What exactly is Baby Led Weaning?
BABY LED WEANING is a method of gradually introducing solid (or complementary) food to your baby’s diet of breast milk or formula by allowing your baby to pick and eat by himself/herself.
Your baby will eventually end up eating the same food as the rest of your family.
This gradual change can take anything between 6 months to a couple of years to take place.
Another vital aspect of BABY LED WEANING is to allow your baby complete control over how much she wants to eat.
This control is provided by encouraging your little one to “self-feed” rather than spoon feeding with the help of you or your spouse.
This allows your baby to develop as well as use her own instincts and abilities.
What is the logic behind BABY LED WEANING?
Babies end up talking, crawling and walking as soon as they are ready.
These major milestones happen naturally as long as they are given the opportunity and freedom to try different actions by themselves.
For example, when you place your baby on the floor, you are providing her with an opportunity to kick out her legs and maybe even roll over.
Once she is ready, she is will end up kicking or rolling. Hence, all that matters here is you giving your baby that opportunity.
So why should feeding be any different?
Despite knowing that babies have the ability to feed themselves at the age of 6 months, spoon-feeding is the most popular method of feeding during the first year (or older!).
Why is BABY LED WEANING different?
When you think about introducing a baby her first solid food, you probably end up imagining a parent or a grandparent with a spoon and mashed (or pureed) fruits or vegetables.
The baby might open her mouth to eat or just end up spitting the food out.
Then the adults will have to resort to games or distractions in an attempt to cajole her into eating.
Even feeding takes places before or after the family meals.
By contrast, baby weaning encourages her to feed herself and copy her parents or siblings’ feeding skills during family meals.
He/She is also provided with an opportunity to explore the texture and shape of the different types of food.
More importantly, she ends up making a conscious decision of how much she wants to eat.
At what age should BABY LED WEANING be introduced to my baby?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that solid food should gradually be introduced into a baby’s diet at the age of around 6 months.
Other than the age, there are a few more requirements to keep in mind. They are:
- Your baby should be able to sit up properly with little or no help.
- Your baby should be able to support her own head.
- She keeps chewing her toys or other small objects.
- Your little one should be able to focus on the food in front of her.
- She should be able to pick up food and place it in her mouth (using hands) without any help.
- She should be able to swallow food rather than automatically pushing food out of the mouth (tongue thrust).
If the above requirements cannot be fulfilled, your baby might not be ready for solid foods or self-feeding just yet.
Keep monitoring for any changes and try weaning a couple of months later.
What are the ADVANTAGES of Baby Led Weaning?
1. It’s Natural:
Babies are born curious.
They are fascinated by pretty much every type of sound, colour, shape, movement, expression, event etc.
This curiosity naturally urges them to explore, learn, touch and feel all sorts of objects mainly with the help of their hands and mouths.
In this manner, BABY LED WEANING, is an excellent way for your baby to explore food at her own leisure and pace.
She is able to follow her instincts by poking, feeling and eventually eating whenever she is ready.
2. Exploring Food:
The freedom to feed themselves prompts babies to pay extra attention to various attributes like the look, feel, and texture of different dishes.
They even try to find out how different flavors work when mixed together.
In spoon-feeding, all the different tastes are just mashed into one.
3. Eating Safely:
The ability to feel food before it goes into their mouth teaches babies the very important lesson of what can and what can’t be chewed.
Feeling a piece of food in her hand and then putting it in her mouth allows her to learn about how difficult it is to chew and move around the pieces with her tongue.
This understanding of shapes and textures is also likely to make babies less likely to choke.
4. Development of Muscles:
Feeding themselves with their hands helps babies in practicing their hand-eye coordination. Holding food of various sizes and textures improve their dexterity.
Instead of swallowing purees, chewing plays a positive role in the development of facial muscles.
5. Happy Family Meals:
BABY LED WEANING allows babies to eat the same food as the rest of the family and at the same time.
Family meals are a great opportunity for babies to copy eating behaviour.
Table manners can be learnt naturally in this manner.
They will also be able to play a part in a family’s social conversation from an early age.
What are the DISADVANTAGES of Baby Led Weaning?
1. The Mess:
Yep, babies love to make a mess of things, create chaos and in general make things tough for parents.
The lucky thing is that, as babies get to practice feeding themselves at least twice a day, they get better pretty fast.
