Originally published: July 31st/2018; Updated: May 14th/2019
Baby led weaning by age: how it works and what food to offer
As parents there are so many decisions we make on behalf of our kids. How to introduce solid food is no exception.
If you’ve decided to give baby led weaning a shot, figuring out food ideas, safety, and a routine is stressful.
One reason is that everyone does it different. Yep, we’re all snowflakes!
Personal and cultural values play a huge role in how we feed our kids. Try talking to other parents about how they introduced solid foods to their kids…you’ll get it.
Here’s what you need to remember. As long as your kids are healthy and developing, there isn’t a right or wrong method. Only what works best for you and your family.
There is no right or wrong method to feed your child
Transitioning from milk to solid food: baby led weaning by age
The transition from exclusive breastfeeding to solid food is an incredible. What a wonderful milestone for both parents and baby!
A traditional approach is to introduce progressing textures leading up to solid food. You know…the classic airplane spoon of puréed food where the parent feed the baby.
An alternate approach is where the baby directs, and controls the process. That’s right! This what we call “baby led weaning” (BLW).
Which ever method your family adopts it up to your and baby’s preference.
Each family will choose the weaning method that is right for them
Is baby-led weaning better than traditional weaning?
Both methods are adequate and can promote responsive feeding.
Parents decide what, when and where to eat, and baby decides if and how much to eat.
With both methods, parents should always serve food options that avoid choking risk.
Supervising children during meal times is also important. Sharing family meals is the easiest way to do so!
Traditional, baby-led, a mix of both weaning methods…it’s up to you and baby!
Baby led weaning by age: it’s gonna be messy, but it will get better!
The thing with baby led weaning is that it’s a very dynamic and messy process.
This is especially true when compared to the traditional weaning method using purées. With purées, parents can limit the mess by controlling the spoon, food texture, and quantity.
But, it does get better by age group, and seeing your child’s quick progress will make you proud!
With baby led weaning, parents offer finger foods. Babies sit on a high chair and can pick up, chew, explore, mush, taste and spit…
The biggest effort will go into clean up and maintaining order during meals.
The reward? Witnessing the evolution of your child’s eating style and relationship with food.
And though it may be awesome, it can be frustrating and tiring at first. With baby led weaning, you progress in textures and food types with age.
Each new stage can seem like a setback at first, but progress comes quick!
Letting your child explore food is an essential part of the learning process, but boy it can be messy!
Being messy, part of baby’s development?
There are reasons why you baby is so messy! Baby is developing his/her oral-motor skills:
- Being able to keep food in his/her mouth.
- Using his/her tongue to move food forward/backward, and side-to-side inside the mouth.
- Making a circular chewing pattern with the jaw.
- Grabbing food and bringing it to the mouth.
- Being able to coordinate the use of cutlery to eat.
- Learning to drink from and open cup.
Mastering all these skills will take months, and the best way to learn is to practice!
Arm yourself with patience and encourage your baby to explore and gain skills!
The primitive chewing ability of babies is a simple up-down munching pattern.
Babies need practice to gain eating skills. Moving food with their tongue, forming a bolus to push towards the back of their mouth to swallow.
This becomes feasible when they master the rotary chewing pattern adults have.
Your baby will gain muscle strength to chew and make precise movements. They will also learn to coordinate their eyes, hands, mouth, and teeth. All this will help baby be less messy!
Developmental learning stages explain why baby is so messy!
Containing the baby led weaning mess at all ages
Here are some ideas to help you stay cool at mealtime:
Prep all the food and bring the plate to the table.
You won’t want to have to leave your baby while they eat. You can leave for two seconds and come back to a total mess. Yes. It all happens so quick.
Keep a few wet cloths handy at the table.
You can clean out-of-control messes, the floor, or their hair…sigh.
Use a bib for baby.
Test out and try different type. This includes with/without sleeves, plastic or fabric, rigid or soft, with Velcro or snaps, etc.
Start feeding baby when they aren’t starving.
Offer milk first to spark your baby’s interest and hold them over. It will limit frustration and messy behavior.
If your baby isn’t starving (hangry), they are more likely to explore in a calm manner.
Remember, the effort required to master hand-eye coordination can frustrate your child. Put the odds of a successful meal in your favor.
Limit distractions at the table.
No phones, TV, and instead, foster a calm environment.
Family meals can be intense for baby at first. They want to play with new food, but also imitate and watch the other family members who are eating at the table.
Observe your child and see what kind of setting works best for him/her.
Use a computer mat!
Place a computer mat underneath the chair where you child eats.
Computer chair mats are sturdy and easy to clean. They are also big enough to catch whatever falls on the floor.
Plus, they are generally transparent and won’t clash with your floors.
Use an easy-to-clean highchair or booster seat.
Explore options to find what you and your baby prefer.
Do you have space around your dinner table for a big high chair? Is it easy to clean? Is it easy to sit baby in? Can you buy a used one to test it out?
Make sure the seat allows baby to sit at 90 degrees. The seat should not recline while baby eats, as this can be dangerous for choking.
Choose a time and a place where baby will be able to eat calmly. Arm yourself with patience, wet clothes, a bib and a floor mat!
Food introduction: around 6 months of age
This period marks the start of the solid food introduction for most parents. Regardless of the approach, your child must be able to signal readiness for feeding by:
- Opening their mouth
- Sitting upright with minimal support
- Showing signs of interest such as picking up objects in her/his hand, bringing food to their mouths and/or reaching for food/cutlery from the parent’s plates.
So, in reality, being 6 months of age is just a guideline. YOUR child is ready when they show these prerequisites for solid food introduction.
