“How should I introduce food to my baby?!”
This is a dilemma many parents are facing today. Before I continue any further, please know that there is no RIGHT or WRONG way!
Today parents are choosing between the traditional methods of purees vs. Baby Led Weaning (BLW). But guess what? You can raise a healthy eater using either method or a combo. The most important part is that you choose a method that feels comfortable for you – and that food stays fun for everyone. When the table becomes a power struggle, many eating issues start to arise.
So what is BLW anyway?
BLW is introducing finger foods right from the start at around 6 months – no purees! Parents give their baby pinky sized and shaped foods so that the baby can pick it up and bring the food right to his/her own mouth.
Parents are choosing BLW for many reasons
- Babies have improved motor development as they are using their hands during the feeding process.
- The food is fresh and nutritious since you are giving food in its natural state.
- BLW saves money, because you are giving the baby what you eat. There are no separate baby food purchases.
- Baby learns their own satiety levels and is in control of how much he/she eats. This teaches the baby that he/she is in control and will not be forced fed or overfed (which often happens with pureed diets).
- Baby learns how to eat safely since they are chewing and swallowing form the start. With purees, the baby is taught to swallow without chewing.
- Preliminary studies have shown that BLW may be correlated with less obesity and with older children making better food choices.
On the flip side, many parents have concerns with BLW
The main concerns are the risk of choking, and getting enough iron. With any method, you should learn the difference between gagging and choking – and take a CPR class.
Gagging is a safety precaution that teaches babies to be safe eaters. When you are feeding your baby:
- Make sure they are sitting in an upright position.
- Don’t put your fingers in a baby’s mouth when they are gagging because this can lead to choking.
- Keep distractions minimal and eat with your baby.
- Offer appropriate BLW foods in the right sizes.
Remember that your baby will gag. It’s important to sit back and watch them work through it on their own.
For exclusively breast-fed babies, there is a concern about whether or not they will get enough iron. If the baby is on formula, then there is no concern.
For those babies who are at risk, make sure to include 2 foods high in iron daily. Liver, meat and fish are all very well absorbed. Soybeans, tofu, legumes, cooked spinach, seeds, dried fruit and iron-fortified cereals are not as well absorbed, but are still good sources. To help improve iron absorption, try including foods rich in Vitamin C, along with foods rich in iron.
BLW is also messy! Be prepared with a plastic tray that washes easily, a good bib, and a drop cloth below for easy clean up.
Before embarking on a BLW feeding method, you should talk to your pediatrician to make sure your baby is developmentally read to start solids and that BLW is appropriate for him/her.
With either BLW or the puree method, there are foods that should be avoided
Salt, sugar, artificial sweeteners, raw meat and fish, honey, and choking hazards. Any food can be a choking hazard to a baby, so make sure to watch them at all times.
Watch out in particular for these foods: raw carrots, raw celery, salad, raw apples, hard pears, rice crackers, potato chips and corn chips, whole nuts and dried fruit, cherries, grapes, cherry tomatoes, round sausage, hot dogs, popcorn, gum, hard candy, and marshmallows.
The best foods to start with for BLW
Just to name a few: sweet potato, avocado, home-made burgers and meatballs, salmon sliders, omelets, and banana. Remember to prepare the food without salt (other seasonings are OK and recommended!)
Make sure all foods can be mashed between your tongue and roof of your mouth – if you can do this, you have achieved the correct texture.
Also remember to have fun!
Feed your baby when they are alert and happy, and not starving. Eat with your baby and model good eating behaviors. It may take numerous exposures for a baby to try a new food. Keep trying and don’t give up.
Eve is a busy mom of two young girls who is passionate about everything related to food. She believes you must love what you eat in order to have a healthy relationship with food, and that starts from the very first bite. Eve is a Registered Dietitian/Nutritionist located in Westchester with over 13 years of professional experience.
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