What’s Baby-Led Weaning?

September 01

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What’s Baby-Led Weaning?

Weaning your baby onto solids… Are you also confused by all the information and advice out there? Let us take your worry away, so you can enjoy thi...

15 min read By Emma Ashworth, Doula and Author of AIMS Guide to Your Rights in Pregnancy and Birth

Weaning your baby onto solids can feel like a minefield. Everyone has an opinion and wants to share it with you. So, how do you work out what’s right for you and your baby? And what is baby-led weaning, anyway?

Is my baby ready for weaning?

Baby-led weaning recognises that babies need to reach a certain developmental stage to be able to process anything other than breastmilk or formula. Signs that your baby may be ready for solids are:

  • Baby can sit up unaided and has good head and body control.
  • The tongue thrust reflex is gone. This is a reflex that babies are born with. Before they’re ready for solids they push the food back out of their mouths with their tongue. This protects them from swallowing anything other than milk before their body is ready.
  • They can pick items up with their fingers and thumb, hold them firmly and bring items to their mouth.
  • They are showing an interest in food and perhaps reaching for it – but this can happen far earlier than other signs, and on its own isn’t a sign of readiness.
  • Baby is around six months old.

Why weaning with puree isn't the biological norm

Humans have been around long before food processors! And weaning with purees has been a relatively recent process. It was only when food could be liquidised into a mush, and spoons were invented, that we started to wean babies this way. All mammals start to learn to eat the same foods as their parents by trying little bits once they are physically mature enough to do so. Using tools to start that process too early simply interferes with this natural process, and makes lots of unnecessary work, waste and mess!

How baby-led weaning works

If your baby has met all of the above milestones, then they may be ready to try solid foods. There’s no hurry – breastmilk or stage one formula should still be their main source of food for the first year of life, so it’s ok to take your time and just enjoy the process.

Baby-led weaning means giving your baby the same foods as the rest of the family is eating (with some exceptions - see below) in sizes that they can hold in their hand. This makes introducing solids extremely easy, with no extra meal preparation, liquidising or freezing food into tiny containers, and no expensive baby food with their wasteful pouches which can be hard to recycle. It’s also so much cheaper than using commercial baby food. One jar of sweet potato and carrot puree can cost over £10 per kilo – compared to between 50p and £1 per kilo of the fresh version!

Your baby should be able to sit up on their own, so have them join you at the table, perhaps in a high chair or on your lap. You can give them pieces of food which are large enough for them to easily hold such as a stick of cooked broccoli or carrot, a piece of meat or tofu, some toast or a banana. 

To start with, food is fun, something new to explore, to play with and learn about. They may swallow some, they may not. Often you’ll start to see evidence of swallowing in their nappy! It doesn’t matter, they’re learning about textures and colours and flavours, using their jaw muscles and practising fine motor control as they pick up a tasty morsel and try to find their mouth.

Even before they have teeth, babies will chew with their gums. Although they won’t be able to cut through tougher foods such as meat, gumming these foods will still release nutrients, essential vitamins and minerals.

What food should I avoid?

No food that’s a size that could be a choking hazard should be offered to weaning babies. This includes whole grapes, nuts and foods that can be bitten into smaller hard pieces such as raw carrot. 

Choking can also be caused by very sticky foods, so avoid large spoons of thick, sticky spreads such as peanut butter.

Honey should not be given to children under a year old as it can contain a pathogen called botulism which can be very dangerous to very young children. As children get older, they are far less likely to be affected by this pathogen.

Avoid adding salt or sugar to foods that your baby will be given. If your family likes salt on their food, ask them to add it at the table rather than using it in cooking, so your baby can have the unsalted version.

Avoid slippery foods as they can be very frustrating for tiny people!

Summary

This is an exciting time for you and your baby. There’s no need to go through all of the hassle and expense of making purees to wean your baby. Baby-led weaning allows you to use the same food for your baby as the rest of the family, which is cheaper, easier and far less stress! Just don’t rush it – wait until they’re ready and then enjoy this new experience with your little one.