Your baby has been drinking since birth. At around 6 months of age, they have to learn how to eat solid foods.
Motor skills around 6 months old: moving food back and forth in the mouth
Around 6 months, your child can move food items back and forth in his/her mouth.
Using their gums, your baby can mush soft foods and then push it backward using pressure. There is less reliance on the tongue at first.
A common early chewing milestone near 6 months is the opening-closing motion with the jaw. Simple but essential for eating solid foods!
At 6 months, your baby can only open and close their fist, with limited dexterity.
Milk is the primary source of nutrients, so don’t worry if baby only eats a very little amount of food.
Offer soft foods
This includes meat, tuna patties, peanut butter toast, fish, cooked eggs (all the great sources of iron-rich foods), ripe fruits, cooked veggies, and avocados are all good options.
These foods are easy to mush with the gums and manage with your child’s early-stage chewing skills. Toss slippery food in baby cereal or grounded nuts to make it easier for baby to pick up.
Serve home cooked meals
They are the best choices because you can control what goes in. Remember… no added salt, no added sugar, and no honey.
Serve the right food shapes
Cut foods to make them easy to grab and bring to the mouth. This includes long strips, or with crinkle cuts, your child will be able to grasp and hold on to them better.
Being able to handle age-appropriate sized food will help reduce choking risk. Serve big pieces of food that baby is able to grab by opening and closing the hand.
Offer one meal a day
Milk is the main source of nutrition, so one meal is likely enough at first.
Offer 1 or 2 pieces of food at a time
Don’t overwhelm your child with too much at once. You can always offer more pieces.
Be involved but don’t intervene too much
Sit closer to your child and engage them. Early on they will have very little control and will need your attention for safety.
Refrain from intervening when baby is eating – let them explore.
Talk out loud to and provide guidance “you can grab this piece of fish and bring it to your mouth”, “what does this taste like?”, “do you like the texture of this banana?”, “Is this slippery?”.
Ditch the sippy cup
Practice drinking water from an open cup. Using an open cup helps develop drinking skills, motor skills and coordination. It is messy.
It takes time (lots and lots of trial and error) but there is no need to use a sippy cup.
The sippy cup promotes a sucking movement to get the liquid out of it and drink. It doesn’t mimic the movement required to drink from a normal glass.
In the end, we are teaching kids to progress towards adult table manners, and this is a huge part.
Introduce food allergens early on
There is no real advantage of delaying food allergen introduction. Introduce the allergens early on.
For children at high risk, showing signs of readiness, this can be as early as 4 months of age.
Parents must consider the trade off of exclusive breastfeeding on allergy prevention versus the benefits of early introduction of allergenic foods to their baby.
Remember, get in touch with your doctor or a registered dietitian if you’re unsure how to proceed.
Lots to discover with solid foods for baby around 6 months of age. Time and practice will get baby better at it!
Motor skills between 7-8 months: gaining skills, confidence and appetite
Baby will learn to move food side-to-side, and forward-and-backward within their mouth.
This is important for progression in introducing food textures. Certain food sizes and textures affect choking risk.
It is a concern if baby does not have the right oral motor skills needed to move food within their mouth and chew.
The tongue is key in this stage for both food movement and protection of the airway.
Your baby will also learn how to control the force of their hand. For example, they will learn to manage grip strength and not crush foods in their hand.
From a nutrition stand point, milk is still the main source of nutrients… but solid food is gaining more importance.
Make the appropriate food choices
Start to offer the healthy plate. Delicate foods like banana or cooked carrots are easier to manage.
Offer 2 meals per day
Aim for 2 meals per day. At this age, milk is still the main source of nutrients. But, we are transitioning to a family diet (3 meals and snacks).
Serve the right food shapes
Continue with strips, and integrate soft and delicate foods for baby to grab. Avoid or modify foods that are choking hazards (see our free guide for quick reference).
Introducing cutlery as it is an important skills to learn. Encourage drinking from an open cup, and continue practicing these mature drinking skills.
Baby 7-8 months old is definitely gaining skills and appetite. Offer a healthy plate. Encourage the mastering of mature eating and drinking skills
Motor skills between 9-12 months: baby does the pincer grasp
At this age, children develop the side-to-side movement of food within their mouth. They will start mastering the rotary chewing pattern.
Baby can also lick food from their lips, take better bites, and can contain a bite in his/her mouth.
Baby is learning to master the pincer grasp. This gives them the ability to pick small pieces of food between the thumb and index fingers.
Solid food is now the main source of nutrients. Offer milk during mealtime or breastfed on demand.
Offer the right food shapes
You can offer smaller pieces of bite-sized food for baby to grab. Continue to exert caution around foods that are choking hazards.
Serve a range of food textures
The amount of chewing strength and stamina required depends on food texture. Mix things up to expose baby to various textures.
Serve dairy products as-is
You can introduce dairy products at mealtime: cheese, yogurt, milk, and cottage cheese.
While dairy is a healthy choice, these products are dense in proteins and poor in iron. It is not appropriate for the nutrient requirements of young babies.
Offer to 3 meals a day
Food is the main source of nutrients at that age. Baby should eat very like the family.
Baby 9-12 months old master the pincer grasp and can manage a wide range of texture and size of food.
Motor skills between 12+ months: baby is a pro but might learn that being messy gets your attention!
Baby eats like a pro and likely has more and more teeth, helping with the chewing.
- Offer 3 meals and snacks every day.
- Baby should eat like the family.
Now that baby masters the fine motor skills, s/he may be naughty to get parent’s attention. A new challenge begins!
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