When your baby reaches the age of about 6 months, you begin to think when is the appropriate time to wean them from liquid food and introduce a solid diet. Should you switch to cereals and puréed foods? How will your baby take to being fed solids, and will the transition be smooth?
Many parents go through the process of feeding their children cereals and puréed vegetables. Directing the food into their mouth, then lifting with the spoon any food that has clung to their lips and chin.
This may be a neat way to feed the child where there is little or no mess. However, the little one may have other ideas about mealtime manners.
Little children at the weaning stage love to “experience” their food and will want to dip their hands into the feeding bowl. This may seem an unwanted action by the parent, but then it has been observed that little ones who eat this way, eat better and make less of a fuss.
When babies eat on their own, the introduction to more solid foods can be done, thus cutting short or bypassing the spoon-feeding purées and cereal feed stage. This is known as baby-led weaning.
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
In baby-led weaning, children are given finger foods, which allow them to have control over how much they can put into their mouths. This way, your baby learns early how to coordinate between the hands and the mouth.
Though your infant may not have any teeth, he or she can learn to chew and savor the food which stays a longer time in the mouth than puréed food. Your child gets an opportunity to experience the texture and aroma of the food. The baby learns about the tastes of different foods and takes a liking to the food that the rest of the family enjoys.
Benefits of baby-led weaning over spoon-feeding
Baby-led weaning also allows the child to learn self-regulation. The child will stop eating when they feel full and there is no chance of overfeeding as in the case of spoon-feeding where an extra spoonful or two even if the baby is full. Spoon-feeding can lead the baby to eat more than what is required, thus causing them to become obese and unhealthy.
Studies have shown that baby-led weaning leads the child to be less fussy eaters as compared to those who have been spoon-fed.
In addition, baby-led weaned children are less pressured to eat or restricted and are more responsive in their eating. There is no need to worry about the kind of cereal or purées to give your child. They can be given whatever the family is having for their meal in a version appropriate for the baby.
Your baby watches the other members of the family eat similar food and learns to be independent in deciding how much to eat. Allowing your baby to eat independently makes them grow in confidence.
How to Start Baby-Led Weaning
Babies should be allowed to self-feed when they can sit in a high chair and support themselves unassisted. They are quite able to engage in this activity when they have crossed six months of age.
Baby-led weaning will make the child develop chewing skills, though in some children chewing skills may develop a few months later. Even though a baby has learned to self-feed, their main nutrition will still come from breast or formula milk until the child has reached 10 to 12 months of age.
When beginning baby-led weaning, it is best to start with single-ingredient foods. This will help in determining if the baby is allergic to any food.
To begin with, the best baby-led weaning foods are banana, peeled apple, meat shreds, hard-boiled egg broken into pieces, salmon flakes, or strips of chicken. From six to about eight months of age, the baby will pick up the food with the whole palm.
Then about the ninth month onward, your baby will master the pincer grasp, that is, picking up the food using the index finger and thumb. At this stage, small chunks of food can be given such as mango chunks or cooked beans.
The food given to the baby should be soft and easy to compress between the fingers. Steamed fruit and vegetable are most suitable at the start of baby-led weaning. It used to be thought that meat foods should be given later. However, it has been found that meat is rich in iron and zinc.
Baby-led weaning is an idea that many parents are open to these days. If you are not confident about baby-led weaning for your child, give it a try and your child will have surprises for you! Let your baby lead the way.