What is baby-led weaning?
While the baby jar and spoon-feeding phase seems like an inevitable stage in parenthood, there is a growing alternative to traditional weaning – known as ‘Baby Led Weaning’. Originally coined by Gill Rapley, the philosophy of baby led weaning is essentially that at around 6 months, babies are capable of reaching for and eating solid food on their own; no purees or food processors necessary!
How do I get started with baby-led weaning?
Baby led weaning is very simple. Once a child is over six months and able to sit up independently and reach for objects, they are ready to start weaning. Start by including your baby at mealtimes with weaning-friendly finger foods, when they are ready they will reach out and grab for the food. As their hand-to-mouth coordination and pincer grip develops, you can introduce a larger variety of foods. In the initial stage of baby-led weaning food is predominately about exploration and play rather than nourishment so it can get very messy! Purchasing a simple plastic or wooden highchair and a plastic mat underneath the table is recommended.
What are the benefits of baby-led weaning?
There are many advantages of baby-led weaning; an obvious benefit is that it can be very cost and time effective as there is no need to purchase expensive jarred food or food processors and meals can be eaten together without the need to puree.
Convenience aside, advocates of baby-led weaning claim that there are many developmental benefits including a faster development of dexterity and hand to mouth coordination. A common problem experienced during traditional weaning is that toddlers are unwilling to try new textures once they get used to pureed food, so introducing all sorts of textures and flavours from the start of weaning can help them to be more adventurous with trying new foods. Baby-led weaning also makes eating together as a family easier to put into practice, which can help to establish long-term healthy attitudes towards eating in children.
What about the risk of choking?
Many parents are weary of baby-led weaning due to the perceived risk of choking, but as with children eating solid foods at any ages there are certain precautions to take when preparing food to reduce this risk; such as halving small fruits, not giving your baby nuts and ensuring that your child is never alone during mealtimes.
Advocates of baby-led weaning claim that giving your child control of the food they put into their mouth actually helps to reduce the risk of choking. It is important to familiarise yourself with the difference between gagging and choking; young toddlers have sensitive gag reflexes which can be alarming but babies are rarely bothered by it! In fact, as gag reflexes are most sensitive at around 6-8 months of age, baby-led weaning can help them learn not to overfill their mouths before they can swallow.
Important facts to remember:
Children under one should not ingest more than 1g of salt per day
Allow your baby to go at their own pace – don’t put food in their mouth or force them to eat more than they choose to pick up
Never leave your baby alone when eating
Do not give children under one shellfish, nuts, honey or under-cooked eggs
Here are some healthy recipes to get you and your baby started on your baby-led weaning journey: