Quite a few people have asked me lately about the way we started Bailey on solid foods, as knowing when you can start giving your baby solid food (and what that even means), along with which baby foods to start with can be really confusing.
I wanted to create this baby solid food guide to baby led weaning (although I understand that term is confusing here in the US, as you are not technically weaning your child when you start), based on how we started our little baby on solids.
Baby led weaning (or baby led feeding if you prefer), is very common in England, which is where I first heard of it. As with many things, my sister doing this with her daughter, showed me just how amazing giving baby finger foods from the start can be, so I thought I would explain exactly what we did in case you want to try it too.
Before I begin, I just want to say that this is my experience with Bailey. I am sharing with you what we learned and experienced, but at the end of the day, YOU know your baby best, and only YOU will know when they are ready for this and what they are ready for. This is just my opinion, and I would check with your pediatrician at your 6 month appointment before you do start solids to make sure they agree your baby is old enough and ready to begin.
What is baby led weaning?
Although the term itself requires more explanation than it really needs to, baby led weaning means that you do not give your baby ANY purees. At all.
Okay, so maybe not at all. I have to confess, we have used purees about three times in a pinch, because otherwise we wouldn’t have anything to give Bailey. BUT the concept is, that you give them finger foods from the start. From when you first decide they are definitely ready to start solids, be it at 5 months, 6 months, or beyond. The choice is yours as you know your baby best. You want to wait until they are able to comfortably sit by themselves and are at, if not very close to, the 6 month mark. I would not recommend starting them before that.
When they are ready, you begin by giving them very soft foods, that are cut into finger sized (your finger) strips, and putting them on their tray. We have the Chicco Polly Progress 5-in-1 Highchair that comes with a tray, if yours goes directly onto the table, you will put their food in their plate on the table. I would recommend using a silicon placemat. We have this ezpz one.
The baby will get curious, and try to put the food in their mouth. Once they start getting a taste, they will start to associate putting foods into their placemat in the high chair with eating, and will put foods into their mouth.
Over time, you gradually increase the amount of food you give them, and the variety to what you are giving them. This means there are no purees, they learn to “chew” things themselves instead.
Baby led weaning benefits
Okay, so as you can tell, I am a huge fan of baby led weaning, and I think there are many benefits. Before I begin with those though, I just want you to think about it for a second. It might feel like what you are doing is this modern way of eating, against the norm, and very much a “hipster” kinda thing to do, but really, think about it…we didnt always have blenders or food processors, this WAS the original way of eating. It is the natural way of eating, and it teaches your baby from the start how to control their food.
That being said, I understand it will be tough to convince people to see things outside of purees, so here are some other benefits to consider:
Advanced manual dexterity
When Bailey was 10.5 months, I could officially say that she had absolutely amazing dexterity in her hands. I would be walking past the counter, and she would grab something off it without me even noticing. She could pick up a single black bean with her index finger and thumb, and she could sort through a pile of food to find the exact thing she wanted, even if it is as small as one rolled oat.
It has been mind-blowing to see how good she has become at this, and it is not just her. I have heard this from other mamas who follow this method, and my niece, Charlotte, is so advanced with her hands because she ate this same way.
You can give them what you eat
Not the case right away, but we are now at the point where I can cook dinner for the three of us, and just give her a little of each thing. Rather than us having to puree her a separate meal or purchase a pot/packet for her, I can just give her what we are having. So for example, last week I cooked Cod with Miso sauce, sweet potato fries, and roasted broccoli, and I just spread it out on a plate to cool for a few minutes while I was serving up, and then scooped some onto her bowl.
She LOVED it, and we have noticed she will eat the best (without throwing any off the side, or playing around) when we are all eating the same thing. Another day this week I had a three bean parmesan soup, and I scooped her a big spoonful of the vegetables and beans, and she ate a lot of it. Even the kale!
Yes, by now other babies with purees might be getting to this point, but if you only start offering “finger foods” at this point, they have to go through the learning process of understanding how to do it now, whereas if you start when they start food, they don’t have to go through a transition, as they don’t know any different.
It saves time, money, and hassle.
They tell you when they have had enough
When you are giving babies purees, you will feed them until the container is gone/serving is finished or whatever other means you use to know when to stop. However, with baby led feeding, they tell you, as they start playing around with their food. Squishing it between their fingers and smearing it around the tray. Of course there will be some of that going on every time, but it is pretty obvious when they are full. Nothing is going into their mouth, everywhere else instead.
