Baby led weaning is a feeding approach for young babies and toddlers that allows them to feed themselves. Food is often offered in thick and chunky finger-sized pieces, which is easy to chew and squash so that little ones can easily adjust to feeding themselves and minimise the risk of choking.
Baby led weaning became popular around 10 years ago and one of the main reasons as to why so many parents choose this style of feeding is because it’s a lot easier than other methods and is a great way to introduce your baby to new flavours and textures. It’s also a great way to allow your baby to have control over what they eat, which then sets a good precedent as they grow to let them eat intuitively from the beginning.
When it comes to baby led weaning, choosing healthy options is just as important as the size and shape of the food. Coming up with healthy foods and snacks for your little one on their baby led weaning journey can be quite daunting and you might find that you run out of ideas and inspiration as time goes on. With this in mind, here are some top tips for a healthy baby led weaning journey.
How To Start Baby Led Weaning
Offering your little one solids is a really fun milestone for both you and your baby, but when you start, there are some things to keep in mind.
- You need to make sure that your baby is ready to start weaning. Often, young babies will start to show signs, such as being able to stay in a sitting position and hold their head steady, coordinate their hands, eye and mouth and being able to swallow food, rather than just spitting it back out.
- Introduce drinking water alongside solid foods and milk.
- Choose a handful of foods to start with and offer just one at a time.
- Be wary of introducing allergens.
If you start offering your baby solids, and they just don’t seem interested, then that’s ok. They might not be quite ready yet, so take a break for a week or two and then try again – every baby is different!
Introducing Fruits & Vegetables
Introducing fruits to your baby as part of their baby led weaning journey is a fun and exciting step. Soft and squishy fruits can be served raw, whilst harder fruits, such as apples, rhubarb and pear need to be cooked first. A lot of fruits can be served in handy, bite-sized portions for little ones, including:
- Sliced bananas, left with a bit of the peel on so that the baby can grasp it properly
- Thinly sliced strawberries
- Orange wedges, with seeds and membrane removed
- Raspberries and blueberries mushed together
- Sliced avocado
Babies have a naturally sweet tooth, so if you offer them fruit over other foods, then they will likely go back for more. Try to introduce fruits after vegetables, so that your little one gets used to the different tastes and textures of vegetables before the soft, sweetness of fruit.
As vegetables come in a range of colours, sizes, textures and tastes, they are recommended as one of the first foods you introduce to your baby when starting baby led weaning. As babies and younger children naturally prefer sweeter foods, there are some vegetables that are better for introducing to your baby as part of their weaning journey. These include:
- Steamed or baked sweet potatoes
- Carrot strips (either raw or steamed)
- Steamed green beans
- Steamed broccoli
- Thinly sliced tomato
When cooking fruits and vegetables, try to avoid adding salt, sugar or artificial sweeteners to foods as they don’t hold any nutritional value for your baby just yet. They also mask the delicate flavours of weaning foods, which can cause your little one to develop an intolerance or dislike of the foods as they grow up.
Know The Difference Between Gagging and Choking
Gagging is a perfectly normal part of the weaning process and is your baby’s natural way to protect themselves from choking. When you start baby led weaning, you’re likely to be very wary of choking, but learning more about the differences between gagging and choking is vital to looking after your baby and yourself.
Your baby’s gag reflex is further forward in your baby’s mouth when you start introducing solids, which better protects them from choking, then this moves back as your baby gets older. Coughing, gagging and expelling food from the mouth are common during the first few months of weaning as eating solid foods is a whole new skill for your baby to learn.
When your baby gags, they will loudly cough, splutter and gags and their tongue will thrust forward to expel food from their mouths. It is normal for them to vomit after this. Choking is a sign that your baby’s airway is blocked and that a piece of food has partially or fully blocked their windpipe. Choking means that your baby is in danger, so you need to act fast. If your baby is choking, they’ll be quiet or silent, in comparison to gagging which is often loud. They’ll have trouble coughing, or won’t be able to cough at all and they’ll have trouble breathing. There is a rhyme you can use to help you remember the difference: “Loud and red, go ahead. Silent and blue, they need help from you”. If your baby is choking, you will need to start performing CPR to stop them from choking and phone for an ambulance.
Make Mealtimes Family Time
When it comes to baby led weaning, it’s easy to just concentrate on your baby’s mealtimes instead of your own, but it’s important to try and make every mealtime, family time. Try to arrange mealtimes so that you, your baby and any other children are eating at the same time so that your baby learns about mealtimes and mimics others eating. It also helps them to develop table manners.
When your baby starts weaning, you don’t need to give them big portions of food, as it is unlikely they will eat it. Instead, just put one or two pieces of food in front of your little one as they learn to grab and put food into their mouths. You won’t need to worry about plates or bowls, for now, just put the food directly on their highchair tray.
Baby-led weaning can get very messy, so you might want to invest in baby weaning bibs, to protect your little one’s clothes from spills and mess. Remember, for the first few months, your baby is unlikely to get most of their nutrition intake from food anyway, as you continue with milk during the day, so try not to worry if your baby doesn’t eat much to start with.
Knowing When Your Baby Has Eaten Enough
If your baby is eating their food and then they begin to turn their head, or refuse to open their mouths, then they are full. When your baby is full, they are likely to also start making a fuss. Babies who are learning to eat solid foods and feed themselves takes time and a lot of patience, so if your little one starts to get grouchy or irritated then you can take their food away from them and let them rest. Over time, they will start to make more verbal signals that they are full, which you will be better able to monitor.
When you start introducing solid foods to your baby, it’s important to monitor the introduction of foods that can trigger allergic reactions very closely and in very small amounts, so that you can spot any reactions. You can introduce allergenic foods from around 6 months as part of your baby’s diet, just like any other foods. Allergenic foods include:
- Cows’ milk (mixed with food and in cooking)
- Eggs (eggs without the Red Lion stamp shouldn’t be eaten raw or lightly cooked)
- Foods containing gluten
- Nuts, including peanuts
Introduce these foods one at a time, and isolated from other foods, so that if any reactions occur, you can identify them instantly. Once introduced and tolerated, you should keep offering foods as part of your little one’s usual diet. If you’re worried about allergies, then doing it in a safe and controlled environment is best. Some studies have shown that delaying the introduction of allergens for 6-12 months may then increase the risk of developing an allergy to those foods.
If your baby has developed an allergic reaction to certain foods, or if you have a family history of food allergies, hayfever, eczema or asthma, you may need to be careful when introducing certain foods, so it’s best to talk to your GP or health visitor first. Signs of a food allergy can include:
- A cough
- Wheezing or shortness of breath
- Itchy skin, rash, throat or tongue
- Diarrhoea or vomiting
- Swollen lips and throat
- Runny or blocked nose
- Sore, red and itchy eyes
If you notice any signs of allergies or allergic reaction, keep a close eye on the symptoms. If symptoms persist or get worse, then contact your GP or call 999.