Raising a child can be a hard journey full of bumps and hardship. From the moment a baby comes into our care, as parents, we do our best to try and provide the best environment we can and assist them throughout their multiple stages of growth. Some of the firsts and most obvious obstacles that arise are often food-related. Weaning is one such example of that. Indeed, the transition of a babies’ diet from liquid to solid is a delicate matter. Most parents tend to lean toward a traditional method which consists of giving the child semi-liquid food such as pudding and Purée to slowly introduce them to solid food. Although lately, other alternatives are possible and are slowly catching the interest of new parents.
One such method is baby-led weaning. This process consists of bypassing purées and introducing finger food by letting the child feed himself. Many parents are now seeking this method as it has multiple benefits from increasing the child's motor skills to reducing risks of childhood obesity. But like always, trying something new can be a daunting task, especially for someone who has no idea of how to go about starting such a procedure. Whether you're seeking to learn something new or reaffirm your knowledge, here is the solution to this inquiry.
When should you start baby-led weaning?
The first important thing to watch out for is timing. Starting baby weaning heavily relies on the child himself/herself, as such, you should wait until they are ready before starting this transition. The perfect time is generally around six months old as the baby can now sit straight and their stomach can now absorb and digest solid food properly. Now of course this changes depending on the child's health and special needs. It is always good to ask your pediatrician's advice when you’re not sure whether this is the right thing for your child.
After you found the right time to start the baby-led weaning process, here are the guidelines that you’ll need to abide by.
First, continue feeding your child milk, as it’s still necessary at that stage but don’t schedule them like you possibly used to, and give your child milk at different intervals. Instead, only schedule the solid meals. Talking about meals, it's also important to be present with the child during his eating time. Let them eat at the dinner table at the same as everyone else as children learn from mimicking behaviors they see in adults.
As for the food themselves, it’s important to choose food that fits your child's needs. Go for finger foods that are easy to grab for children that are 6 months old and then you can start cutting the food smaller when the child reaches 9 months as they can now be able to comfortably grip the little pieces properly. Furthermore, choose soft food to feed your child such as avocados because they are very easy to chew and bite. If the child can’t grasp these finger foods properly because they are slipping, you can crush some cereal into a powder and coat the food with it to make it less slippery and also more nutritious. As such avoid crunchy food that the child might not be able to bite and chew easily such as pears or radish and avoid foods that can pose choking hazards such as peanuts and grapes.
With all that said, still keep your child's diet varied: try to give them meals with different textures and colors. Don’t be discouraged if your child seems disinterested in one specific type of food and keep trying as children are whimsical creatures. This way you can introduce your child to a variety of different tastes. It is also recommended to keep the meals consisting of one food to be able to easily spot if your child has any type of food allergies.
Most importantly, let the child eat at their own pace. And expect a mess, try to avoid feeding the child while they are wearing clothes that are hard to clean, and try putting newspapers or towels on the floor to make cleaning easier in cases of spills. After all, this is an activity where the child should be completely autonomous. Similarly, do not force the child to eat faster or eat more than they want. This will defy the purpose of teaching children to regulate their intake of food and will make them think of mealtime as an unpleasant activity. Do not praise them for eating either as the child should see mealtime as a normal activity and a part of their daily routine and nothing more.
Finally, here is some advice to be sure this activity is as safe as can be for your child.
First, try to use child-friendly utensils if you wish to give them any at all. Avoid wooden utensils and skewers for example and don’t give your child knives even if they are plastic. Second, we’ve already addressed the issue of choking hazards but it’s also good to go a bit further and learn the Heimlich maneuver for children and take first aid classes if you feel it is needed.
In case of an accident here’s what to watch out for: If the child is gagging or making noises it means he is not choking as when something does get stuck in their throat they are unable to breathe and the air can’t pass through to create sounds. The child will be quiet and their faces might start to develop a bluish hue. In a case where the child is gagging, don’t panic (easier said than done) or rush to them as the child will get scared and panic too. Most importantly, always stay with your child while they eat and be attentive during this time.
Baby-led weaning, like any other method of weaning, can be a delicate procedure for both parents and children. With the necessary knowledge and understanding, parents become more accustomed to the ways this method works and will be able to provide the best experience possible for their child.