Have you ever tried infant rice cereal? I have—and I never need to again. This runny beige mess is usually the first food our babies try. Is it any wonder it ends up all over them rather than in their mouths?
Enter baby-led weaning.
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is the practice of skipping the traditional spoon-fed baby foods such as rice cereal, pureed sweet potato or applesauce and allowing your baby to feed himself safe finger foods. By encouraging baby to feed himself, you’ll be giving him the chance to explore new flavors and textures, while practicing his hand-eye coordination skills. He will also be able to stop once he is full, rather than keep eating the spoonful that mom or dad keep offering.
When to start baby-led weaning
All babies are different, so their ability to feed themselves will vary. Typically parents can start to introduce soft finger foods after their baby has turned six months old. Signs your little one is ready include an interest in table food, and the ability to both hold her head upright and to bring food to her mouth. (Here’s a more in-depth look at when to start solid foods.) If you’re unsure, just ask your pediatrician.
Despite the name, baby-led weaning does not mean it’s time to wean from breastmilk or formula. Keep nursing or offering the bottle in between high chair time. When your baby starts feeding herself, she will probably spend much of the time exploring her new food, rather than actually eating it.
Tips for successful baby-led weaning
The thought of going straight from milk to finger foods can sound intimidating, but there are ways to set yourself up for success. First, don’t expect your baby to get the hang of it on the first (or fourteenth) try. Your baby’s breastmilk or formula is still providing all the nutrition she needs, so let mealtime be fun.
Next, prepare your baby’s eating space. It gets messy, so grab a good bib and maybe even a clean dish towel. Sit down with your baby—while you won’t need to spoon-feed, you will need to supervise any time your baby has food. Gagging sounds are normal as your baby learns to gum and swallow finger foods. Actual choking is silent and it’s important to take these precautions.
The best baby-led weaning starter foods
The best foods for your baby are soft and healthy. Start with ripe fruits like pieces of pear or banana. Cooked vegetables like sweet potatoes and green beans are also great options. Next, try cooked pasta and soft protein like eggs and flaky fish.
Your baby will be working on fine motor skills when he picks up each piece of food. Try cutting the food into long sticks like carrot fries. This matchstick shape allows your baby to pick up the food with his entire hand and start eating it from top to bottom.
Try each food alone for a few days before moving on to the next; this way you’ll be able to spot an allergic reaction if it happens. Once your baby is eating a variety of foods (and growing more teeth!), get creative with toddler favorites like veggie macaroni and cheese or small bites of grilled cheese.
Oh, and not sure what to do with all those unused jars of baby food? Whip up this pineapple carrot cake for you and your little one!