Baby Led Weaning 101

The term “baby-led weaning” may be confusing to you at first, as it could appear to mean something different depending on what country you hail from. In Britain, for example, the word “wean” means the act of introducing solid foods to your baby. In America, to “wean” your baby means to stop nursing or breastfeeding.

In this case, we will use the term “wean” in the British sense; meaning that baby-led weaning is a particular way of introducing your baby to solid foods.

Most methods that transition children from breast milk / formula to solids involve simply buying whatever discounted baby food jars you can find and popping a new flavor into the child’s mouth every week. But allowing your baby to lead this process with his or her eating habits is a great way to make mealtimes fun rather than stressful.

Parents often run into the problem of a picky child who can’t stand her peas; but the mashed peas are the only food available to baby this week, so she has to eat them. The child becomes more frustrated by the distasteful food, and the parent becomes frustrated with the goopy green mess that’s smearing both baby and mother.

But believe it or not, most cultures around the world don’t feed their children this way. Mothers in Mexico, Europe, or Japan don’t purchase jars of goopy baby food – rather, they feet their 6-to-18 month old with food straight from the dinner table.

For many moms, this may seem like a dangerous and difficult task. Feed your baby the same thing you eat? Won’t she choke on that kind of food? Won’t she go straight for her favorite bananas every time, thereby missing out on important nutrients?

The answer to these question is both yes and no. There are ways to be sure your child makes the transition to solids both safely and healthily. Here are a few tips to help you accomplish that.

Cooked or Raw: Be Sure You Know What’s Best

The concept of baby-led weaning implies that your child will choose what she wants to eat, thereby teaching herself how to chew, swallow, and pick healthy foods. However, many parents will express the (very valid) concern: “How do I keep my child from choking?”

If you’re not giving your child pureed baby food, you certain do need to be careful of the way you present your baby’s snacks. Try to follow this rule of thumb: either cook the food so that it’s soft and easily mashed by the baby’s gums, or give your baby a piece just large enough that she can hold it by herself and gnaw on it as she likes. For example, either steam carrots until they are very soft, or give your child a whole carrot. As long as the raw food is large enough that she can’t choke, you should have no problem presenting the baby with whole, uncooked fruits and vegetables.

A Balanced Diet

Parents also worry that allowing your baby to choose her own meal will lead to picky eaters and even obesity – especially if the child is continually choosing starchy or sugary foods. There is a simple solution to this: provide your baby only with the healthiest selection of fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean meats. That way, whatever they choose, you know the options are all packed with the vitamins and minerals your little one needs to be a strong and confident eater.

But What About the Mess??

Baby-led feeding will inevitably lead to some messy mealtimes. However, in the long run, you’ll find that your baby’s rapidly developing motor skills and her good eating habits make the messes worthwhile!

Parents interested in baby-led weaning should observe one caveat. If your child is developmentally delayed, you probably should stick to purees until you baby is slightly older. A very premature or otherwise delayed child may need a little extra help learning how to eat; therefore, purees make it easier for her to get all those needed nutrients, so that she can quickly gain her health and strength!

If you’re interested in raising confident, healthy, curious eaters, look into baby-led weaning. It may be just the thing your family needs to ease the transition from nursing to family mealtimes.

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