My six-month-old loves chicken. And peaches and tomatoes and oranges and zucchini and plums. No purees, no spoons, no time-consuming struggles to get her to eat. Why, oh why, didn’t I use this method with my son? If I’d only known!
This self-feeding approach is known in parenting circles as Baby-Led Weaning (BLW). That’s a bit of a misnomer, as I don’t plan on weaning her anytime soon- I like to think of it as Baby-Led Feeding. You give your baby food. Real food. And your baby learns to eat it.
I love it because:
- It’s easy. Step 1) Give food. Step 2) Watch baby eat food.
- It makes sense. Throughout history, generations of parents have fed their children table food, rather than pre-packaged, pureed medleys. Little cavemen babies were given a drumstick to gnaw on, not a jar of turkey and green bean mush. Within my ‘crunchy hippie’ style of parenting, the natural feel of baby-led weaning fits the bill. And at six months, children are physically able to self-feed, so it stands to reason that they can be given the chance to do so.
- Babies learn to chew their food first, and swallow their food second. This is contrary to the learn-to-swallow-first-and-learn-to-chew-second traditional approach of spoon-feeding purees.
- It aligns with the World Health Organization and Health Canada recommendations that an infant’s primary source of nutrition before the age of one should be breastmilk or formula. Food at this age is more about learning the process of eating, rather than worrying about the quantity they consume.
- I’m hesitant to introduce grains to my daughter because her negative reactions when I eat wheat (here is my Blog about that!). Starting with meat, veggies, and fruit seems like a logical beginning.
So how do you implement this approach?
- Get used to answering questions from curious friends and family. An atypical approach, baby-led weaning is not yet conventional, so people are going to want to know why your baby is nibbling on a strip of flank steak.
- Buy an easy-to-clean highchair. It’s a messy endeavor, since your infant will have control over the food they eat, rather than food coming to them on a spoon. While you’re at it, don’t worry about bowls and plates; they’re just asking to be thrown on the floor, along with the raspberries and salmon flakes.
- As with the traditional baby-food approach, a hungry/tired baby will not respond well to table food- make sure your baby is well-rested and not famished when you’re introducing solids.
- Allow your baby to put the food into their mouths themselves so that they can control how far it goes in. Infants have a very powerful gag reflex and will quickly learn how to manipulate food properly to avoid their gag response. Cut the food into manageable strips, as they do not yet have a pincer-grasp.
- Do some research (you can find great resources at www.babyledweaning.com, www.wholesomebabyfood.momtastic.com, and www.youtube.com). Get comfortable with this approach. And then dive in!