We’ve been doing baby led weaning with our six month old son, Oran, and it’s been going really well, so I wanted to do a blog post to let people know about it. Simply put, it’s a way to introduce solids, where you let the baby feed themself instead of spoon-feeding them purées. The idea is that, since it is now often recommended to start solid foods at about 6 months of age, that a baby is old enough to eat finger foods and to use their hands to feed themself. If solids are introduced earlier then it is usually necessary to purée them but if you introduce them at about 6 months then you can bypass this step if you choose.
It is very simple to do and saves you having to make baby food, which may be time-consuming, or buy baby food, which may be more expensive and less nutritious. You can offer babies most of the same food that the family eat as long as it is fairly healthy, not too processed, you avoid added sugar and salt, and don’t use ingredients like honey (not a problem for us vegans anyway) and choking hazards like whole nuts. Babies can eat spices and even some chilli, but try to avoid giving them too much chilli, if it tastes pretty hot to you then the baby might not like it. (If you do accidentally give them food that’s too spicy and they cry, I find it good to give them a spoonful of plain soya yoghurt or coconut yoghurt to cool down their mouth.) You can add coconut milk or a vegan alternative to cream to dishes that are too spicy to make them milder. You can also add the salt and extra chilli to dishes after they’re done and you’ve taken out the baby’s portion already. If you have a family history of allergies then it’s best to talk to your doctor before introducing solids to your baby. Also make sure the baby is always sitting upright while eating and don’t leave them unsupervised while eating. It’s also no harm to familiarise yourself with what to do in the event of choking (which is very rare) just for your own peace of mind.
It’s best if foods you offer to the baby are quite soft so you are able to squash it between your fingers easily. Food cut into fingers, wedges or cubes is easier for babies to pick up than if it’s cut into small pieces. Ripe soft fruit, pieces of roasted or steamed veg, pasta, toast and oatcakes are all suitable. Some of the first foods we offered were ripe banana slices, ripe avocado cubes, roasted butternut squash chunks, roasted sweet potato wedges, toast with home made houmous and nut butters, cubes of bread dipped in home made soup and pasta with home made tomato sauce. We also offered the baby some of any of the meals we were having that we thought would be suitable, so he has had curries and stuff like that and loved them! Babies love flavourful food.
It’s recommended to start baby led weaning when the baby is showing signs of being ready for food, and no sooner than 24 weeks (preferably 26 weeks, or about 6 months old). Signs that they might be ready include, sitting up with a little assistance, grabbing things and bringing them to their mouth, etc. If they begin waking more at night or wanting more milk feeds, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are ready for solids, they may be going through a growth spurt or teething, etc. You know your baby best, and if you think your baby isn’t ready for solids yet, then there’s no harm in waiting longer.
Some babies might get the hang of it straight away and eat quite a lot, and some may take a few months and not eat much. Both ways are fine. Don’t worry about them eating too much as babies can usually know when they’ve had enough (as long as it is quite healthy food). And some babies may not be quite ready yet, or may be just taking their time getting used to it. They are learning a lot from it, and getting used to new textures and flavours. And remember, food before one is just for fun, meaning that they get everything they need from their milk feeds (whether breast milk or formula) so they will be fine until age one even if they don’t eat much solids.
There are theories that baby led weaning helps with motor skills and may help a child to eat healthier and have a better relationship with food. I don’t know if this is true, but I know it is a lot of fun! It’s great to watch them having so much fun eating and making a mess. It suits me as I prefer to not have to purée food or spoon feed a baby. I can just sit down and enjoy my own food and let the baby feed himself. We also did baby led weaning with our older son, Rian, and I really do think it helped his motor skills develop, as he very quickly improved at picking things up in his hands. And yes, it is very messy, but you soon get very quick at cleaning up the baby and high chair and it doesn’t seem like as much hassle. Also you don’t have a blender or extra accessories to clean afterwards so I guess that’s something. And as friends who have older children have told me, they have to learn to feed themselves sometime anyway, so you can’t avoid the mess forever. And remember, they are learning, so it is worth the mess and any food wastage (if you have a dog, they help with cleaning up the floor and the food isn’t wasted!). I have nothing against traditional weaning methods, of course. Whatever works for your family is best and baby led weaning may not suit some babies or families. But I just love baby led weaning and wanted to let people know about it if they are interested. For more information check out http://www.babyledweaning.com.
I also wanted to include a recipe for a really nice and easy finger food that I like to make for my boys. It’s suitable for babies but delicious and adults like them too. It’s also great for toddlers or older kids since it’s healthy, tastes sweet and will give them slow releasing energy.
Baked Banana Oat Balls
250ml unsweetened soya milk or other plant milk
1 large banana or 1.5 medium bananas
3.5 cups of oats (gluten free if required)
How it’s made:
Preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Line a baking tray with greaseproof paper.
Blend the milk and bananas in a blender until smooth.
Pour the mixture into a large mixing bowl and add the oats. Mix thoroughly until they form a sticky mixture.
Form into balls using your hands. If the mixture is too wet, add more oats, if it’s too dry, add more milk.
Place on the baking tray and bake in the oven for 10 minutes until golden brown on top.
Leave to cool slightly and eat warm or cold.