The transition to solid foods can be wrought with stress and anxiety – but it doesn’t need to be. In the last few years, fueled in large part to the cult read Baby-Led Feeding, a new type of strategy that eschews purées has taken shape. We’re talking about baby-led feeding (sometimes known as baby-led weaning).
What exactly is baby-led feeding?
“Baby-led feeding is a method of introducing solid food to babies whereby one skips purées and spoon-feeding and instead, offers finger foods for baby to self-feed,” says Jenny Best, founder & CEO of Solid Starts. “We love it because it can help curb picky eating as it gives babies a lot more control at the table.”
Research studies are just beginning to analyze the impacts of baby-led feeding, but it’s already clear that there are many benefits. “Of primary importance is fostering independence: babies learn to eat on their own and have control over what—and how much—is consumed. Our experience is that babies who are given this control over what they eat early on are less likely to become picky eaters in the toddler years and beyond. With baby-led feeding, food is less likely to become a lever for control or power in the child-parent relationship because the child is in control from day one of starting solids.”
Other benefits of baby-led weaning, according to Best, include the opportunity for babies to practice critical motor and oral skills. “Self-feeding a variety of food consistencies and textures enables babies to work on tongue movements, jaw strength and swallowing as well as the fine motor skills required to pick up different sized pieces of food with their fingers. Lastly, it’s a heck of a lot easier! No special equipment is needed to make purees and there’s no need to sit and feed baby yourself. Parents can eat at the same time as baby and enjoy their own meal.”
At what age is it recommended to start?
Most babies will show signs of being ready for solids around six months. “Readiness signs include being able to sit somewhat independently, good head control, the ability to reach and bring an object to the mouth and interest in watching you eat,” says Best. “There’s no one right way to approach baby-led feeding, but we love bringing babies to the table for parent meals or snacks so they can watch and learn before they even start.”
Sure sounds a lot easier than making purées and spoon-feeding, right?
In terms of the actual execution Best suggests offering three finger food choices and to make sure that’s happening at the table and in the high chair. “For how to cut foods in a safe way, parents can look up any food in our First Foods database. From there, the idea is to let go and try not to interfere too much. Babies were literally born to eat. Our job is to trust their abilities, know that they have built-in reflexes both to help them eat and to protect them from swallowing too-big pieces of food and to empower them so they self-regulate their intake and hopefully enjoy the meal.”
While this all sounds easy in theory, in practice we know it usually isn’t always so.
If you’re having trouble, chase the ‘why.’ “For every problem there’s a root cause,” says Best. “Maybe baby has reflux or developed a negative association with eating due to a bad gag or a caregiver who wiped their face too much in the highchair or maybe baby is not hungry enough. Or overly hungry and needs a breast or bottle feed to fuel-up for the challenge of self-feeding. Or teething! So many different things can lead to frustration or lack of interest at the table. The path forward is usually clear once the ‘why’ is identified,” says Best.
Interested in digging more? Checkout this Troubleshooting page.