That means they can choose when they are full. As long as they keep eating, you keep giving them more, and yes, sometimes I cannot believe how much food she is putting into her body.
Here’s the thing:
Some days she will eat an adult meals worth for her lunch, other days she will pick and barely get a few mouthfuls in. They have to choose what they want to eat, and by forcing them to “finish” what you have opened for them, is setting them up for a lifetime of feeling like they have to clean their plate…even if they are not hungry.
And if you, like me, live in America, you probably wouldn’t want them to get in the habit of feeling like they have to finish. Babies can actually teach us a lot about stopping when we are full, so why would we want to take that natural advantage away from them?
Saves time and money
Those little tubs of baby food are EXPENSIVE!
Do I really need to say more?
No, but I am going to anyway.
You could purchase 3 of those a day, every day for months on end. You could spend a lot of money on a baby blender, or time creating baby meals and washing up the damn blender (why are they the most annoying thing in the world to clean!). Or, you could just give them the food whole, and let them break it up themselves…the way they were meant to.
While I am on my high horse. You probably know that I am really into making small changes to help the environment. That is why we are using cloth diapers, and that is another HUGE reason not to use purees. Those packages are often not recyclable, and even if they are, many people do not.
Think about how much waste you and your baby are collecting up to add to landfills. Eventually we ARE going to run out of room to put all our trash (I genuinely believe Wall-E is coming true), and this is one way you can limit at least a little trash.
Learn to gag early
I know, it is terrifying watching your baby learn how to eat solids without choking on them.
It may seem counterintuitive, if a baby is struggling to swallow a food at 10 months, how the heck are they going to be any better at 6 months? Surely it is better to wait?
Think about it this way though. If you are only giving them smooth, processed foods, they are learning that food, all food, is soft, smooth, and liquid. They already know that milk is smooth, so they know how to swallow that, but if you only give them purees, once you add the true solid foods in there, they are going to have more trouble, as suddenly you are asking them to chew and then swallow, when they are ingrained to just swallow.
Here is the difference:
Gagging is where they are thrusting their tongue forward to bring something back into their mouth…kinda like when we swallow a fly and are trying to bring it back up (gross, but the best way I can describe). Choking, is where it gets stuck in their airway.
If you introduce them to foods through baby led weaning, they learn right from the start how to close off their airway and swallow foods. They also learn how to break them down into manageable pieces that will fit down their esophagus, rather than just swallowing whatever is put in there.
Gagging is natural, gagging is educational, gagging is good. Choking is bad.
Yes, Bailey did gag a lot in the early days while she tried to figure it out, but she did not choke at all…other than on water, but many babies struggle with that, and never to a dangerous level. She learned very quickly how to get her food right.
Now, she does gag sometimes when she has tried to swallow a piece of food that is far too big for her tube, but she knows that if it doesn’t fit, she needs to either spit it out or chew it down to a smaller piece.
I know it is scary, and your logic says to wait, but you are just adding a step, one that could teach them habits that are tough to get out of.
Purees have sugar/ so sweet
I mentioned earlier that we have given Bailey purees a few times over the past four months, and those few times we did, my god they were SO SWEET!! I could barely believe it. They tasted like one of those smoothies you get from McDonalds with all the sugar!
Many of the purees either have added sugar, or they use mostly foods like strawberries, which are very sweet. That gets your child used to having sugars from very early on….which means they will go for sweet foods, and likely reject any of the other flavors, right from the start.
If you give them foods like broccoli, potatoes, avocado, and other foods that are not so sweet, you are expanding their taste preferences, which will set them up for life. The more flavors you can give them before the age of 1, the better!
As she has learned how to eat foods this way, she has learned how to eat well. Another common thing I see among babies who use baby led weaning. She eats a lot (when she wants to), but also has a LOT of energy, that she will then be really cute and active for the next hour or so. We know she is getting enough food, but also not too much so she feels uncomfortable (we all know how bad that feels).
It just feels balanced.
Yes, and this should be one of the primary reasons. It IS fun to watch them.
Sure, it gets a lot of food everywhere, and it is messy, you don’t have the control of just getting it into their mouth. It will get in their hair and up their nose, but it has also given Steve and I some of the best moments with her as we all laugh together at how adorable she is.
