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Introducing Solids to your Baby: A Look at Baby-led Weaning

October 13, 2015 by Andrea Godfreyson, Registered Dietitian

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A couple of months after I had my baby (and came out of the initial fog), I decided to rejoin society and started going to drop-in parent and baby groups. They were great for socializing and learning about different ways of doing everything baby. This is where I first heard about baby-led weaning. As with most topics, different opinions flew fast and furious about how best to feed your baby. With that in mind, this post aims to provide information on baby-led weaning and help guide you in feeding approaches.

What is Baby-led Weaning?

The name itself is a bit misleading as we usually think of weaning as the process of stopping breastfeeding. Baby-led weaning is different: it’s the term used to describe a way of introducing solid foods where babies feed themselves starting at about six months of age. Breastfeeding (or formula feeding) continues during this process. For their first solid foods, babies are given larger pieces of soft foods that they can grasp and eat instead of the more traditional method of feeding where parents spoon-feed mashed or minced foods to babies. The idea behind baby-led weaning is that the baby can share the same (or similar) foods that the rest of the family is eating and that they sit and participate in the family meal while everyone eats.

Two Approaches to Introducing Solids to Your Baby

Baby-led weaning and the traditional method of introducing solids have similarities. They both recommend you:

  • Start introducing solids at about 6 months of age (when baby shows they are ready)
  • Introduce safe finger foods starting at 6 months
  • Let your baby choose how much to eat
  • Encourage eating with the family
  • Move toward offering the same foods as the rest of the family
  • Never leave the baby unattended while eating

Here is what’s different:

Baby-led weaning method Traditional method
  • Baby feeds herself
  • Begins with soft, easy to grasp chunks of food (often in “stick” shape)
  • Semi-liquid foods like yogurt can be offered to baby to eat with her fingers or as a dip for other foods
  • Adult feeds the baby to start, often by spoon
  • Begins with iron rich foods in soft, minced or mashed form and progresses to more texture as baby is able to manage
  • Finger foods are introduced in small soft pieces
  • Semi-liquid foods are fed to baby on a spoon with baby starting to guide the spoon to her mouth when she is able
Examples of food offered Examples of food offered
  • Strips of tender cooked meat large enough so baby can grasp in fist (with some sticking out at the top)
  • Well-cooked scrambled eggs
  • Cooked broccoli trees
  • Banana partly peeled so baby can grip the peel at the bottom
  • Avocado slices
  • Stick of cheese
  • Fingers of toast (long thin slices)
  • Minced tender cooked meat on a spoon
  • Mashed well-cooked egg
  • Mashed or minced soft cooked broccoli on spoon or very tender cooked diced broccoli pieces
  • Mashed banana on a spoon or diced pieces of banana
  • Diced pieces of avocado
  • Grated cheese
  • Fingers of toast (long thin slices)
  • Iron-fortified infant cereal on a spoon

What to Consider Before Choosing an Approach?

Age: Start at 6 months
For both approaches, it is recommended to start at 6 months when your baby can sit up and control her head movements. Most babies can grasp larger pieces of food and will try to put them in their mouth at this stage.

Baby’s hunger and fullness cues
With whatever method you choose, practice responsive feeding. This means watching for the cues and clues your baby gives you. Follow your baby’s lead and make sure that she decides whether or not she eats, what she eats (of what you offer), how much she eats and how fast or slow she eats.

Types of foods: Offer iron-rich foods as first foods
Babies’ need a lot of iron (11 mg/day at 7-12 months of age) and that is why it is recommended that the first foods offered to babies be iron-rich. With the traditional approach, offering minced or mashed meat, deboned fish or infant cereal (or other foods high in iron) are easy ways to help your baby get enough iron.

With baby-led weaning it may be more difficult to ensure your baby is getting the iron she needs. Some parents will start with vegetables and fruit as first foods because they are easy finger foods. However, these foods don’t have enough iron to meet baby’s needs. Offering an iron-rich food at least twice a day will help give your baby the iron she needs.

When your baby is learning to munch and chew and doesn’t have teeth (or just has one or two) it may be difficult for her to break down a solid piece of meat in order to get the iron and other nutrients that it contains. Consider the following:

  • Offer meat in other forms (such as ground meat or tender stewed meat) that may make it easier to chew.
  • Try other sources of iron that your baby can feed herself. Foods like scrambled eggs, strips of fishcakes or lentil patties, hummus spread on toast fingers and very well cooked pasta noodles are good choices.
  • Use iron-fortified infant cereal to make pancakes or muffins.
  • Include foods high in vitamin C (like peppers, strawberries and broccoli) when you serve non-meat/chicken/fish sources of iron to help your baby absorb the iron.

Safety: Avoid foods that are choking hazards
The risk of choking is a concern with infants no matter what method of feeding you use. To minimize the risk, always ensure that your baby is sitting up when eating, learn about which foods to avoid to decrease the risk of choking and brush up on your infant first aid to help keep your baby safe.

Your Baby’s Individual Needs
Self-feeding usually takes longer than spoon-feeding, so allow time for your baby to eat. Some babies will be better than others at getting food into their mouths and eating it. If you’re trying baby-led weaning and find that your baby continues to have a hard time, try a mixed approach. Offering some food on a spoon in addition to finger foods may help them meet their energy, iron and general nutrition needs. It may also help them avoid feeling frustrated if they want to eat but don’t quite have the movements down. If your baby was born early, is not growing well, is developmentally delayed or has a condition that makes chewing or swallowing difficult, then baby-led weaning may not be appropriate for them.

Whether you choose to try baby-led weaning, the more traditional approach or a combination of the two, the main goals are: to provide your baby with the nutrients and energy she needs; to expose her to new flavours and textures; and to help her safely learn eating skills in a relaxed environment with no parental pressure or distractions.

In the end, the best approach is the one that makes you both feel comfortable and confident.  Feeling good about how things are going helps to make the eating experience pleasurable for the whole family.

If you have any questions about feeding your baby, call a Registered Dietitian toll-free at HealthLink BC by dialing 8-1-1. We’re here to help.


Related blogs

The Manly Art of Feeding Babies

Recommended resources

Starting Solids
Healthy Canadians: Infant nutrition
HealthLink BC: Finger Foods for Babies 6-12 Months
HealthLink BC: Feeding Your Baby: Sample Meals for Babies 6 to 12 Months Old
Recipes for Your Baby: 6-9 Months Old

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