While Memorial Day Weekend is a time to remember those who gave their life while serving in our country’s armed forces, many celebrate our freedoms with good family and delicious food in season. You might be wondering to yourself if now is the right time to let your little one(s) explore their own freedoms by trying out those celebratory treats for the first time. The old widely prescribed approach to introducing foods other than mother’s milk or formula used to look like this:
Mother’s Milk/Formula –> Baby Cereal (Spoon Fed By Caregiver/ Hidden In Bottle) –> Pureed Baby Food (Spoon Fed By Caregiver) –> Softer Solid Foods (Diced- Baby Feeds Self) –> Most Solid Foods (Bigger Pieces, Tougher Foods- Baby Feeds Self) –> All Solid Foods (As Is- Child Serves & Feeds Self)
That’s a lot of steps. Many (old(er)) pediatricians will argue that is still the best way to go about introducing solids, but most modern moms know that there is another option, Baby Led Feeding, which creates kids who:
- are less picky eaters
- eat to satiation through self-regulation (stopping on their own when they feel full)
- are more open to trying new foods
- learn to feed themselves earlier
- learn to know their limits when it comes to bite size
- learn to eat without choking/gagging sooner
- have greater development in dexterity and hand-eye coordination
- develop better chewing skills (which can often take a few months to become a pro at)
- develop greater oral motor movements which aid in speech development
This newer approach is actually not new at all, but it’s become popular again in recent years, and it’s called Baby Led Feeding. Some call it Baby Led Weaning, but we don’t prefer the term “weaning” because that implies that moms have to wean from breastfeeding or formula in order to participate, which is entirely not true! Keep breastfeeding or formula feeding as you have been! Breastmilk or formula should still provide all of your child’s nutritional intake before they turn one.
“Food before one is just for fun!”
The outdated recommendation to start solids at 4 months has also been updated to 6 months or older. Starting solids too early can lead to allergies and digestive issues; simply, baby’s intestines and stomach aren’t ready to handle foods well so early!
Your baby is ready to begin Baby Led Feeding if:
- sits unassisted
- has good neck strength
- shows interest in your foods when you eat
- can sit well in a high chair
What is Baby Led Feeding?
Baby Led Feeding simply means you are giving your child real foods that maintain their natural structures to eat by themselves. You’re not serving purees on a spoon.
Mother’s Milk/Formula + Solid Foods (Baby Feeds Self)
BLF babies eat with the family at/near the table, choose what to eat from their tray/plate, explore new foods at their own pace, aren’t required to eat a certain amount of what’s before them- making feeding time relaxing and fun.
What can I give baby?
If your family already eats whole foods on the regular, great! You’ll just give baby a little of whatever you’re having with a few exceptions.
- It is recommended to avoid serving milk (other than breastmilk or formula) until after baby is 1 year old.
- Also, avoid highly processed, highly seasoned, and salty foods.
Focus on whole foods and iron-rich/vitamin-rich foods to start, just as you would when choosing purees (sorry, kiddo, no Oreos for you!) this would include eggs, meat, poultry, fish, beans, iron-fortified grains/cereals, vegetables, fruits, full-fat yogurt, and cheese. You can do purees and BLF at the same time, but it’s not necessary to do purees at all.
- Have baby try one food every few days until he has tried quite a few foods, then you can begin to give them multiple different foods in one day.
- Take note of what baby has tried on a piece of paper or in a note on your phone.
- Why? This makes it easy to figure out what baby is reacting to if he has an allergic reaction. (It is important to research what an allergic reaction can look like before you begin BLF so you know what to look for as baby is trying new things. Talk to your pediatrician before you begin if need be.)
- There is no order you have to go in when it comes to choosing foods, and baby cereal is not a necessity to their nutrition at all. You can skip it altogether.
- Start with softer fruits, veggies, and meats until baby gets the hang of things, but don’t give them things that are too squishy unless you’ve cut it into longer sticks (example: bananas, avocado). Examples of softer foods to start with:
- Steamed vegetables
- cooked pastas (cut spaghetti shorter to avoid choking)
- scrambled eggs
- moist shredded chicken breast
- puffed cereals
- ripened fruits
- For most foods you can hand them an entire slice or the entire thing to figure out how to eat and/or play around with. Examples:
- corn cob (no holders)
- (deseeded) orange slices
- melon slices
- steamed broccoli florets
- steamed asparagus
- whole strawberries (with greenery & stem removed)
- steamed green beans
- steamed carrot sticks
- whole grain silver-dollar sized pancakes
- half a slice of toast
In regards to hydration, remember that you should continue to nurse or bottle feed baby the same as if you hadn’t started solids. There is no need to start giving baby water until he is close to 9 months old- 1 year. As baby is learning to use a cup or when he begins to ingest quite a bit of solids, you can offer sips of water with meals, but there is no need to offer a full bottle or sippy-cup of water. If baby is breastfed on demand, he is likely to get all the hydration he needs from nursing. If baby is bottle fed formula, he may need a little water when upping his solids intake to prevent constipation.
When baby is ready to begin drinking water or trying water with meals, feeding therapists and speech and language pathologists alike recommend that baby uses a cup that requires a straw (like this one from Pura) to develop strong oral motor skills that aid in speech development.
How do I start?
Secure baby in a high chair or booster, be prepared to get messy (put a bib on baby like these cute new bibs from Imagine Baby or go for big time all-over protection with these sleeved bibs from Bummis). (I like to store our bibs in a Lalabye Baby Quick Trip wet/dry bag and hang it from a command hook on the back of our high chair for easy access.)
Cut long/rounded foods into finger-length and finger-width sticks to aid in handling and prevent choking hazards. I always cut grapes into four pieces long-ways. Cucumbers sliced into pickle spear shapes work well for teething babies to get some gumming action and taste a new food.
Put the food on their tray or on a non-throwable plate or bowl (like the Mini-Mat from EZPZ if you’re using a high chair tray, or try the regular Happy Mat if you’re pulling baby’s chair up to the table. Avanchy also makes plates and bowls with suction on the bottom).
You must sit with baby and watch him as he learns to eat, just as if you were feeding him, but you’re the observer/helper not the facilitator! Let baby pick things up and try them at his own pace. Remember: this is for fun and exploration!
Let baby use his hands to start, and introduce utensils (like these from Avanchy) later when you feel they’re ready.
Know that your baby WILL gag! That’s a natural reflex for baby to figure out how big of a bite he should be taking and how to move food around in his mouth efficiently with his tongue. Baby has a natural reflex to push unwanted items with his tongue from the back of his throat forward and out of his mouth. If baby does this, don’t put that food back into his mouth- let him do it; he’ll likely take a smaller piece. If you think you haven’t cut it appropriately, remove it and cut it differently and put it back on the tray/plate.
Be prepared for thorough clean up often. Don’t waste money and kill trees by using paper towel three to five times a day every day for clean up, because BLF can be messy! Grab a few packs of these Marley’s Monster cloth napkins or of our Fluff & Familia cloth wipes, stick them in a drawer, in a decorative glass jar on your counter-top, or in the dry pocket of a hanging wet bag, and use them to wipe messy hands and faces. Rinse dirty napkins and bibs in the sink before tossing them in a hanging wet/dry bag (like this one from Lalabye Baby or this one from Sweet Pea); then, toss the contents and then the bag in the washer every few days for cleaning.
Fluff and Familia is your retailer for all things baby related! Shop for your BLF supplies now, and have fun getting started with solids!
Hey! Don’t forget to save us a slice of watermelon!
Questions? We welcome them! Email us at email@example.com .