Most babies start their weaning journey being spoon-fed by their parents, usually on a date decided by their parents and a packet of puree chosen by said parents - Can you see a pattern forming here?
Well what happens if you let your baby decide when and how they want to start their weaning journey on to solids? What happens if you let him handle his own food instead of spoon feeding? I.E. What if you let your baby 'lead' the way?
Baby-led weaning (BLW) is all about the baby leading the way which is what we have done with Dexter from the beginning. He has breastfed on demand so it felt natural to let him lead his weaning journey. By choosing to do it the 'natural' way your baby will learn about healthy family food by tasting and examining it himself - no puree at all. so say goodbye to mush! He'll show you when he's ready to start and will share your meals from the very beginning.
He'll be able to do all this from about six months onwards and will develop his chewing skills, manual dexterity and hand-eye coordination. Dex has had the pincer grip down from about six and a half months. Your baby will learn social skills by joining in at mealtimes and he'll also only eat as much as he needs, making him less likely to be over weight when he is older. This isn't a new fangled idea, like most good ideas in parenting it has been around since the dawn of time. Parents over the years have discovered it by trusting and watching their babies instincts. The majority of parents I have spoken to who have tried both spoon-feeding and BLW would agree that BLW is much more enjoyable for the child and parent.
We are often told to give babies finger foods from six months - that's nothing new so what's different about BLW? Babies are only given finger foods making spoon feeding a thing of the past. With BLW there is no programme to follow or stages to complete - you don't have to start with smooth purée, mashed then lumpy before your child is given a real meal - you simply give them whatever you are eating for breakfast, lunch & dinner. There are of course some good "First Foods" to introduce to your baby and "Foods to avoid" but there aren't any hard and fast rules. Babies are happier doing things for themselves and it helps their development.
Babies and toddlers crawl, walk and talk when they are ready, providing they are given the opportunity they will reach these milestones at the right time for that baby - the same goes for feeding. A newborn can feed himself from his mothers breast as soon as they are born and by the time they are about six months they can reach out and grab a piece of food and take it to their mouths. If a baby can feed themselves with finger foods from six months then there seems to be no reason for pureed foods at all especially seeing as recent evidence suggest babies should not have any solids before six months. Giving babies solids before six months is not a good idea due to the babies digestive system not being developed enough to get all of the goodness out of the solid food. Also if a baby is given solids too early their appetite for milk goes down and they receive even less nourishment. It has been found that babies that have solid foods too early suffer from more infections and allergies than those who stay on milk feeds until six on the because their immune systems are too immature.
Children who are allowed to feed themselves learn about the look, texture, smell and taste of different foods from the very beginning rather than everything being pureed into one. Being allowed to explore food before it goes into their mouth will teach a baby an important lesson about what is chewable and what isn't. By being allowed to explore the food with their tongue they can judge how easy different sized pieces of food are to chew. This is an important safety feature and may make babies less likely to choke. Most parents are dubious about BLW and are worried that the child will choke but provided the child is in control of what is going into his mouth and he is sat upright the likelihood of him choking is no more than if he was being spoon fed. These fears are often based on seeing a baby gagging on food. This is a normal function that pushes food away from the airway and should not be confused with choking (see separate post of the "gag reflex" shortly) Please remember that whilst gagging is not a cause for concern you must ensure that the baby is sat upright in order for this 'safety feature' to work.
Learning to eat solid foods is a natural stage in a babies development. We don't try to control when a baby starts to crawl, walk or talk so why should we control when they want to start eating solids?