As a first time mother, I remember being so excited about every milestone my son reached. I was most excited for him to have his first solid foods. Baby-led weaning has been my go-to method for both my boys. Before starting solids, I took a pediatric first aid course and a baby-led weaning class to make sure I was doing what was best and safest for my baby. I wanted to share some of the important parts of what I learned with parents who don’t have the time to do all these classes.
One of the most common questions I’ve heard people ask regarding giving baby solids is if you can do baby-lead weaning before your baby is 6 months old.
Baby-led weaning is not advised before your baby reaches 6 months of age and shows all signs of readiness. Giving your baby solids before they are ready, or even too late, can cause a variety of long-term problems for your baby. There are other ways to introduce your baby to solids and still introduce baby-led weaning when they are ready.
For baby-led weaning there are specific factors to consider, ensuring your little one is ready and you are too.
What is Baby-led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning is a way of introducing a baby to solid food. Food portions are prepared in a way that your baby can feed themselves instead of spoon-feeding them pureed foods.
Baby-led weaning is a great way for you to introduce complementary foods to your baby along with their regular breastmilk or formula. It is recommended for milk to be your baby’s main source of nutrition until the age of 1 year old.
Baby-led weaning is a way of making eating a positive and interactive experience. It helps to develop oral motor skills, confidence and helps to promote healthy eating habits in children.
How will I know when my baby is ready for solids and baby-led weaning?
As a mother we only want the best for our children, so when it is time to introduce solids we need to make sure our babies are ready for it.
To know when your baby is ready for solids and baby-led weaning, they should be at least 6 months old and show all signs of readiness, which are:
- Be at least 6 months old (if you want to start weaning your baby earlier then seek advice from your pediatrician and start with purees as baby-led weaning is not advised for babies under 6 months of age)
- Have good, strong neck control (to be able to hold their head up independently)
- Be able to sit up unassisted (without any support)
- Tongue thrust reflex should be gone (the urge to push things out of their mouth with their tongue)
- Ability to hold and grasp food
Note: it is possible to do both spoon feeding and baby-led weaning if you introduce both correctly.
What happens if you feed baby solids too early?
As a first time mother I know it can be so exciting to let your baby try their first foods but at the same time, it could also be scary hoping they do not choke or have allergic reactions to the food.
No matter your worries, try not to stress about introducing solids, your baby will let you know when they are ready.
It does make a difference if you introduce solids too early or too late, especially when using the baby-led weaning method.
Introducing your baby to solid foods, even as purees, can increase the risk of your baby choking and can also affect the amount of milk your baby drinks. Remember, breastmilk or formula should remain your baby’s main source of nutrition until at least the age of 1 year old, as per recommendations.
On the opposing end of this, introducing solid food too late can cause complications of its own such as increasing the risk that your baby may end up developing food allergies. If you are concerned about introducing solid foods or the following baby-led weaning at 6 months, you can always start with purees at 6 months and slowly introduce finger foods for baby-led weaning.
How do you start baby led weaning?
According to the world health organization, babies should have their regular breastmilk or formula servings with 2 – 3 servings of solid food each day.
Baby-led weaning is quite simple when it comes to the actual method. Simply prepare your baby’s food (see below on how to prepare foods for baby-led weaning), then offer it to them at eating time. Let your baby decide what they want to eat.
Start slowly and feed small portions, and don’t force them to eat if they are not interested. No need to rush them either. Let your baby lead the way, that is the idea of baby-led weaning.
Can you mix baby lead weaning and spoon feeding?
If you try to introduce baby-led weaning and do spoon feeding at the same time, it is possible, however, it may cause some confusion about solids for your baby. Make sure you have a good balance of finger foods and spoon-feeding.
You can also change from purees and spoon-feeding to baby-led weaning. Babies that change from purees are not considered to be fully baby-led weaned, but the change can still lead to the positive results that can be expected from baby-led weaning.
Is it too late for me to start baby-led weaning?
In my opinion, it is never too late to start baby-led weaning. Just keep in mind that if you are changing from spoon-feeding purees, your little one may not be used to finger foods and may react in an unexpected way. Transition slowly, offering them finger foods along with their purees to help them make the change from spoon-feeding to finger foods.
Some people spoon-feed and some use baby-led weaning. Follow your baby’s cues and do what you feel is best for you and your child.
“I have known people who started with spoon feeding and found it didn’t work for them or their baby, so they stopped offering purees and spoon-feeding and only offered finger foods to their babies. So I personally don’t feel it is ever too late to feed your child in a baby-led or child-led approach.” Says Amy Vogelaar, a certified midwife, lactation consultant, baby calm teacher, baby-led weaning teacher, and Co-Founder at Love Parenting UAE.
Is it possible to over feed my baby with baby-led weaning?
It is uncommon to overfeed with spoon-feeding but it is possible if you do not follow your baby’s fullness cues.
With baby-led weaning, you are allowing your baby to take control of their food intake therefore it is not possible to overfeed your baby with solid foods.