Baby led weaning starter foods
If you are considering this, we have come to what you really want to know. What the heck do you start with, and where do you go from there?
The main thing you need to consider when starting baby on solids using the baby led weaning (feeding) method is the food MUST be soft enough for them to chew it up with their gums.
We started feeding Bailey once a day for the first few weeks, maybe even month, while keeping up with the breastfeeding as usual (around every three hours).
I would recommend only starting with one food per “meal” at first, and keeping with that same food for three days after you give it to them. We found that the first time she tried something, she would not really be very interested, the following day a little more, and the third day she gobbled it up.
Do this for the first month or so, trying different soft foods along the way.
We started with:
- Broccoli (floret, boiled)
- Carrot (peeled, strips, boiled)
- Avocado (strips)
- Parsnip (peeled, strips, boiled)
- Potato (peeled, chunks, boiled)
- Sweet potato (peeled, strips, boiled)
- Cauliflower (florets, boiled)
- Cucumber (skin removed)
- Beets (peeled, boiled, strips)
We thought it was best to give her the more savory foods first, that way while she was most excited, she would get the flavors of the more savory foods, then we could transition to the sweeter foods.
Once she had eaten each of these for three days in a row, we would be okay with letting her have multiple things each time. So she would have sweet potato, carrot, and broccoli. This also aligned nicely with her appetite starting to increase.
Then we went on to some of the fruits:
- Banana (broken into the three natural sections of a banana)
- Apple (peeled, steamed, in slices)
- Pear (peeled, steamed, in slices)
- Kiwi (skin removed, cut into slices,
- Fig (cut into eighths)
- Mango (slices)
- Strawberries (stem removed, cut into quarters)
- Raspberries (whole, if ripe enough)
We also started to add in some other foods, like:
- Eggs (although that ended up being a serious no go, the first three times were fine, then she vomited then next three times, so eggs are now out, I would recommend holding off on them a few more months)
- Lightly toasted white bread with some mashed avocado on top, cut into slices
- Oatmeal made with breast milk (overcook it until it sticks together and you can cut into slices)
- Black beans, cooked through
Again, make sure every new food you are adding, you are giving it three days of only eating that food with things they have tried and had no issues with, before. Introduce one new food every three days.
When it comes to foods like applesauce or yogurt, we would give it to her with a spoon, but would give her some other finger foods to have at the same time for her to continue to practice her skills. We would give her some finger foods to start, then have some yogurt, then bring in more finger foods, so it still reinforces that she chooses when she is finished.
Next we started to add in some allergenic foods, we had already tried egg, but not the others. By this point, she had been eating about two months and was now up to a meal in the morning and a meal in the evening, sometimes having a light lunch, but that was often just these happy baby teething biscuits.
We also started to add flavors to the food. Rather than just boiled as is, we would sprinkle some seasonings on while it was still very hot, and allow to cool.
Foods we tried next were:
- Almond butter on toast (slices)
- Peanut butter on toast (slices)
- Oatmeal cooked with cow’s milk (slices)
Some seasonings to include (either dried or fresh is probably best, diced up very small):
Finally, once each food was given the all clear, we started to combine foods together. I started to give her:
- Run Fast. Cook Fast. Eat Slow. superhero muffins
- Oatmeal with chia sees, flaxseed, and coconut (adding one to the oatmeal each time) with cinnamon and nutmeg
- Egg free pancakes
- Cottage cheese
And then, the big next step, started to give her little parts of our dinners. We made sure she had tried all the major ingredients in our meal, so we could easily pinpoint if she had a reaction (which is how we picked out eggs so easily).
At this point, we started to eliminate salt from the cooking process, and only salt our food afterwards. It requires a little planning at this stage, as you may have to prep some extra foods if they can’t have certain parts of your meal, but we would cook on one day, and then give her that meal for a few dinners.
For example, if I was cooking my favorite salmon, spinach, broccoli risotto, I would eliminate the salt (and wine if using), and remove some onto a plate once it was ready, spreading it thin, to cool quicker (or if you really need to, put it in a bowl with some ice underneath the plate to cool it from underneath), and leave ours in the pan for a few more minutes.
If I was cooking us salmon, sweet potato, and roasted broccoli, that is what she would have too, just making sure to give her the smaller end of salmon, so it is definitely cooked through, and the smaller pieces of broccoli that are definitely soft. By this point, your baby should be pretty good at picking things up, so things do not have to be in perfect strips.
