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What is Baby-Led Weaning? How exactly to Help Your Infant Feed Himself

Hands off, mama! With baby-led weaning, your kid is in charge. It may be a very important thing to occur in the high chair considering that the invention of the bib. Below are a few techniques for baby-led weaning success.

It’s a familiar scene: Mom or Dad delivering sweet potato purée into Baby’s wide-open mouth via that special airplane spoon—complete with sound effects and announcements from the cockpit. But for the parents who practice baby-led weaning, the picture of Baby’s mealtimes looks much different: The youngest member of the family sits in the high chair before a spread of finger foods, wanting to transfer the bits from tray to tongue all by himself.

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Popularized in the U.K. with the publication of Baby-Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, this technique has been used across the world. Now, enthusiasm for baby-led weaning is also growing in the United States. It’s especially popular among young parents buying more natural and family-friendly way of serving solids.

Continue reading to understand about the advantages of this feeding method, with strategies for how to begin baby-led weaning yourself.

The Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning

In summary, baby-led weaning means skipping spoon-feeding purees and letting babies feed themselves finger foods from the start—at about age 6 months. The benefits can be great, says registered dietician Clancy Cash Harrison, author of Feeding Baby.First of all, it will help fine-tune motor development: “Baby-led weaning supports the development of hand-eye coordination, chewing skills, dexterity, and healthy eating habits,” she says. “In addition it offers babies a way to explore the taste, texture, aroma, and color of a variety of foods.”

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It is also an early—and very important—step for babies in learning self-regulation: understanding how to stop eating when they feel full. “Babies who self-feed cannot realistically be produced to eat more than they require since they are feeding independently,” says Natalia Stasenko, a pediatric dietician and co-writer of Real Baby Food. With spoon-feeding, she says, “Parents can sneak in a couple more spoonfuls even when the child is full. This frequently will teach the baby to routinely eat a lot more than he needs and stop regulating his intake efficiently.”

Though few scientific studies have now been conducted on the subject, experts see potential for baby-led weaning to really have a lasting impact on a child’s food preferences, eating routine, and palates. Plus, you won’t have to purchase little jars of food or spend some time blending, freezing, and defrosting homemade baby food. (#momwin!)

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It’s important to see, though, that baby-led weaning might not benefit every baby. “Babies with developmental delays or neurological issues should start solids more traditionally,” says Dina DiMaggio, M.D., a pediatrician in New York City and coauthor of The Pediatrician’s Guide to Feeding Babies & Toddlers.You will also must be extra vigilant about choking and food allergies.

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When Should I Start Baby-Led Weaning?

Wait until your child is ready. Your son or daughter should be able to sit in a top chair unassisted, have good neck strength, and be able to move food to the back of her mouth with up and down jaw movements, Harrison says. “Most healthy children over 6 months old are developmentally in a position to self-feed; however, strong chewing skills in a few children may not be fully developed until 9 months. The baby-led weaning process may help develop those chewing skills.”

Also note that “weaning” is truly a bit of a misnomer. “Breast milk or formula will remain a baby’s biggest source of nutrition until he or she’s 10 to 12 months old,” says Stasenko.

RELATED: The Complete Guide to Starting Baby on Solids

The Best Baby-Led Weaning Foods

You may see photos on baby-led-weaning Facebook pages of babies chowing down on all sorts of improbable foods, from drumsticks to casseroles. But most experts recommend beginning more slowly. “Begin with single-ingredient foods so you will end up able to pinpoint any food allergies,” says DiMaggio.

Examples of first finger foods include banana, avocado, steamed broccoli florets with a stalk “handle,” baked sliced apple without the peel, moist and shredded meats, poached and flaked salmon, pasta, omelets cut into pieces, or strips of chicken.

Substantial-size pieces—cut in long, thin strips, coin-shaped, or with a crinkle cutter—are easiest for your child to manage. That’s because very few 6- to 8-month-olds have mastered the pincer grasp (thumb and index finger), so they’ll grab foods using their whole palm. Once your infant develops this pincer grasp, around 8 to 9 months, serve food cut into small pieces, like ripe mango chunks, cooked beans, chopped steamed spinach, and bits of pasta.

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Also remember that texture is key. The meals you give your novice eater should really be soft and simple to smash with gentle pressure between your thumb and forefinger. For example, you must steam fruits and vegetables when beginning baby-led weaning, says Leslie Schilling and Wendy Jo Peterson, both moms, dietitians, and co-authors of Born to Eat: Whole Healthy Food From Baby’s First Bite.

Once your baby has tried and tolerated several single-ingredient foods, you can begin offering mixed dishes. Ensure you can find high-calorie foods and those with iron, zinc, protein, and healthy fats on the tray, advises Stasenko. “Additionally it is recommended to cook with minimum salt since a baby’s body cannot process sodium well,” she adds.

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