Baby led weaning is letting your child take the lead and learn how to feed themselves right from the start. In doing so, they develop a healthy relationship with a variety of foods and begin to enjoy eating!
I started introducing solids when baby was 6 months old when she could sit upright and showed interest in the food we were eating. Note that baby led weaning is not for everyone - some just can't endure the mess, others just don't have the time to prepare meals. You do need buy-in from your family members and caregivers, invest the time and effort to prepare meals, and possibly spend more time to clean up as compared to traditional weaning. In the long run, baby led weaning does offers more satisfaction when you get to enjoy meals at the same time as your child (with supervision of course).
Regardless of whether you do traditional or baby led weaning, they all eventually get there (self-eating), it’s just a matter of when. Mealtime should be a fun experience for your baby, not a stressful one. Enjoy the weaning process!
I am not an expert, but so many of you have asked about how I did it with my baby, so here are some quick tips which helped in our baby led weaning journey:
- Plan Your Meals. Here's a meal plan template (by @haziepie) you can use to kickstart your journey. I started out with offering only 1 meal and 1 new food per day for the first 20 days and eventually progressed to 3 meals with a balanced diet per day. Babies don't eat much at the beginning. Start by placing 2-3 pieces of one food or a puree and let them explore. On what foods to offer, I usually do grocery shopping weekly and plan baby meals according to the ingredients available. I referred to @solidstarts a lot to check on whether each food is safe for baby. My aim was to introduce 100 different foods before 1 year old and test for any possible allergies early. For allergens, introduce early in the day (either breakfast or lunch) and over a 3-day period so that you can monitor for any potential reaction. Check out our initial baby led weaning days and recipes!
- Prepare For Choking. Make sure you know the difference between choking and gagging and make sure you know what to do if baby chokes. Gagging is good! All babies have natural gag reflex to protect them from choking. This trigger is further forward in the mouth when you first start solids but will gradually move back as baby gets older. Knowledge makes you more confident! Know what to do if your child chokes. Here's a post on why, when, how to prepare for weaning and what to do if baby chokes. Also make sure that the foods offered are soft enough in the initial weeks - think mash potato soft! Gradually progress to different textures as you go along.
- Prepare For Mess. The first month or so was more of baby exploring the taste, texture and aroma of different foods – she barely ate much and made a mess. I quickly learnt the worst foods (beetroot was like a massacre), and developed a setup to minimise the mess during mealtimes. No more food stuck in between the gaps of the chair and food on the floor to clear. All I had to do was to clear all the remaining food away, and wash the bib and tray. I do get some flying bits of food on the floor sometimes, but mess is better managed with this. You may also consider adding a floor mat if you want extra protection.
- Don’t Be Disappointed If Baby Doesn’t Like The Foods You Offered. Do you have foods that you don’t like? Babies develop preferences for food too! My baby loved avocado and hated broccoli initially, but the tides have changed now. Why? They are growing teeth, their jaws are growing, so food may taste different as they grow. Keep offering a variety of foods, take note of their preferences and dislikes and introduce foods they don’t like with something they love for higher chance of acceptance. Sometimes, they just need to be introduced to the taste more often to accept it. You can also try taking a piece of baby's food, show them how you eat and chew and say "Mmm, so delicious! How about you try?". As baby grows older, you can also consider eating the same meals as them. Let them decide how much they want to eat. If you notice them getting distracted, refusing to eat or throwing foods, signal "All done?" and end the meal. Eventually, get them to signal "All done." when they are done with a meal.
- Use Safe Utensils Designed For Baby. Safety is so important – you don’t want baby to use a sharp fork and risk baby getting injured or use a cup which may cause baby to choke! I used Ezpz feeding sets, which were designed specifically for baby to self-feed at various developmental stage and age. Here are some features which made a lot of sense to us: The Ezpz Tiny Spoon comes with a short and fat handle to help baby grip onto it easily and self-feed, instead of a long hand handle which is more appropriate for adult to feed. Cup drinking is also made easy with the tiny cup followed by straw cup. The straw cup comes with a short and fat straw, instead of a long and thin sippy cup straw - baby needs to hold their breath to suck, a long and thin straw would require baby to hold their breath longer and hence higher risk of choking. Here are some common mistakes when teaching cup drinking. Learn more on the Ezpz range from Ms Dawn, Ezpz's Pediatric Speech-Language Pathologist and Feeding Specialist in our IG live session!