Dummies Guide To Baby Led Weaning: Tips, Foods, Recipes and More
For so long, spoon-feeding has been the traditional way of weaning an infant, and nobody questioned it. Until now, that is. As experiments were conducted and studies were analyzed, the world discovered something that shook the foundations of a long-held belief that babies must be weaned by the 4th month.
So, you must be asking, “How do I go about weaning my baby?” Don’t worry, we have a complete guide below.
The discovery is so revolutionary that it gave birth to a whole new method of weaning: Baby Led Weaning. The benefits of baby led weaning are quite numerous and shall be discussed later in the article. You’ll find that there is so much to like about this method.
Excited to learn more? Read on!
Generally, weaning an infant is to accustom him or her to take food other than his or her mother’s milk. To state simply, weaning your baby is the process of introducing solid food to your little one. However, this does not mean that you should stop breastfeeding altogether.
Weaning is more accurately defined as “complementary feeding” or introducing certain foods along with breastfeeding. It is a gradual transition from a milk-only diet, to having a mix of milk and other foods.
There are two ways on how to do this:
- Spoonfed weaning
- Baby led weaning
Spoonfed weaning method is the age-old practice of weaning babies, where you have to crush fruits and vegetables until it becomes a liquidized, creamy substance called puree, then spoon feed it to your baby.
On the other hand, babyled weaning is a weaning technique where you skip the puree stage, and go straight to solid food. There will be a variety of solid food, cut into thick, long pieces that can easily be grabbed by tiny fingers, and are introduced to the baby finger-food style.
Baby led weaning method is a term devised by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett in the book they wrote way back in 2008, called: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food. Ever since, introducing solids baby led weaning has been a much talked-about topic because of its revolutionary ideas.
To answer this question, it must be remembered that “weaning a baby” as discussed above is initiated by the mother. Therefore, both spoonfed and babyled weaning are examples of weaning your little one.
But when a baby is noticeably detaching himself or herself from nursing, when they prefers to get their nutrition from solid food, and they chooses to drink in a cup, then your baby is indeed weaning. This is often called child-led weaning. This often happens when your baby is a year old – or later.
How to do Baby Led Weaning?
The following are the steps on how to start baby led weaning, according to experts online:
Cut pieces of fruit and vegetables into thick, long pieces that your baby can easily hold. At first, offer at least two food varieties; slowly increase the assortment as your baby is getting used to munching on solid foods.
WARNING: Offering too much variety during the first few weeks may overwhelm your baby with the number of choices they have to make. Once your baby likes one type of food, stick to that first.
Position your baby in an upright position.
Your baby must be able to sit in an upright position on their own before introducing solid foods.
Offer the food to your baby
Place your baby’s food in front of him/her within easy reach. Do not be frustrated if your baby does not seem to finish up, or even chew half of what you have prepared. Remember, this method gives room for the baby to explore their food according to what their body needs. If your baby feels that they have had enough, then they will stop eating.
Let your baby eat with the family
It is best to include your baby during family mealtimes, so they can observe how the adults are doing it. This is a very important stage, because not only will your baby learn how to eat, but they will also get to have a glimpse of table manners, table interactions, and such. Thus, treat your baby like you would any other member of the family.
Be forewarned: Baby led weaning is a very messy process. You must have a large bib at ready. You can even place a mat underneath the baby’s chair to keep the floor from being stained.
Baby led weaning from breastfeeding does not mean that nursing must be stopped. It simply means that as solid foods are gradually introduced to your baby. Breastfeeding remains to be the main source of nutrition for your child. But as your baby grows older, they will increase their intake of solid food, and decrease their consumption of milk.
In other words, this is simply a “rehearsal” for baby before the real thing. Thus, this method is sometimes called baby led breastfeeding weaning or baby led weaning breastfeeding by some, to emphasize this point.
In the early weeks of weaning baby from bottle or breast milk, remember to give your baby milk first, especially when they are hungry. Why? Because at this point, they is just beginning to learn how to use hand-mouth coordination, how to chew correctly, and such. Thus, it will be frustrating for a hungry baby to be given food they could not eat properly.
Remember, it is very important to keep mealtimes as fun as possible. Therefore, when baby is sufficiently full, they can have fun experimenting with the different food tastes and textures.