We felt it was safe enough to give her leftovers for two more days after cooking, which helped on days we were eating leftovers ourselves, eating foods that she did not need to be eating (spicy food), or when eating out. On the note of eating out, we have this Chicco hook on high chair, and it is AMAZING!!
Baby led weaning and choking
Here is another part you probably want to know about. I already mentioned that it is scary watching your baby gag on food, but gagging is a very natural process, one that babies have a natural ability to do, and will learn very quickly how to bring things back into their mouth (and likely spit them out).
Bailey learned very quickly how to gag rather than choke, and I honestly believe a big part of that is because we used this baby led weaning method. She learned that liquids are swallowed differently to solids, and that helped her to learn very quickly. She then knew that foods coming on a spoon were foods that she swallowed in one way, and other foods that were solid, she would chew first, then swallow.
I know it seems counterintuitive and way more scary, but it helps them get through this stage much faster.
Arguments against baby led weaning
Okay, so I realize that I am bias. This worked very well for us, and it will not work well for everyone. It does require more planning sometimes, especially in the middle stages when you are taking the baby out to eat, and have to prepare foods to take with you. That can be annoying, and it would be so much easier in that moment to just throw a jar in the bag.
It also means more washing up in the early stages as you have to boil those foods, and keep them in containers in the fridge.
Another downside is that when you start allowing them to have your meals with you, you have to wait for theirs to cool. Babies do not like having to wait when everyone else is eating, so they may become impatient and kick up a fuss. This means sometimes your own food ends up overcooked or cold, which isn’t ideal, but usually very minor, and realistically, when you are eating with a baby, you are not thinking too much about your food being perfection anyway.
You have to watch for foods with high salt content, and eliminate salt from your meals if you are going to also give it to baby. The recommended salt allowance for a baby is much less than us, and besides, you do not want to start them off feeling like the only way things taste good are if they have a lot of salt. At this age, all flavors are new, and you want them to experience the flavors for what is before they start adding salt.
We purchased an unsalted butter for use with Bailey’s food, and when we started roasting vegetables for her in the oven we would use this instead of regular butter or oil.
Finally, if you are a clean machine…this might not be for you, it is messy, and they will get it all over their face. If that will bother you, might be best to try the other method.
Other things to know about baby led weaning
We generally start our day with more sweet things. She will have plenty of fruit for breakfast, a little fruit for lunch, and then mostly savory for dinner. I am trying not to get her in the habit of having dessert every evening…even though I have to admit, Steve and I are still sneaky dessert every evening. Now, at 10 months, we need to up our secrecy a level as she is starting to notice.
It might not seem like they are eating very much at all. I sometimes was tempted to push foods into her mouth, thinking that she just couldn’t get it in there, but resist the temptation. They are getting more than you think, and feeding them yourself is defeating the purpose. Resist the urge, it is better for your baby.
Some people like to combine purees with baby led weaning, and while that is okay, it is not recommended as it may confuse the baby. We did spoon feed her foods like yogurt and applesauce, but made sure to give her finger foods with it. I would do more research if you intend to combine.
As I mentioned above, be sure to allow the food to cool down before giving it to the baby, they are very sensitive to heat, so be careful.
Some foods to avoid:
- Grapes, we have only just introduced these, and we cut them into quarters
- Blueberries, again, only recently introduced, squash them before giving to baby
- Oranges (acidity can give them a rash)
- Tomatoes (acidity is also high in these)
- Other acidic foods
- Anything else that is round that can become stuck in their throat
- Hard foods, imagine trying to “gum” a food before you give it to them
Their poop consistency will change pretty drastically once you make this step, so be ready! It also smells MUCH worse!
One more thing. As this is my opinion, I am sharing what I see from my perspective of the world. I understand that others may see things differently, and that is absolutely okay, we have to choose what is best for us. If this method does not feel right to you or you disagree with what I am saying, I totally understand, but I have been asked a lot for more on this, so here it is 🙂 Proceed at your own risk with this method, and again, I recommend consulting with your pediatrician before you begin giving your baby solids.
Most of all, HAVE FUN! This is messy, but it is truly one of the best parts of being a parent, make the most of it! I hope you will let me know if you give it a try 🙂