Besides, spoon-feeding can get pretty dirty too!
2. Alarm of other people:
Since there is not much awareness of BABY LED WEANING in India, your relatives and friends are bound to have fears and doubts.
Many people don’t know how weaning works.
“Won’t the baby choke?” is one of the most popular questions. You can put that particular fear to bed by explaining the following:
When babies are in control of the food they put in their mouths, they are much less likely to choke. The GAG REFLEX is different in babies as well.
The reflex kicks in towards the front of tongue.
Hence, the risk of food getting stuck at the back of the throat is very low.
In fact, spoon-feeding might actually lead to an increase in risk of choking due to spoons being forced beyond the front part of the tongue.
The rest of their doubts and fears will vanish once they your baby feeding herself and having fun doing it.
So How Do I Get Started with BABY LED WEANING?
1. Start with a High Chair:
Special equipment is unnecessary for BABY LED WEANING. A high chair may come useful though.
Once your baby begins to explore solid foods, just make sure that she is supported in an upright or vertical position. Leaning back and eating is dangerous.
Hence, a high chair or simply sitting your baby on your lap is safe.
2. Long Stick Shaped food:
Boiled Carrot sticks and Boiled Sweet potato sticks are the best to start with.
Bite size foods are the next best option. Make sure that it’s not too small.
Peas are a strict NO-NO.
Healthy family food is enough for your baby to manage.
There is no need to prepare any special food.
3. No Cutlery:
Spoons or other silverware are also unnecessary as your baby will use her fingers during the first few months. Her hands have to be clean before she starts eating.
4. Start after an hour or 2 after feeding:
Initially, it is important to make sure that your baby is not hungry when you sit her down to explore various types of food. This is because in the early weeks of solid food, BABY LED WEANING has nothing to do with hunger.
The first couple of weeks are just an opportunity to learn and explore the textures, sizes and shapes.
Breast milk or formula is still her main source of food when hungry. Offer her milk feeding whenever she gets hungry.
5. Change the food daily:
She doesn’t need to join you in every meal for another couple of months. Her interest in eating solid may vary from day to day. She might even alternate between milk feedings and solid food. This is natural.
Her consumption of solid food will gradually increase as long as she is in control of the process.
What Is the Best Way to Continue the Process?
- Ideally, the food offered to your baby should be STICK-SHAPED. This allows her to hold as well as munch it at the same time.
- Your baby should be in-charge of what goes into her mouth. The food should be placed within reach of her hands. The tray of the high chair or on the tabletop would be ideal places.
- Make sure the food is NOT TOO HOT by testing a mouthful of it yourself.
- A wide range of dishes might end up confusing your baby. So it is better to offer her a limited selection of dishes to begin with.
- A ‘clean plate’ is not the aim here. The aim is for your baby to eat just as much as she is comfortable with.
- Make sure your baby is NEVER ALONE with the food. It is ideal if you could provide company while she is feeding or playing with food.
- As far as possible, you & your family should aim to be eating the same food as your baby.
- Provide your baby with space and time to check out as well as decide on what to do with it.
- Don’t try to cajole or help her into eating more than she wants to.
Is Any Equipment Necessary for BABY LED WEANING?
None of the equipment listed below is absolutely necessary. But they do tend to make life easier for you and your baby.
- Bibs: Your baby will have to reach out for her food. This will include reaching out her whole arm. So long sleeves are likely to get covered with food. Short sleeves are ideal. Undershirts or eating in just the diaper is probably even better since skin is easier to wash than clothes. Bibs are useful for catching dropped food as well as protecting her front.
- Splash Mats: Carpets or the floor of your house can be protected by covering them with a large splash mat. Newspapers, picnic blankets, cotton tablecloths etc. can also be used as alternatives.
- High Chairs: If your baby feels uncomfortable to feed while sitting on your lap, high chairs (preferably with a wide tray) are a great alternative. It is important that these chairs have straps to secure her.
- Plates: Plates can end up being just as interesting as food for your baby. She might end throwing the plate or throw the food just to look at the colourful plate. Hence, she can eat straight off the high chair tray or the tabletop (clean them with a mild detergent before placing the food). Kitchen tray or a rubber placemat are also good alternatives for plates.
Baby-led weaning is a natural part of growing up. We hope that we have provided you with some practical ideas on how to go about introducing the concept to your child while making it safe and fun at the same time.