How To Nix Breastfeeding: All About Baby-Led Weaning

by Monica Beyer
Baby-led weaning is a practice that's gaining popularity, and while it may sound a little odd, it simply means letting your child lead the way away from the breast or bottle by way of using real food instead of mashed or puréed baby foods. It sounds enticing not to have to worry about buying jarred foods or making your own purées, doesn't it? Here's how to get started.

What Is Baby-Led Weaning?

Weaning, in this sense, doesn't mean weaning completely from the breast or bottle. Instead, it means adding complementary foods to an infant's diet according to her development and abilities. It's a term that's commonly used in the UK. With baby-led weaning, parents hand their child a chunk of food they can hold, chew, slobber, and make a mess with. In the beginning, they usually don't eat much—which is fine, as they're getting most of their calories from breast milk or formula.

How Do You Know If Your Child Is Ready?

Parents have traditionally fed babies their first solid foods at anywhere starting from four to six months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until a baby is at least six months old, although they note that some babies start far earlier.
For baby-led weaning, the clues are much the same as their baby food-fed peers. Look for your baby to sit up well without support and note whether or not he seems to want to be an active participant in mealtime (which can include trying to grab your food and shove it in his mouth). You'll also need to note if your baby has lost the tongue thrust reflex and no longer automatically pushes solids out of his mouth (of course, this may not be apparent until you've started offering foods).

What Foods Are Best To Start With?

You'll want to focus on pieces of soft foods that are big enough to easily grasp with a chubby baby hand. Parents have reported success with steamed chunks of carrots, avocado slices, banana halves, slices of mango, sliced cucumbers or even a plate of mashed potatoes. Steaming firmer fruits and vegetables will up the safety factor and will also ensure minimal loss of nutrition.

What Foods Should You Avoid?

Small, firm foods can be a choking hazard (the appeal and inherent safety of baby-led weaning is that a baby will only be able to potentially consume what they are capable of scraping off with their gums or teeth). So things like popcorn, peanuts and hot dogs should be off limits at this young age.
Also, in families where food allergies are a concern (due to family history), it is probably best to avoid the more common allergens in the beginning. This is a controversial issue. So it is best to consult with your child's pediatrician before offering any milk, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, soy, wheat, fish, or shellfish.

Above All, Embrace It

Baby-led weaning is messy. Don't stress about the mess , though—instead, prepare for it. Your baby will probably need a thorough face cleaning, if not an all-out bath. Her clothes, hair and high chair may become amazingly dirty as she explores new tastes and textures. Over time, she will develop new skills and pop a few more teeth so she can take advantage of even more food. Then, baby food will have a whole new meaning to you and your family.
Image Credit: Angie Garett/Flickr
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