Written by Annabel Karmel
Weaning is an exciting milestone for you and your baby. At around the 6 month mark parents are starting to try and get their heads around the wonderful world of weaning. There is so much conflicting advice out there so I promise you are not alone if you’re feeling apprehensive – it’s only natural!
While lots of parents start out with simple smooth purees, baby-led weaning has never been more popular and it’s the hot new weaning trend to try.
The ethos behind baby-led weaning is that you let your baby feed themselves from around 6 months (or whenever they are able to pick up food and bring it to their mouth). Skipping the puree step altogether can be a scary thing but the view is that it gives babies the opportunity to discover lots of different tastes and textures from the very beginning of their weaning journey; encouraging them to eat a variety of foods and eliminating fussiness later on in life.
Baby-led weaning also encourages your baby to eat at the table with the family, making it an enjoyable social experience. Not only is it more fun for them, it often means that you can prepare just the one meal for the whole family. Whether it’s a comforting cottage pie, summer vegetable risotto or a Friday night chicken curry, the idea is that your baby can eat a small portion of whatever you’re having – just be sure to leave out any added sugar or salt.
Regularly offering a variety of family meals and finger foods encourages babies to adopt good eating habits from the very start as they get to experience a more varied range of tastes and textures than they might on a spoon-fed diet. That being said, there is no reason why you can’t mash or puree certain family meals if they’re not quite ready for baby-led weaning. The good news is, it’s completely up to you and what you feel comfortable with.
I believe that adopting a flexible approach is a great way to get started and is often the most realistic for lots of families. Giving purees when your baby is ready for first foods (particularly if slightly earlier than 6 months), with the introduction of finger foods and family meals from around six months is a fantastic flexible option. There is no right or wrong to weaning – all babies are different and it’s about what works for you and your family.
Baby-led weaning often brings up some concern around choking and it’s a worry which is understandable, so, I’ve pulled together my top Baby-Led Weaning safety tips:
- However your baby is fed (whether it’s baby-led or spoon-led) they should never be left alone while eating, and they must always be supported in an upright position.
- Follow your baby’s lead – their own developmental abilities are what ensure that this transition to solid foods takes place at the right time for them. A baby who is struggling to get food into their mouth probably isn’t quite ready and so in this case I would simply stick with purees for a bit longer and then when they are ready slowly introduce some soft finger foods.
- Avoid these foods that could cause choking
- Whole grapes
- Whole cherry tomatoes
- Whole or chopped nuts
- Fruits with stones such as cherries
- Bony fish (always check thoroughly for bones first)
- Gagging is different and can often be mistaken for choking which can put parents off the baby-led approach before they’ve even started. Gagging is your baby’s own safety mechanism that prevents choking by pushing food away from the airway if it is too big to be swallowed. The gag reflex in babies is triggered towards the front of the tongue (unlike adults where this is much further back).
- Babies have a tendency to store food in their mouth for some time so just check they’re not storing any spare food as a snack for later!
Soft finger foods such as steamed carrot and broccoli, wedges of mango and banana slices are great from 6 months as they help your baby learn to chew and swallow when their reflex is safely close to the front of the mouth.
Babies around 6 months tend to use their whole hand to pick things up so avoid making the pieces too wide. Fairly long pieces stand a better chance of being picked up. I would suggest cutting food into 5–6cm batons or sticks so that half is held in a baby’s hand and the other half sticks out.
These are some great first foods to get started with baby-led weaning:
- Batons of banana, avocado, pear and mango
- Steamed carrot and broccoli (they can hold the stem)
- Wedges of roasted sweet potato or butternut squash
- Cubes or fingers of bread or pitta
- Soft pasteurised cheeses cut into chunks
- Cooked eggs, cut in half
- Pieces of cooked fish such as salmon and chicken (the dark meat is extra nutritious)
- Mini portions of a family meal – porridge, frittata cut into slices, mini burgers, cottage pie and lasagne are all great options. Just keep a close eye on potential allergens and omit the addition of salt and sugar.
Don’t worry about how much or how little your baby eats at the beginning; the best thing you can do is serve a variety of tastes and textures and as many different delicious and nutritious foods to get them off to a flying start!
For more information and delicious recipes, take a look at Annabel Karmel’s new baby weaning book.