The Busy Girl’s Guide to Weaning
Like absolutely EVERYTHING to do with parenting, you are offered a million options when it comes to starting your little one on solids. When my first baby showed interest in food, I was utterly confused by all the choices. Is it six months or four months? Purees or finger foods? And what’s all the fighting about cereal?
Thank God I stumbled onto the finger food method: Baby Led Weaning. It’s not for everyone, BUT, it was a massive time saver for me and a fantastic healthy experience for my babies.
There’s some discussion about WHEN to start on solids. As we all know, milk (breast or formula) needs to be the main nutritional source for your baby until 12 months of age, but do you need to wait till six months to start solids, or is four months okay?
Well, what we’ve discovered about the virgin gut and allergies tells us that you should wait until your baby is at least six months of age and shows the signs of being ready before you start on solids (so your little one might be 8 or 10 months before it’s time to whip out the sweet potato).
Signs that your baby is ready for solids:
- She can sit unaided
- Has great head control
- Is interested in food: opens mouth for a bite or tries to grab your food
- Is willing to chew even if she doesn’t have teeth
- Has developed a way to grab at food and pick it up without help (the pincer grip is an important step here).
These days, the most common method of starting solids is purees, so there’s probably no need for me to explain what they are. But despite BLW being the oldest method, it was new to me, so here’s a quick breakdown of what it’s all about.
BLW is basically self-feeding – giving your baby finger food or preloaded spoons so they can feed themselves. Made famous by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett in their book ‘Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods’, this method basically uses food you would prepare for yourself, but in a format that’s safe for your baby.
While there is nothing wrong with the old puree (my first born had lots till I discovered Baby-led-weaning), I prefer BLW for two main reasons:
1. Great for the baby
BLW helps with a range of important developmental skills:
- How to eat – there’s no force-feeding here. Instead babies choose what they eat, how much, and how fast it all happens. You are setting them up to understand when they are full and to stop eating there – rather than push past that ‘full feeling’. It also aids them in learning safe eating skills – chew then swallow, instead of what they learn with purees (swallow first).
- Gives baby a chance to explore new foods and individual tastes (rather than a pureed blend) and this can lead to more adventurous food choices in the future.
Develops fine motor skills as they self-feed.
- Babies learn by imitation: everyone eating similar foods, and eating in a similar way during family dinner, helps them to learn about food.
2. Easier for the mum
If you’re working, or have more than one kid, doing ANYTHING that takes a job off your plate is always good. I loved that BLW meant I wasn’t preparing one meal for the baby and another for the rest of the family. Steaming veg and pureeing it, just isn’t that fun, especially when there is no evidence that it’s better for babies. Instead I’d make sweet potato fries for everyone, or toss in some extra green beans or broccolini for baby to enjoy with the rest of us. AND I actually get to eat a hot meal, because we all ate at the same time – together. I wasn’t playing ‘airplanes’ with a spoon to get my baby to eat, while my dinner congealed on my plate. She took care of it herself!
A great place to start your Baby-led-weaning journey is here. I’m just a mum, these guys are the experts, and on their site you’ll find everything from tips on what to feed your baby, how to feed her, and importantly, safety tips.
Choking is obviously a risk with any kind of feeding, so it’s important to learn the tricks to minimise any drama. They have a great breakdown on the difference between gagging (really normal) and choking (scary but thankfully very rare). You can also find out more on what to do if a baby chokes here: Infant first aid for choking and CPR: An illustrated guide
To give you some idea on WHAT to feed your baby, our favourite foods have been roasted or steamed veggies cut into batons (sweet potato, carrot, potato), steamed broccolini and beans, sprouted grain toast fingers, three ingredient pancake fingers, mango cut into strips, batons of avocado (great for healthy fats), and liver (awesome for iron). We also never add salt to our food when baby is sharing; we add that later to on our own plates.
All BLW food needs to be able to be eaten without teeth – so make sure you can squish it between your fingers. They also need to be easily held rather than in small pieces – so French fry sized, not bite sized. And obviously always supervise feeding and avoid choking hazards like grapes, popcorn, whole hot dogs, nuts, whole bananas, raw veggies etc.
Like any style of food, there are some small rules to follow, but this really is a super-easy way to get your babies to explore new foods AND to teach them healthy eating habits for life. And the best part is that it cuts down on so much food-prep for you.
The big bad CEREAL debate
Before I go, a final word on rice cereal. You might decide to do BLW, or purees, or a mix of both (good for formula-fed babies who may be underweight), but from my research I would highly suggest leaving one thing off the highchair tray – baby cereal. Unless your doctor has insisted upon it, I don’t see any reason to add it to a baby’s diet.
Real nutrients come from real food and rice cereal is highly refined, the added vitamins aren’t bioavailable (so hard for the body to process), and they’re full of sugar. They also contain ARSENIC, which is pretty horrifying.
In the US, a Consumer Products Safety Commission report stated that babies who eat two servings of rice cereal a day could double their lifetime cancer risk. So at best you’re giving your baby a bland sugary food with low nutrient value, at worst you’re adding dangerous chemicals to their diet.
I am so glad I stumbled on to this article before we started on cereal, check it out for more info on why it’s not the best choice: Nine Good Reasons NOT To Use Baby Rice.
Now, if the reason you’re considering cereal is because you’re concerned about the iron in your babies’ diet (as was my baby nurse until I showed her the stats), please check out this article on Kellymom.
Breastmilk, in particular, is the best source of iron for babies, but if that’s not available there’s loads of natural ways to add it to your little one’s diet, like meat or sweet potato.
So that’s it! Good luck with your weaning journey. There’s nothing better than those facial expressions when babies first start exploring food – keep you phone close for photos and have fun!
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