You may ask “But isn’t it entirely the point? How is my baby supposed to want to eat solid food when they are already full?”
As your baby grows older and bigger, milk will slowly be insufficient for your baby’s needs. More and more, your baby will start to look for solid food, because milk will no longer be able to satisfy their hunger anymore.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), it is best to start weaning your child when they is 6 months old for the following reasons:
- Studies show that exclusively breastfeeding a baby for 6 months will be most beneficial to the development of their immune system.
- During the early stages, the baby depends upon the mother’s antibodies – which is brought in the baby’s bloodstream through breastmilk – for their immunity. When the baby is 6 months old, they will be able to produce antibodies on their own.
- The baby’s digestive tract will not be ready to process food semi-solid or solid food until they reach 6 months old. Therefore, weaning baby at 6 months will allow the baby to efficiently absorb the nutrients from solid foods.
Therefore, weaning baby at 4 months is simply not the best way to go, due to the reasons mentioned above. Additionally, a baby must have these following characteristics before weaning can be started:
- Baby must be able to sit upright without assistance.
Once upon a time, a myth circulated throughout mothers that food must be introduced to babies between 4-6 months to reduce the risk of developing diseases, like diabetes and celiac disease.
However, current research simply proves this wrong, but not before spoon-fed weaning has become the “norm” in weaning an infant. The reason why spoon-feeding became a popular method in weaning is because babies cannot sit upright at 4 months of age.
As a result, mothers needed to make purees and feed it to their babies themselves.
- Baby can pick up food with a pincer grip.
When a baby picks up the food with their forefinger and thumb, like grownups do, then your baby is good to go. But if baby is still in the stage where they simply closes her hand – fingers touching palm – then solid food must wait awhile.
Furthermore, to assist your baby in picking up food, slice the food in a shape of a long stick or handle.
- Baby no longer has the tongue-thrust reflex.
For young infants, the tongue-thrust reflex is necessary to effectively suck milk from bottle or breast. However, as your baby grows older this reflex will naturally fade.
This is an important sign of readiness because baby will simply push out the food from their mouth if this reflex is still present.
The process of introducing solid food to baby must be gradual and consistent. Constructing a feeding plan will be very helpful in keeping these 2 very important qualities so as to help baby develop good eating habits.
TIME OF DAY
Milk from breast or bottle
Milk from breast or bottle
Milk from breast or bottle
Milk from breast or bottle
Observe that at the very beginning, solid foods will be given to baby only twice per day, and baby will still be relying heavily on milk for nutrition. But as the months pass by, solid foods will show up more and more frequently in baby’s plate. Gradual introduction of solid foods is the best way to help your baby get acquainted with food at a comfortable pace.
In the chart above, baby is given solid foods two times a day, only during lunch and dinner.
7 - 9 Months
TIME OF DAY
Milk from breast or bottle
Milk from breast or bottle with solid food as snacks
Milk from breast or bottle
In the table above, milk is given less frequently: only during early morning, mid-afternoon, and bedtime.
10 - 12 Months
TIME OF DAY
Milk from breast or bottle
Milk from breast or bottle
In this last table, solid foods are served most of the day, while milk is given only in the early morning and bedtime.
Notice how the time for milk is slowly reduced and more solid foods are introduced throughout the day.
Ask your child’s doctor or pediatrician, though, before you make any changes in your child’s diet. The first person to ask about your child’s health is their doctor, so make sure that you’ve consulted them about this meal plan before moving forward.
Your doctor might ask your child to go on a special diet or even incorporate other foods into their daily meals. If your doctor says that this new diet is acceptable, then maybe it’s time for a trip to the grocery!
But what solid food are you supposed to feed your baby? Take a look at our next section.
Within this list are some of the foods most commonly used in baby led weaning:
Bananas are very nutritious because they contain lots of potassium and fiber. Potassium is essential for muscle function, especially in keep a healthy heart rhythm; fiber prevents baby from having constipation.
Moreover, bananas have a naturally long shape, with its very own yellow jacket, that makes it a very popular on-the-go baby snack.
Remember the saying “An apple a day keeps the doctor away?”