Before age one, continue to give milk feeds prior to feeding solid foods. It is advised to wait for approximately 45 minutes after feeding milk, to offer solid foods.
Your baby will slowly start to decrease the amount of milk they take in as they start to increase their solid food portions, but allow your baby to make the transition themselves as their milk intake is more important than their solid food intake before the age of 1 year. After the age of one, you can change to solids first and then milk.
How much food should I offer my baby?
According to Amy Voglaar “The beauty of baby-led weaning is that you do not need to worry about how much. Just offer food and let baby decide what and how much to eat.”
Try offering 2 – 3 different options or slices at a time as too much food at once can be overwhelming for some babies.
6-month-olds do not eat a lot. When first introducing solid foods they don’t much more than play with it. Then they do start to experiment with tasting, mouthing, sucking, and gnawing on food, and usually will end up spitting it out.
Most babies will not eat much until they are between 9 and 10 months old, but by introducing finger foods from 6 months, you are giving then the opportunity to taste, explore, learn, and practice their skills while at the same time getting some of the nutrients the foods have to offer.
What are the best first foods to introduce?
There is no single best option for baby’s first food, rather feed your baby whatever you like.
When thinking about what foods to feed your baby, be sure to:
- Offer a good variety of food groups, colors, and nutrients
- Make sure iron-rich foods offered at every meal right from 6 – 7 months
- Iron is absorbed better if eaten with vitamin c, so offer vitamin c – rich fruits and veg as well
- Offer common allergens (such as peanut proteins, egg, dairy, tree nut proteins, soy, wheat, etc.)
- Allergens should be offered early and often to reduce the risk of allergies
Some options for first foods to introduce may consist of:
- Baby cereal
- Butternut squash
- Sweet potato
Foods to avoid:
- Added sugars
- No honey before age one
- Foods that pose a choking hazard
How to prepare foods for Baby-Led Weaning
Foods for baby-led weaning need to be soft enough to mash between your fingers. Raw foods such as avocado, banana, cucumber, and papaya are soft enough to give as they are.
Foods such as carrot sticks, apples, green beans, and anything that can snap off into a chunk, that can be choked on, should be cooked until soft enough to mash with your fingers. Eggs and meat should be cooked very well, and should not be runny or rare.
Food pieces should be chopped into pea-size pieces (approximately half an inch in each direction) or cut up into 2-3 inch long strips no wider than the width of a pencil.
What to do if your baby is choking
When your baby starts choking it can be a daunting experience for any parent. I personally did my first aid course and renew it every 2 – 3 years. As an early years teacher and mother of 2, it is always good to have the most updated and relevant information when it comes to the health of children.
If your baby is choking and coughing but can breathe, then their airway is not completely blocked. Do not do anything in this case, just watch your baby and make sure they recover completely from the choking. Usually, they will be fine after a wild coughing spell.
When baby-led weaning babies will sometimes gag, but not actually choke on the food as they get used to the process of chewing and swallowing. In the event that your baby actually does choke, it is always best to be prepared.
If your baby is choking they will not be able to cough, cry, breathe, or make any sounds or noises. If this happens, follow these steps:
- If someone is in the area you are in, shout for help. Let the person call the doctor in the event of an emergency. If you are alone, administer the following steps first and then contact a doctor.
- Give your baby up to 5 back blows: holding your baby along your leg, facing downward with their head below the level of their bottom, hit their back firmly between their shoulder blades. Force of the blow will vary depending on the age and size of the baby. Softer blows with a smaller baby and stronger blows with bigger babies. The blows need to have enough force to create a vibration that will help remove the blockage from the baby’s airway. If this does not help to remove the blockage more on to the next step.
- Up to 5 chest Thrusts: Turn your baby face-up, using 2 fingers push sharply upward 5 times with your 2 fingers placed in the center of the chest just below their nipples. This will push air out of the lungs and may help to dislodge what they are choking on.
- If the above steps do not work to dislodge the blockage, call the ambulance immediately. Continue with the above 2 and 3 until the item gets dislodged, help comes, or until the baby is completely unresponsive.
Do not squeeze on your baby’s tummy as this is for adults who are chocking, and doing this to a baby may damage internal organs. Do not hold the baby by their feet in an attempt to dislodge the blockage as this will not work and may cause serious injury.
Do not put your fingers into your baby’s mouth in an attempt to remove the piece of food as this may just cause it to go further in and cause the blockage to become worse and could cause other, more serious injuries to the throat.
Check out the below video version as well of what to do when your baby is choking.
Each parent is the expert of their own child. Do what works best for you and for your baby, and remember to follow your baby’s cues as they will let you know what they like and what they don’t.
It can get messy so be ready for the mess, and enjoy their expressions and watch them enjoying and experiencing food.
Article checked by:
Dr Binu George – Consultant General Pediatric
(MBBS, FRCPCH, Dual CCST (UK), Paediatric Neurodisability)
Head Of Department, Child Development Department at
NMC Royal Hospital, Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates