Think your milk devouring little slice of heaven is ready to explore the fabulous world of FOOD?!
You’ve come to the right place!
First off, let me start by saying CONGRATS! You’ve survived the first few months of motherhood, and now you’re preparing for a SUPER EXCITING milestone.
It’s exciting, but it can also be TERRIFYING. The terror comes from the risk of choking. We’re moms. We worry about every little thing that can go wrong. It’s natural.
But don’t worry! I’ve got you covered. I’m going to show you EXACTLY how to approach baby-led weaning:
- When to start
- Which foods to use (and ones to avoid)
- Common food allergies (and how to prevent them)
- How parents are unknowingly contributing to eating disorders
- My top product recommendations
- And most importantly: HOW TO AVOID CHOKING!
WHAT IS BABY LED WEANING?
Let’s start with the basics. What exactly IS baby-led weaning?!
Baby-led weaning essentially is allowing your baby to feed themselves. Giving them the opportunity to explore age-appropriate foods rather than relying on spoon-feeding them purees.
No, this does not mean you need to give up breastfeeding or formula.
It is simply an addition of complementary foods to their primary diet of breastmilk or formula.
Baby-led weaning is a method of food progression, giving your baby the control and opportunity to learn and develop at their own pace.
This creates a positive and interactive experience for them, allows them to learn proper chewing and swallowing, and SO many more incredible benefits.
WHEN TO START
With my first child, I for some reason had it in my mind that you don’t start introducing solid foods until they are around one year old.
I have no idea where that came from, but that was somehow planted in my brain.
When our pediatrician told us to start at 4 months old, I was shocked!
On average most people start baby-led weaning around 6 months of age, but, you can start as early as 4 months if your baby is ready.
There are certain indicators to look for to ensure your baby is ready. It’s not recommended to start until ALL THREE of these are present.
They are as follows:
- Your baby needs to be interested. NEVER FORCE YOUR BABY TO EAT. Do they intently watch your food as you move it from your plate to your mouth? Do they reach out to grab your food or fork? They’re interested.
- They need to have excellent head control. Your baby needs to be able to hold their head up without support. You will be feeding them either in your lap or in a high chair, so be sure you are able to safely do so before you begin.
- Their tongue thrust reflex should be gone. This happens around the 4-6 month mark. Every baby is different, but this is an important one. If their tongue-thrust reflex is still present their tongue will push out anything that goes into their mouth. Try again in a week or so if this is the case.
If your baby checks all three of those boxes, DING DING DING! You’re ready for baby-led weaning!!!
HOW TO AVOID CHOKING
Let’s start by understanding the difference between CHOKING and GAGGING.
Chocking means something is stuck in their airway and they are unable to breathe. Scary, I know.
Gagging and coughing up food is their way of learning their limits.
Two very different things.
Choking is often silent and does not involve any coughing. If you notice a baby that is choking, you need to act IMMEDIATELY. Learn EXACTLY how to safely help a choking baby here.
Most first time moms will mistake gagging for chocking and have a mild panic attack (or 12).
Choking and gagging aren’t fun to talk about, but it’s important to know what to expect and have the knowledge and understanding to be able to handle the situation appropriately.
If they only eat pureed foods, they will never have to learn their limits and when given normal food will have no fears swallowing pieces that are too big for them. This will skyrocket the chances of them choking.
Provide them with age-appropriate foods that will give them the opportunity to learn how to safely chew and swallow the correct portions.
BABY LED WEANING FOODS
Start with foods that are easy for them to mash-up with their gums. Food with soft chunks that are easy to break down teaches them to chew or mash chunks down to sizes that are easy to swallow.
Some of my favorites: (be sure to mash them just enough to leave soft chunks. Don’t puree)
- Sweet potato
- Cooked Carrots
- Puffs (these are little cereal-like snacks that help tremendously with hand-eye-coordination and dissolve QUICKLY. The risk of choking is greatly reduced with items that quickly dissolve.)
They WILL gag when they accidentally swallow a piece that’s too big. That is completely normal and it’s their way of learning their limits. Stand nearby and always watch them closely. Be safe, but allow them to learn.
They will benefit greatly in the long run and actually have a much lower risk of choking in the future.
Once they become more comfortable with food, try to provide them with an age-appropriate version of whatever the family is eating that day. Spaghetti, chicken enchiladas, cut up steak, mashed potatoes, cooked vegetables, whatever!
The goal is to make eating a balanced meal fun and exciting for them. You want them the know exactly how to safely chew, swallow, and enjoy a variety of flavors and textures.
FOODS TO AVOID
There are some foods that are either not appropriate for their age, are a choking hazard, or are just plain dangerous. It’s recommended to avoid these foods until your pediatrician gives you the OK.
- Whole Nuts. Very difficult to break down, can have sharp edges, need a full set of teeth to be able to break them down properly. Typically around 5 years old. However, nuts are still a great source of healthy fats. Ground nuts and nut butters are a great way to safely incorporate these foods.
- Grapes. Very round and slippery. The easiest object to get lodged in their throat. If you do offer grapes, be sure to cut them up small enough to avoid the risk of choking. Or get a grape cutter! Super quick and easy!
- Honey. Not safe to give until they’re at least 1 year old. Honey is a known source of the bacteria spores that cause infant botulism. It’s rare, but SO scary and not at all worth the risk.
- Heavily salted foods. Your baby’s kidneys are still maturing and are not capable of processing as much salt as an adult. Try to limit salt intake to less than 1 gram per day.
- Sugar. Do your best to avoid sugary foods when possible. While developing those little taste buds, it’s best to get them used to healthy vegetables, proteins, low sugar fruits, and other healthy foods. It’s pretty much a guarantee that they will LOVE sugary fruits and other sweet treats. Do your best to train those taste buds to enjoy other healthy food groups BEFORE introducing sugary foods.
- Pureed foods. As I mentioned above, pureed foods take away the opportunity for your baby to learn. There is nothing for them to do other than swallow. Just like milk. All they have to do is swallow it. Pureed foods aren’t BAD for them. It can be a great snack or a quick and easy way to sneak in some veggies! Relying on ONLY pureed foods is what we want to avoid.
TIP: Breastfed babies might lack some iron compared to formula-fed babies because
Their primary source of nutrition will still be milk. Trying different textures and flavors teach them to enjoy a variety of foods, so, later on, they are less likely to become picky eaters.
Start slow and gradually increase the amount of food you offer as your child shows signs of wanting more. By the time they are about 8-9 months old, they should be enjoying a wide variety of different foods about 2-3 times a day.
Introduce the same kind of foods that you eat, such as similar flavors and spices.
In the near future, they should be eating the same meals that you and your family eat, so prepare their taste buds for those flavors!
But don’t give them a bunch of new foods all at once. Space each new food out by about 2-3 days. That way, if your child does have an adverse reaction to that food you will know exactly what caused it.
COMMON FOOD ALLERGIES
As always, only do what you are comfortable with and feel is right for your child. Please consult with your pediatrician for a personalized recommendation before changing anything.
For me personally, it was recommended for us to introduce highly allergenic foods (peanuts, eggs, shellfish, soy, and wheat) early on.
Back in the day, the recommendation was to wait on these foods until the baby was 1-2 years old. Thinking maybe they would be better equipped to handle a severe allergic reaction if it were to occur.
Newer studies show waiting that long does NOT decrease the risk of allergic reactions.
In fact, there are studies that show introducing those items EARLIER actually DECREASES the chance of developing an allergy to those items.
It’s said the longer your body goes without ever experiencing those foods the further it develops without the ability to process those items. Introducing them early on will allow the body to recognize those foods and process them appropriately.
Of course, some allergies are genetic. So if you have a history of severe food allergies in your family, I would be a little more cautious. I’ve heard of moms literally driving to the hospital, parking the car, and giving their child peanut butter for the first time in the parking lot of a hospital. That way if anything were to happen, they were already there! To me, that seems a bit stressful and overkill, but HEY! Do whatever makes you feel comfortable! No judgment here!
Do your research and make a decision based on what you feel is right for your little one.
DON’T CREATE EATING DISORDERS
I know this sounds harsh. We’re moms that want what’s best for our children.
We would never do anything to harm them, so the thought of US possibly being the cause of an eating disorder is HORRIFYING.
Studies show that classic strategies used to get your child to eat more: “You can’t leave the table until you finish your dinner” “Come on sweetie, just one more bite!” “If you finish the rest, I’ll give you a treat!” are actually teaching our kids to keep eating even when they’re not hungry. It’s teaching them to overeat. It’s telling them that no matter what your body is telling you, always finish what is in front of you.
Also, our obsession with tying food to any happy or sad moment in our lives needs to stop.
“Having a bad day honey? Let’s go get some ice cream, that will make you feel better!” “You got straight A’s?! Let’s go celebrate with some cake!”
It almost comes second nature to say these things. Which shows what a significant impact it can have on our lives.
Of course, they don’t all end in an eating disorder, but it certainly can. And even if it doesn’t, these aren’t healthy eating habits to teach our sweet babies.
Let’s be better.
Here are some tips on teaching healthy eating habits from the start:
YOU DECIDE THE FOOD AND THE FREQUENCY. THEY DECIDE HOW MUCH TO EAT.
This is HUGE in raising a healthy child.
It is very important to allow our children to stop eating when they are full.
If they are hungry, they will eat. Trust me. They will not starve!
Forcing our kids to keep eating and always incentivizing “one more bite” has been linked to eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia.
It has also been linked to obesity and emotional eating. Never incentivize eating more than they need.
That being said, kids can be very manipulative, especially when they get older. This is why it’s very important to start early with these lessons.
Later down the road when they want to skip dinner, and then they complain about being hungry at 9 pm you’re going to have to be very firm in a cut off time for the kitchen.
“Kitchen is closed after 8 pm” is a good rule to have, but be prepared for a little heartbreak in the beginning. A crying child telling you they are starving will be difficult to say no to.
However, after a few days of this (if it comes to that) they will quickly learn that they should be eating at dinner time. You must stick to your guns on this one for their benefit in the long run.
It will be hard, but parenting is hard. We deal with a lot of difficult situations for the betterment of our child. Stay strong!
BENEFITS OF BABY LED WEANING
There are so many wonderful benefits to baby-led weaning.
- Teaching healthy and empowering eating habits will have an enormous impact on your child’s life.
- Improving hand-eye coordination from an early age
- Decreasing the chances of having a picky eater
- Significantly lowering the risk of choking by allowing your child to learn how to safely chew and swallow from the start
- Developing their taste buds to enjoying a variety of different flavors, textures, and smells.
- Allowing them to have a fun and interactive food experience
- Creating amazing memories around the dinner table together as a family
I could literally go on forever, but I won’t! I’ll stop blabbing now and get into the good stuff. My favorite product recommendations for this super fun milestone!
There’s nothing I love more than reading up on a new milestone, zooming over to Amazon, and buying everything I
want need to be prepared! 😆
If baby-led weaning is anything, it’s MESSY! The messier the better in their eyes. Skip those annoying fabric bibs that catch NOTHING and have to be washed after every use. I love these silicone bibs because they have a little trough that catches a TON of the mess, and they’re SO SIMPLE to wipe clean!
With my first, I didn’t feel it was necessary to splurge on a nice high chair. And to be honest, it isn’t COMPLETELY necessary. However, a good one can last years through several different children. I also didn’t realize what an eyesore high chairs can be! A big clunky plastic beast literally could not be more annoying to have around. The Stokke is SO much easier on the eyes, it’s super simple to wipe clean, it’s excellent quality, and grows with them! TOTALLY worth the price in my opinion.
I’ll never forget the ridiculous assortment of random spoons we had at one point. They were either TINY and couldn’t hold more than a single drop of food, or they were HUMONGOUS and literally couldn’t even fit in their mouths. 🤣 So when I found these babies, I stocked up and haven’t looked back since! I have the matching FORKS and SPOONS.
Babies just LOVE flipping full plates of food on the ground. Avoid the mess and frustration with gripper plates! They literally suction to the table and its genius. Whoever invented these: THANK YOU.
Just like the plate situation, if you give a bowl of snacks to a baby/toddler consider it gone. It will be dumped out faster than you could even imagine. Once again, avoid the mess with this SPILL PROOF heaven sent snack cup. These are non-negotiable. Period.
The journey of introducing solid foods is a fun, exciting, and terrifying time, yet an extremely important and impactful one. Try to have fun and enjoy the learning process! Thank you so much for reading, and good luck!!!
Leave a comment and let me know what your little ones FIRST favorite food is! I LOVE hearing these 🥰👇🏼
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