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Baby Led Weaning

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ripe banana slices

We introduced Harry to solids using a method called Baby-Led Weaning. Most methods for transitioning a baby to solids begin with purees and slowly increase the chunk factor. Baby-Led Weaning starts with over sized chunks. From day one, the infant learns to self-feed with spear-shaped pieces of gummable foods. This teaches him to chew before swallowing. It also turns first meals into tactile experiences (and therefore makes food seem enjoyable). And it encourages the development of fine motor skills like hand-eye coordination and the pincer grasp, while providing the satisfaction that comes from being actively in control, rather than passive and dependent.

Baby-Led Weaning takes its cues from breast-feeding: You offer; your baby does the rest. This puts him in charge of how much he eats, unlike spoon-feeding, which relies on you to figure out when your baby has had enough.

You’re probably thinking: Won’t my baby choke on chunks? It’s no more likely than with spoon-feeding. Although in the beginning she may gag (and scare the pants off of you in the process), your baby won’t actually be able to move the food to the back of her mouth until she’s learned to gum it. The gagging is just a sign that your baby is learning how to use her tongue to maneuver food.

Getting Started

Time it right

Once your baby is able to sit up unassisted, pick up food, and move it to his mouth, he’s ready. Most infants are developmentally ready for Baby-Led Weaning at around six months, but it’s a good idea to consult your pediatrician first, especially if you delivered pre-term or there are other health issues.

Which foods?

Fruits and vegetables make ideal first foods - boil hard items like carrots until they’re soft but not mushy. You can also give your baby strips of cooked meat to suck and gnaw. (See more)

Shape matters

Consider the shape of the food and how it fits into your baby’s hand. Spear-shaped strips and foods that have natural “handles” (like a small broccoli stalk) work best. Each piece should extend several inches out of the baby’s fist. Do not cut food into bite-size pieces.

Messes rock

Until his motor control improves, your baby will drop what’s in his fist as he reaches for a fresh piece. And he probably won’t swallow all that much initially. But that’s okay: At this stage, babies are exploring food’s many tastes and textures, not eating for nourishment, which they are still getting from milk. Suggestion: spread a tarp or garbage bag under the high chair.

Hands off

Resist the urge to help your baby get food into her mouth. Baby-Led Weaning is all about allowing her to control her own intake - her skills will improve faster if you stand back.

Repeat first tastes

If he rejects broccoli (or anything else) the first time, keep offering it. Experts say it can take a dozen or more exposures before a baby realizes he likes something.

Quench that thirst

It's easy to forget that, even as they transition to solids, babies still get thirsty as well as hungry. If you’re nursing, continue to breast-feed on demand. If she's more thirsty than hungry, your baby will nurse briefly - she knows that the first milk is quite thin. Since bottle-fed babies don’t have that option, offer a small cup of water.

Listen up!

Two safety notes: Only feed your baby when he’s in an upright position, and never leave him alone with his food.

Perfect First Foods

•    Ripe pear or avocado, or just-ripe banana, cut into spears

•    Lightly steamed green beans, carrot sticks, or broccoli florets (stalk attached)

•    Baked sweet-potato fries

•    Egg yolk omelet, cut into strips

•    Long strips of dark-meat chicken or steak (for gnawing rather than eating)

•    Soft spear-shaped pasta, like penne

•    Polenta sticks

 
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