Baby led weaning
Hi Kyla, I plan to skip the purees and start with finger foods and follow the "baby led weaning" approach. What foods would you suggest to start with? Should I start with one type of vegetable per meal or give him a few different options on his tray? When should I give him foods that need a spoon like yoghurt? Should I give him the spoon and model how to eat it myself or just let him eat it with his fingers?
Great questions! Let's start with a quick intro to "baby led weaning" (also known as "BLW" or "baby led feeding"). BLW is a process where infants (around 6 months of age) feed themselves finger foods, as opposed to being offered purée as a first food. The big positives of BLW are that children can eat family foods from the very beginning of solid feeding AND they have plenty of opportunities to explore the tastes and textures of foods that they wouldn't in a purée. This can help kids to build confidence with accepting new foods. Some of the issues parents experience with BLW are often around not knowing how much the child has eaten AND the big mess at mealtimes (it is much messier than spoon feeding as kids explore their food with their hands- and often their whole bodies!) However, kids are great at eating enough for their growing bodies if given control over their own eating, and mess is important for learning. So, if you can get over these hurdles then baby led weaning can be a great choice.
I need to be clear that every child is different and you need to choose a method that suits your child. Some more cautious children will take a while to develop confidence with self feeding and will progress slowly with new foods, while others will speed through the introduction stages.
When beginning with solids, it's a good idea to start with only one or two foods. That way you can monitor your baby for any adverse reactions. Remember that we no longer recommend withholding potential allergens, rather to introduce them early and regularly (ie/ don't offer egg once and then not again for a few weeks). Once your baby has tried a new food, you can start to add more new foods. The speed of introduction will very much depend on your baby's progress.
I'd recommend starting with foods that are a good source of iron. This is because your baby's iron stores are no longer sufficient to meet their requirements after about 6 months. One of the best starting foods is a lamb cutlet/chop (one of the french cuts with the bone as a handle). Trim most of the meat off for your own dinner and check that the bone has no spiky edges. Babies love to gnaw on the remaining meaty parts and experience the delicious flavours. The long bone gives them something to hang onto. Other first foods might be steamed vegetable sticks that are soft enough for your baby to mash with their gums. I'd practice with veggies before moving onto sweeter fruits (to help maximise acceptance). Otherwise, offer your child single foods that the rest of the family are eating. It's best to choose single foods at first, rather than foods containing a mix of ingredients, so you can monitor your baby's tolerance.
Longer 'sticks' or 'strips' of food help kids to hold and munch on the food. This is often easier than small, cut up pieces.
You don't have to be strict about only doing BLW. Spoon feeding is totally ok, particularly for sloppy foods like yoghurt or soup. Encourage your child to explore these foods with their hands if they'd like to, but you can also offer them on a spoon. Just remember to respond to their cues- if they indicate 'no' then don't force the spoon.
Mess is unavoidable, and important for development! Use a splat mat under the highchair :)
No honey for kids under one year of age (high risk of contamination).
No nuts, whole grapes or popcorn (choking hazards).
Go by what your baby's cues tell you, rather than their age.
Enjoy the feeding process!!
I love the following instagrammers for baby led weaning inspiration- @bitesfortots @blwideas @babyledgourmet @feedingfinn
They have websites too, packed full of recipes:
bites4tots.com; blwideas.com; babyledgourmet.wordpress.com; feedingfinn.com
Keep the questions coming- I'm happy to expand on these points if you want more info!
If you'd like some guidance with baby led weaning, or some ideas about feeding babies and toddlers then please pose a question or get in touch for an appointment.