We spoke to Dr Rana Conway, a nutritionist and author of Weaning Made Easy (£10.99, White Ladder Press), about baby-led weaning.
What is baby-led weaning?
Simply cut up the food you’re having, making sure it’s suitable for your baby, into manageable pieces, put it on her tray and let her feed herself.
Baby-led weaning benefits
Letting your baby make choices may lead her to be a more adventurous eater as she grows up. And introducing texture straight away means she’s less likely to be put off by lumps.
As your baby is eating what everyone else is eating, she’s more likely to eat with the rest of the family. Research shows that good eating habits are more likely to be formed when families eat together.
Baby-led weaning downsides
This method is based on your baby being the one in control, so you must let the mess happen! Before your baby is nine months old, it might be challenging for her to get the food into her mouth. This can make mealtimes more time-consuming.
If you’re giving your baby the same food as the rest of your family, you need to make sure these meals are suitable. Babies shouldn’t be eating food with added sugar or salt, so no stock cubes.
It’s likely you’ll experience your baby gagging, and perhaps choking, so learn what to do if this happens.
What do I need to know?
- Put the food straight onto your baby’s tray. In a bowl, it’ll be catapulted across the room.
- Don’t put too much in front of her. Two food items are enough.
- Cut food into chip-shaped pieces about the length of your finger. This is the easiest shape for her to pick up. The chips need to be long enough for your baby to grasp, with enough sticking out of her fist to eat.
- Use a crinkle cutter to chop the food. The crinkles make it easier to grip.
- Don’t put the food in your baby’s mouth – you must leave your baby in charge. ‘Don’t worry if she just seems to be playing with the food,’ says Rana. ‘Licking, smelling, mushing, holding – it’s all part of learning to eat.’
- Don’t feed food that’s known to be a choking hazard, such as whole olives, cherries or grapes.
- Be alert for gagging or choking. Because baby-led weaning food is lumpier from the get-go, you’re more likely to have to deal with this hazard. ‘When a baby gags, she’s bringing the food from the back of her mouth to the front, so she can chew it,’ says Rana. ‘It’s usually quick and there’s usually a noise. Choking is much more serious. This is when food is blocking a baby’s windpipe – and it can be silent. Take a first-aid course and learn how to deal with choking at sja.org.uk before starting weaning.’
Best foods for baby-led weaning
Banana: half unpeel it to give your baby something to hold, along with easy access to the fruit.
A piece of soft, cooked carrot: naturally sweet and full of vitamin A to strengthen your little one’s immune system.
Steamed broccoli floret: most babies love the taste of broccoli and its stem provides a built-in ‘handle’.
3 essential buys for baby-led weaning: