to grips with their first tastes of real food.

There is a mountain of advice available to parents on the subject of weaning your baby onto solid food. Some will be dished out by your health professional; a lot will come from baby-food companies trying to promote their products. There are a vast amount of books on the subject, and of course you will have friends and family who will be able to tell you what they did with their babies.

The official advice given regarding weaning onto solids has changed a lot over the past few years. It wasn’t all that long ago that health professionals advised to introduce solids at the age of 4 months, whereas now we know that it is better to hang on until 6 months at the earliest. You will likely be regaled with tales of your grandma and great-grandma giving rice cereal or crushed rusks in a bottle to their weeks-old babies, too! We know now that this is unsafe, but it just goes to show that what we consider to be optimum is likely to change over the years.

In this article, I am going to briefly discuss baby-led weaning. This is the practice of not introducing solid foods until your baby is developed enough to be able to feed himself finger foods. Baby led weaning skips the puree stage altogether, instead focusing on the hand-eye co-ordination of the child, and on his ability to eat and digest. It works on the principle that, if your baby is not physically capable of feeding himself (albeit messily and probably not overly effectively at first), he probably isn’t ready. This is becoming a more mainstream practice; here in the UK where I live, even the government agencies assigned with the massive task of getting our population fit and healthy have started recommending baby-led weaning to parents.

Often, the jump from a milk-only diet to solid foods is one that is rushed, because parents think that their babies need it when they don’t. I am going to outline some signs that your baby is ready to start experimenting with solid foods — remember, a lot of these signs are just normal parts of child development, and individually do not point to a need for food. However, if your baby is displaying a good few of these signs at the same time, it may be time to start thinking about offering some solid foods.

  1. Your baby is showing great interest in food, to the point of trying to grab food from your plate when you eat.
  2. Milk feeds increase in frequency but don’t seem to satisfy.
  3. Your baby seems hungry and unsettled even though you feed on demand.
  4. Your babe has slept through the night consistently for a while, but starts to wake again for milk feeds (remember, there are lots of reasons why babies wake in the night — giving food in the day will rarely fix this unless they are genuinely hungry for it).
  5. Your child stops gaining weight (in the case of breastfed babies, weight gain should be measured over a period of a few weeks to a month rather than on a weekly basis).

Usually this point will be reached somewhere around the middle of the first year. In the case of my son, he was almost 7 months old before he started displaying readiness for solid food. In fact, we did start him with solids at 5 and a half months, but it soon became apparent that he was not ready, so we went back to a milk only diet.

Some good first foods to offer when baby-led weaning are as follows:

  • Banana
  • Sticks of apple or pear
  • Carrot sticks (steamed so they are reasonably soft)
  • Broccoli
  • Cubes or sticks of cheese
  • Toast fingers

It is acceptable to give purees when baby-led weaning, but it is important that the baby feeds itself. The focus of baby-led weaning is not getting the food into the baby, but the baby learning to experiment with food and teaching themselves to eat. Remember, food is for fun until they are 1! Until then, and sometimes later depending on the child, they will be able to get everything they need from regular milk feeds. A lot of people are concerned about iron intake after the age of 6 months; if you are worried, just offer iron-rich vegetables to your child.

A lot of parents worry about the choking hazard with giving finger foods, but rest assured the risk is no less with purees than it is with solids. Babies have a very sensitive gag reflex and will be capable of expelling any food that goes too far back in the throat. However, it is always advisable (no matter how you choose to wean your baby) to brush up on your infant first aid skills, so you know what to do should your child choke.

Remember, it is very important to consult a health professional before embarking on weaning your baby onto solid foods. Speak to your child’s doctor or health advisor if you are in any doubt about your child’s readiness, and of course to obtain medical advice.

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