Your baby is approaching six months old and even though it feels like they were only born yesterday, you suddenly need to get your act together and prepare for weaning. Don't panic - it's extremely simple if you want it to be. Follow this guide by me - a mum of three under four - and you'll see how you can make weaning simple and time effective!

A busy mum's quick guide to baby-led weaning

Perhaps you're certain you’re going to do baby-led weaning, you're confused about what to do at all, or maybe you’re just excited about all the tupperware you can buy! Either way, this is a wonderfully exciting time and I promise it really is far less complicated than it seems. If you get clued up now, you can relax when the time comes and you and your family can spend your time taking hilarious photos of your baby's face smeared in food and making funny expressions! It's such a momentous time - you should only be enjoying it!

Why choose baby-led weaning?

Baby-led weaning is the simplest and easiest way to wean your baby on to solids and has so many benefits. There's no pureeing, no spoon feeding and no fuss because you allow your baby to help himself to your family meals and experts suggest that if you allow your baby control over what they eat and expose them to a wider variety of food from the start, you're more likely to raise an adventurous eater! BUT... there is plenty of mess, so brace yourself...

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If you have time to read more than this quick guide, I recommend you invest in these books by Gill Rapley - the foremost authority on baby-led weaning. Both books are great. The cookbook has far less detail, but is still packed with 45 pages of information on how and why to do baby-led weaning before providing 130 recipes perfect for baby-led weaning your little one and the whole family. I've read the text book cover to cover before weaning each of my children and often use it for reference. 

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What are the benefits for me and my baby?

HEALTHY FAMILY

Baby-led weaning helps you introduce your baby to a wide range of food so you're less likely to have a fussy child in the future and you're naturally more likely to expose them to healthy foods. They also learn to control their own appetite from the start and are therefore less likely to overeat in the future.

HAPPY MEALTIMES

With baby led weaning, you hand control to your baby by giving them your food and allowing them to decide whether they want to eat it. If you continue this philosophy into their toddler years and childhood, your mealtimes can be such a lovely time together. No battles over how many mouthfuls of broccoli they must eat, and every opportunity to have fun conversation over a delicious meal together.

DEVELOP & LEARN

Baby-led weaning provides extensive opportunities to develop:

  • hand-eye coordination
  • fine motor skills
  • dexterity
  • confidence

learn concepts and explore:

  • gravity
  • weight
  • texture
  • their senses

QUICK & EASY

Oh happy day! No pureeing, no defrosting. no spoonfeeding, no special meals. You can prepare a variety of finger foods if you wish or simply offer things from your plate and they just help themselves. It's so simple and it gives you the chance to bond with your baby! Clearing up the mess is the hardest bit, but that only takes a minute or two.

CREATE A FOODIE

You have the power to turn your baby into a foodie! With baby-led weaning, your baby will trust that the food you're offering is going to be interesting and (with any luck) delicious. As they grow up, they'll be more confident to learn about & explore unfamiliar foods and be enthusiastic about mealtimes!

What does baby-led weaning look like?

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On day one, you put your baby in a highchair and place a few finger foods in their tray. They pick something up and eat it if they want to, they don't if they don't. That is, in essence, how it's done.

When is my baby ready?

At six months, if your baby can sit up without support and grab and chew things, they are ready! It's as simple as that. It's recommended by the World Health Organisation that you wait until your baby is six months in order to allow their gut to mature, but starting a few weeks earlier or later will not harm them.

What should my baby eat?

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The biggest principle of baby-led weaning is that your baby eats what you eat. While I am a HUGE advocate of cooking one family meal, in the first few weeks or even months, you'll probably feel that you need to give special consideration to exactly what you give your baby for certain meals. You may have time to cook them special muffins and fritters for lunch (they're easier to pick up at first and will therefore maximise your baby's learning experience) but you probably don't fancy finger foods for your dinner, so you may find that initially you're prepping a special plate of food for your baby as well as your usual family meals. After a few weeks, your baby's fine motor skills and gag reflex will have matured and you'll feel you can simply offer anything you're eating. From this point on, your cooking will need to be adapted slightly because babies can't process salt in their kidneys, and there's botulism in honey, so until they're one year old, you should cook your meals without added salt or honey.

Just as an aside, baby-led weaning works on the assumption that everyone cooks from scratch every day, which of course would be ideal, but just isn't always practical, so if you're more in the habit of eating processed ready meals, you will need to research the salt and sugar levels in the food you offer or think about preparing a more suitable alternative for your baby.