True enough, apples are very good sources of vitamin C, which are important in giving the immune system a boost. Moreover, apples also contain the trace mineral boron, which helps in the good development of bones.
Have we also mentioned that apples are also high in fiber? Quite the handy fruit, indeed.
Similar to apples, this red-colored, juicy fruit is a very good anti-oxidant agent due to its high plant-phenol content, like Vitamin C.
Raw strawberries are known to cause allergic reactions in babies. However, when babies are served with cooked strawberries, the substances that cause these reactions are eliminated when exposed to heat.
Simply cook those strawberries and they are good to go for baby!
Bread or toast fingers are a very common food for babies, mainly because they are high in carbohydrates, which gives baby energy to go about skipping and hopping all throughout the house.
Not to mention the fact that toast fingers easily melt in the mouth, even without the need of so much chewing, makes it a good start-up food for babies.
These sweet, juicy pulps are very good sources of antioxidants, carbohydrates, and fiber!
Firstly, studies show that grapes help protect the nervous system, due to the unique structure of its antioxidants that allow them to penetrate through the selectively-permeable brain membrane.
Secondly, the sweetness of grapes is a testament to the high amount of natural sugars found in this purple pulp. These sugars are carbohydrates that give your baby energy to do all sorts of baby things.
Thirdly, the fiber found in grapes make it very easy to digest. Allowing them to smoothly sweep through baby’s digestive tract.
But beware! Don’t feed your child a whole grape as it might be too large for their throat and end up choking them! Cut it up into very small pieces so your child can swallow them even if they don’t chem the bits of fruit.
Cheese is a very good source of calcium that your baby needs in order to develop strong bones and healthy teeth. A half ounce of cheese a day will do the trick in providing for your baby’s calcium needs.
What’s more, cheese is such a soft, delicious snack that will easily melt in the mouth of your little one. The saltiness and creaminess will also be quite a hit with your little one. Baby will sure love it!
You can always soften or steam the food in a slow cooker or topped on rice. Ask your doctor if it’s all right to add salt to your baby’s diet. You can also try feeding them rice with soup along with the vegetables or fruit to create a healthier meal.
Make sure you wash everything you give your child and to watch for any allergic reactions for a few hours or days after your child eats the food.
Compile a baby weaning journal to keep track of your baby’s behaviour when eating--so you can figure out which ones they want to eat and which ones are more trouble for them.
These are only some of the hundreds of good first foods out there. There is an entire world of baby weaning foods just waiting for you to explore!
Baby led weaning choking is a situation wherein a person’s airways are blocked, making it impossible for them to breathe. A choking child will often manifest a change in color, and a look of terror with very wide-eyes.
You might also notice sudden difficulty breathing.
When a baby is learning how to eat, they will still figure out how to move the food about in their mouth, causing him/her to cough and make noises now and then. Once this happens, parents immediately panic because they often mistake gagging for choking.
Gagging usually happens when baby has their mouth loaded with food, causing bits of food to go far back in an area called the gag reflex before they have been sufficiently chewed into a gluey paste. When this occurs, baby automatically coughs to bring the food back front for proper chewing.
Gagging is actually a positive sign that your baby is on the right track, because gagging is the body’s defense mechanism against choking. Moreover, the gag reflex is usually much forward in babies compared to adults, as an additional line of defense to these munching, little humans.
Therefore, as long as your baby is positioned upright and the food is prepared soft enough for even the toothless to chew, then there should not be any fear with choking.
Just remember: Never, ever leave your baby unsupervised. When they’re holding their carrot banana or other fruit, make sure you’re there to see if they’re about to bite off a big chunk of food. It’s best to focus all your attention on feeding them before you get back to your own meal.
According to the British Allergy Foundation, babies have a greater possibility of developing allergies if there is a family history of asthma, eczema, hay fever, or any other allergies that may be related to foods.
For these babies, an exclusive diet of milk for 6 months will be very beneficial.
In general, it is strongly advised to stay away from high allergenic foods, such as:
- Egg white
- Citrus fruits
- Shrimps, Crabs (or any other seafood)
Instead, stick to low allergenic foods (foods that has the least possibility of causing allergic reactions).
One good tip to know is: you must not delay the introduction of solid foods to your baby beyond 6 months, because doing so may increase the risk of your baby in developing allergies.
