Baby Led Weaning

When your baby is around 6 months old, they may need more than breast or formula milk to meet their needs. This is when the process of weaning can begin and you can start to introduce solid foods into your babies diet alongside their formula or breastmilk. Whether you choose baby-led or spoon-fed weaning or a combination of the two: weaning onto solids teaches your baby how to move food around their mouth, to chew and swallow foods. Weaning your baby off milk and onto solids can be an emotional time for many mums. We will explore the differences between baby-led and spoon-fed weaning as well as how to embark on the process and which foods to start with. 

What is baby-led weaning? 

Baby-led weaning involves your baby feeding themselves food right from the beginning of their transition from milk to solids. So rather than spoon feeding your baby mashed and puréed foods, you give your baby finger foods that they pick up and feed to themselves. With baby-led weaning your baby learns to handle lumps from the beginning and they learn to chew their food as part of the feeding process from the start. This varies from spoon-fed weaning as in this case babies learn to swallow first and chew later. With baby-led weaning you can place your baby in their high chair during your own meal time and place an array of finger foods in front of them to choose from. Anything from cooked vegetables, chunks of bread or toast, pasta or omelette can be placed in front of your baby for them to select. 

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Pros of baby-led weaning

  • Choice. From the beginning of your baby’s journey into the world of food they will have the choice over what to eat, when to eat it and how to eat it. This may lead to less fussy eaters as they grow up as they are choosing their food from the beginning and experimenting with the consequential textures and flavours.
  • Eat together. Baby-led weaning encourages your baby to eat with you and your family right from the beginning of their transition from milk to solids. After placing a selection of finger foods in front of your baby, you and the rest of your family will be able to sit and eat your meals and baby can learn from watching you all too. 
  • Texture exposure. With baby-led weaning your baby will be exposed to lumps in their mouth from the beginning. Handling lumps in their food is something spoon-fed babies can struggle with.
  • Easier preparation. With baby-led weaning, you don’t need to invest money and time into cooking then blending or mashing the food or buying multiple sachets of puréed food. Instead, you will cook your family meal as usual and put some pieces of the food to one side for your baby to feed to themselves. 

Cons of baby-led weaning

  • Messy. Allowing your baby to choose and pick up the food can make baby-led weaning a messy option. Of course, they’re learning and mess will be part of that but it may be something to consider based on your circumstances. 
  • Lengthy mealtimes. Allowing your baby to chose, pick up, play with and hopefully eventually eat the food can make baby-led mealtimes a lengthy process. You must stay with them for this whole time because of the choking risk. 
  • Monitoring the quantity consumed. As baby-let weaning can involve playing with food and getting messy, it can be hard to accurately measure how much your baby has consumed over the course of one mealtime. This can mean your baby is relying more heavily on milk for their calories. 

Other types of weaning

If baby-led weaning isn’t for you and your baby, the alternative is spoon-led weaning. This involves you taking control of what your baby eats by feeding them yourself. You can blend, purée or mash up a variety of fruits and vegetables, or even your own meals sometimes, then feed those to your baby on a spoon. Alternatively, you can purchase pouches of readymade baby food to feed to your baby. With this method, your baby will be mastering the skill of swallowing before they learn to chew. 

Breastfeeding vs bottle feeding weaning

When it comes to weaning a breastfed or bottle fed baby there are no major differences and the weaning process can be carried out in the same way. The main difference is that when you are weaning your baby off breastmilk and onto solids, you must ensure this is a gradual process so as to minimise the risk of mastitis which can be caused by the abrupt stopping of breastfeeding. If weaning is a gradual process, which begins with one feed being replaced by solids and then slowly building up, this will not be an issue as your milk supply will have time to adapt to the changes. 

When should baby led weaning start? 

The NHS guidelines state that when your baby is around 6 months old they may need more than breast milk or formula milk to meet their needs. It’s important that at the beginning of your baby’s journey into solid food it’s less about how much they eat and more about them exploring new tastes and textures. It is important to wait until 6 months to be sure that your baby’s digestive system is developed enough to be able to handle and process solid foods rather than just milk. 

How to start baby led weaning

Once you have decided whether you want to do baby-led, spoon-fed or a combination approach to weaning the next step is to pick the time of day. Select a time of day that works well for both of you: when you have plenty of time, when your baby isn’t too tired and when you won’t feel rushed. Your baby may take to weaning easily or it may be a lengthy process requiring lots of patience. Go at your baby’s pace and when they seem to have had enough then stop and try again later or the next day.

Tips on how to wean a baby

Patience is key when it comes to weaning a baby. Your baby may need to try weaning several times over the course of a few weeks until they become comfortable with the varying tastes, textures and temperatures of the foods. Sitting baby in their high chair at the table while you and the rest of your family eat will help the process to seem more normal to your baby. Whichever way you’re weaning, try a variety of different tastes and textures with your baby; you may be surprised at the foods they enjoy. 

Great foods to use when weaning a baby

Vegetables are a great place to start when it comes to weaning. With so much vegetable variety, your baby can be exposed to many tastes and textures whilst getting plenty of nutrients. You could give your baby chunks of vegetables from your own meals to start with such as courgette, broccoli or cauliflower. Alternatively, puréed or well-mashed cooked vegetables, such as potato, sweet potato, butternut squash, parsnip, carrot would work well. Then moving onto fruit: pieces of banana, strawberry or mango; or puréeing apples, berries or pears. Another option is mixing baby rice or porridge with your baby’s usual milk for a more familiar flavour with a new texture. 

Conclusion

The process of weaning your baby is one which requires patience. It’s worth carefully considering whether baby-led, spoon-fed or a combination approach to weaning will work best for you and your baby before you begin the transition. Time the introduction of solid food carefully: waiting until your baby is 6 months old helps to ensure their bodies are ready for solid foods; selecting the right time of day can help weaning to have a positive start. Exposing your baby to a variety of vegetables and fruits initially can make baby weaning a fun, tasty and messy experience for you to both enjoy. 

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