Sugar is also a major consideration in your baby's diet. It is widely agreed upon that babies shouldn't have any sugar at all until they're one. I have spent some time researching children's diets and sugar is currently a hot topic in the media, I would stress that it's really important to keep sugar to a minimum in your children's diets in order to help protect them from dental problems, obesity and diabetes in their future. So, when you're starting out with your baby, you'd be doing them a huge favour if you kept sugar as a 'treats only' part of their diet. You should also be careful about the hidden sugars you'll find in seemly healthy products such as fruit juices, smoothies and childrens' yoghurts.

There are great lists and recipes in Gill Rapley's Baby-led Weaning books which I won't replicate here, but see the blogs below to see how I make baby-led weaning as simple as possible for my family:

What about my baby's milk intake?

Many people worry and find this confusing, but it's really a simple case of allowing your baby to lead the way. The term 'weaning' means the gradual process of moving a baby from milk to solid food. And that's exactly what they'll do. Whether you're breastfeeding or bottle feeding, your baby's appetite for food will increase and milk will decrease. Health visitors in the UK recommend babies have about a pint (568ml) of milk each day around the age of 12m, but that is not a hard and fast rule - plus, how can you tell if you're breastfeeding?

Another point to make about milk intake is that many people prefer to spoon feed purees because they think their baby is hungry and needs solid food in their tummy in order to sleep through etc. In the first few weeks of baby-led weaning you'll find a great deal of the food you offer is on the floor and NOT being eaten! Many parents begin to feel concerned that their baby is hungry and therefore malnourished and feel that they should be doing something more. But milk can and should be your baby's primary source of nutrition up until the age of 12m. Obviously if they take really well to baby-led weaning, eat more food and drink less milk, then you're on to a winner. But, if like many babies, your baby takes a while to ingest the food you're offering, you shouldn't worry, they have plenty of time to learn before it should be a concern.

Here is a diagram I've designed to demonstrate the transition between milk and food:milk-vs-food-timeline

What equipment will I need?

Ahah - here comes the exciting bit! Most people I have met get a thrill from buying the kit related to weaning. Don't worry if your budget is tight, there are plenty of options to get you started and actually you don't need much to start off with at all!

Here's a quick list of essentials:

  • highchair
  • bibs
  • cups
  • plates, bowls, cup set
  • spoons/cutlery
  • floor mat/cover
  • soaking bucket (for the stained clothes!)

And you may want to consider:

  • extra highchair for your car
  • placemats
  • silicone placemat for eating out
  • tupperware
  • coolbag

Follow these blogs to see what I like and why:

What about choking?

Many people worry a great deal about choking and this can be a key reason why they are afraid to try baby-led weaning. If you're a nervous person and you can't cope with the stress and worry of whether your baby is going to choke, maybe baby-led weaning isn't for you. But at some point in the future, you will need to introduce your baby to solid foods and you will likely experience some gagging, so read on and see if you can put some of your fears to rest.

Choking and gagging are often mistaken. Your baby has an incredibly clever adaptation on their tongue that, in fact, protects them from choking. We all have a gag reflex which triggers when an area of our tongue is pushed. In babies, the trigger area is much closer to the tip. This means that a baby will gag to prevent food from being swallowed down the windpipe. So, you'll find that your baby gags frequently in the early stages of being introduced to solid foods. They may also vomit a little, but in most babies, this stage passes fairly quickly and they won't be bothered by it so long as you react in a calm and reassuring way.

Click this image to watch a video that shows the difference between choking and gagging:

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If you're still worried, why not book yourself on to a paediatric first aid course so that you're more confident with how to deal with a choking incident.

 

Growing up with baby-led weaning

Whether your baby is at the start of his weaning journey or you're somewhere down the track, you'll know that they grow and develop at such a speed, it's hard to keep up with them. I look at baby-led weaning from the perspective of my eldest who is now four year old. Although he has some fussy moments like toddlers and Preschools are prone to, he is a very good eater and loves mealtimes. He knows that he doesn't have to eat anything he doesn't want to and he has great manners. I'm not saying that he is impeccable, far from it, but as far as age-related expectations go, we're very proud of him and the way he eats. We often have to be firm with him about his behaviour at the table, or gently remind him of how to appropriately communicate his feelings about food or mealtimes, but we enjoy our family mealtimes immensely and we're always impressed with the wide variety of food and new dishes he'll eat.

So, sometimes, you need to look at the bigger picture to decide how you'll deal with the minutiae. These blogs discuss the baby-led weaning journey and mealtimes beyond the first few months:

I have an amazing workshop all about weaning!

Contact me