Your doctor can do an allergy test for your child if you think that your baby may look like they are having trouble with certain foods. But keep in mind that limiting your child too much is just as bad as letting them eat everything.
You can find many baby led weaning recipes in various books available in Amazon. A book entitled “130 Recipes That Will Help Your Baby Learn to Eat Solid Foods That the Whole Family Will Enjoy” by Gill Rapley, is a good cookbook of various recipes that will surely help you prepare an irresistibly delicious meal for your baby.
Michele Olivier and Sara Petermell’s “Little Foodie: Baby Food Recipes for Babies and Toddlers with Taste”, and Jenna Helwig’s “Real Baby Food: Easy, All-Natural Recipes for Your Baby and Toddler”, are creative books that also talk about the different combinations of baby led weaning finger foods that your baby will surely love!
Here are some great recipes to try first, if you’re interested in doing something to feed your baby right now:
Bananas have a great flavor and are filled with potassium and fiber. Your child will love the sweet, mild taste, and the mashy texture.
- 1 small ripe banana
- 1-2 tsps of baby rice
- 2 tbsps of breastmilk or formula
Mash the banana until it’s smooth. Mix in the rice and milk, and stir into the banana. Add the milk to adjust the texture and taste of the mash. Add watery rice to add more bulk to the meal.
Carrot and parsnip puree
Parsnips are actually quite sweet, and these two root vegetables can give your baby a lot of beta-carotene. What’s more, the bright color of the carrot can certainly attract your little-one’s eye.
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 parsnip, peeled and diced
Steam the vegetables until they’re soft. You can put them in a steamer on top of a pot of boiling water. You can also put them on top of rice while it cooks. Mash or puree the roots well enough for your baby to eat and dilute it with your baby’s milk or water when it’s been cooled.
If your child seems to want to eat everything, try these two vegetables together. They’re good sources of iron and vitamin C.
- 1 large broccoli floret
- 1 large cauliflower floret
Steam the vegetables then puree them in a blender to make sure your child won’t swallow any whole bits. Add soft rice and cool water or your baby’s milk.
One of the easiest to prepare, this tasty meal is usually a hit with babies. Before you know it, your little one might be saying “Tato, tato!”
- 1 sweet potato
Steam or boil the sweet potato until it is tender. Drain and mash well, adding your baby's usual milk to make an appetising consistency.
If you can’t find the books mentioned above (but they’re on Amazon!) you can always go somewhere tried and tested--your parents! Your mother and father may have great advice on what to feed your child. They might even suggest recipes or food that you yourself liked to eat when they were weaning you!
You can also go to your local bookstore and find some baby food cookbooks. Don’t be afraid to open these up in the kitchen and get them stained while you figure out what to cook for your baby!
After reading a crash course on baby led weaning, you may still have a lot of questions buzzing around your mind. Worry not, because there are numerous sources that can provide you with baby led weaning guidelines. All these will definitely aid you in your journey into solid foods with your baby.
One of the best baby led weaning books you can run to is Gill Rapley baby led weaning guide entitled: “Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food”, which covers the basics of how to go about introducing your baby to solid food. Another wonderful book is Brittany Dixon’s “A Mom’s Practical Guide to Baby Led Weaning”.
Itching to grab one of these? All these books are available for sale in Amazon. Grab your copy now!
Aside from using a baby led weaning book, searching for several sites online that aim to guide mothers on how to help their babies explore the world of solid foods is also a good idea.
Baby’s encounter with food – the very first touch, the very first bite, the very first taste – will be the groundwork of baby’s interaction with food throughout their life. Therefore, everything you will offer now- every apple slice and every finger toast – will be the foundation of their tomorrow.
Just remember that before you try anything new with your baby, please consult their pediatrician first. This is especially important if your child is fussy or has health issues that solid foods may affect. If you don’t think your current doctor has answered your questions well enough, it’s always all right to get a second opinion.
Will your child be open to a wide range of food groups? Will your child be able to regulate their diet? Will your child be able to live a balanced, healthy life with the food they eats? The answers to all these questions are in your very hands.
Take the step and make baby led weaning a wonderful and fun-filled memory for both you and your baby!