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When my oldest was 4 months old, I eagerly purchased baby cereal, prepared it, and spoon-fed him his first “solid” food. I remember his eyes bulging and his legs kicking with excitement over the new taste. From there, we moved to puffs and purées. However, as the jarred baby food got thicker and came closer to resembling actual food, my baby became more averse to eating.
How could my 7 month old be so picky already? Well, I’d essentially been feeding him thickened liquid, and I expected him to suddenly transition to a whole new world of textures. Up until that point, he hadn’t needed to manipulate his tongue in any way besides slurping to eat. It was a long road after that to get my baby to finally eat actual solids.
When my next child was born, I knew I would be doing things differently. For starters, I didn’t feel like I needed to rush into feeding. I waited until my baby was 6 months old to offer solid foods. Then my sister-in-law told me about baby-led weaning – a method of introducing solids that doesn’t involve spoon-feeding, concentrating instead on a baby self-feeding.
Using baby-led weaning with my second child resulted in a much more successful transition to solids. So much so that I also used this approach with my third child and highly recommend it for babies who are developmentally ready for the solids phase.
Simple baby-led weaning
Although the word weaning is typically associated with an end to feeding breastmilk or formula, in the context of baby-led weaning, it describes the replacement of some milk with solid foods. The idea is to allow babies to put appropriately sized pieces of food into their mouths and learn how to eat whatever the rest of the family is eating without having it processed in a blender.
According to Malina Linkas, author of the book Simple & safe baby-led weaning: How to integrate foods, Master portion sizes, and identify allergies, allowing your baby to have control over what they put in their mouth helps them to self-regulate and recognize hunger cues. The registered nutritionist also suggests modeling how to eat at the table by making time for family meals, which will teach your baby appropriate eating and table behavior.
Safe baby-led weaning
If you’re interested in safety tips, including how to recognize an allergy when integrating baby-led weaning into your infant’s life, check out Linkas’s book. As there are concerns about choking whenever something enters a baby’s mouth, Linkas takes the time to offer suggestions on how to prevent any safety hazards when feeding your baby.
She recommends taking a CPR course and breaks food preparation into two categories depending on the age and development of a baby.
Linkas also explains the difference between gagging and choking, noting that babies who self-feed actually choke less often than those who are spoon-fed.
Gagging is a reflex that naturally prevents babies from choking. When they gag, they cough and bring up food they’re not ready to eat yet. You can help your child stay calm and encourage them to chew. Before the age of 9 months, a baby’s gag reflex is strong. Choking is silent and can occur when food or an object is lodged in the airway. Its signs are failure to cry, distress, blue coloring, and grasping at the throat. It’s necessary to intervene when a baby is choking.
The best way to prevent choking is to prepare foods appropriate for your infant, like soft food your baby can mash. It’s best to avoid crumbly foods if your baby can’t chew and swallow or chew and spit out yet. It’s also important to recognize their developmental stage in terms of eating.
How to prepare your baby’s food
Babies who are ready to begin self-feeding have the so-called palmar grasp, which develops around 6 months of age. It allows a baby to pick up larger foods and bring them to their mouth, but usually, little food reaches its destination. At around 9 months old, babies develop a pincer grasp, becoming able to pick up smaller pieces of food between their thumb and forefinger to feed themselves.
The book provides information on the most important nutrients in the 26 healthy foods listed and how to prepare them in relation to the palmar and pincer grasp.
The author further discusses how food allergies might present in babies, which is an essential point to consider. With so many new foods entering the picture, it’s extremely important to be on the lookout for adverse reactions. Unlike other books on baby weaning, Simple & safe baby-led weaning includes a food tracker chart and offers alternatives to foods that cause allergies or intolerances in your baby.
Linkas emphasizes the importance of only introducing one food at a time in order to identify which one may cause an allergy or intolerance (inability to process or digest a food). She also explains how the presence of eczema prior to introducing foods is the best indicator of the baby’s allergy risk.
Although most babies will not have trouble with food, it’s best to be safe and keep track of any responses. If your baby is at high risk of allergies, you might be encouraged to offer foods considered allergens sooner than 6 months. This should prevent your baby’s body from identifying a food as foreign and dangerous and avert a severe immune reaction.
Allergy symptoms that require immediate medical attention include anaphylaxis (swelling of the lips, tongue and throat blocking breathing), difficulty swallowing or breathing, a drop in blood pressure, sudden lethargy and confusion, and loss of consciousness.
Less severe symptoms include hives or itchiness around the mouth or on the face and body, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, stomach pain, and repetitive coughing. You should discuss these symptoms with your pediatrician to determine if the offending food should be eliminated.
There are many ways to safely introduce food to your baby, and, as Linkas suggests, you can add nutrition, flavor, and variety to their diet for a diverse palette. Consider the options and find the way that works best for your family.
For more baby-led weaning safety information, you can buy her book Simple & Safe Baby-Led Weaning online.
Simple & Safe Baby-Led Weaning: How to Integrate Foods, Master Portion Sizes, and Identify Allergies
- Learning to self-feed is a very important development stage
- Babies should learn how to eat the family meals without needing a blender
- Introducing one food at a time helps you identify which food may cause an allergy or intolerance
You need this if...
- You wish to start your little one on solid foods the healthy way
- You want to be able to identify allergies and sensitivities in babies
- Your baby's adventurous palate could do with more food variety