Three top tips for making the most of baby led weaning

As your baby grows older, more and more exciting experiences await you both! One such experience is weaning. The end of your breastfeeding journey may seem like such a long way away, and it probably is. But from the age of around six months or so, your baby will start to explore new tastes and textures that are so vastly different from milk. This is where the fun starts! These days, baby led weaning is often recommended for babies over the age of six months, because it is a valuable way to teach your baby about those new tastes and textures without limiting her need for exploration and sense of adventure. Here are our three top tips for making the most of baby led weaning. Enjoy!

What is baby led weaning?

Put simply, baby led weaning is allowing your baby to lead the way when it comes to weaning from milk onto food. Babies who are allowed to lead the way will do so by feeding themselves, and choosing the foods that they want to eat at mealtimes. Recent studies have shown that by allowing your baby to explore and taste new foods in her own time and at her own pace has huge benefits, such as:

● a reduction in obesity
● a reduction in fussiness around food
● a reduced risk of choking (baby learns very quickly that food needs to be broken down, in contrast to babies who are weaned onto pureed foods)
● improved speech development
● improved motor skills

So when you present your baby with a selection of foods and allow her to pick them up, taste them, play with them and finally eat them, you are assisting her in more ways than one!

Baby led weaning can be messy. It can also be lots of fun. But for some parents, the idea of allowing baby to choose at mealtimes can seem a little strange. The best advice for this is to just go with the flow, as much as you can. You may want to compromise a little and offer some pureed foods too. That’s up to you. However you decide to manage it, hopefully these tips will help:

Don’t be afraid of gagging

Chances are, as baby learns how to chew and to break down food in her mouth, she is going to gag now and then. This is when food hits the back of the throat, and is not the same as choking. Gagging is a normal reflex that we all have, and for babies it’s important because it helps to teach them how to eat. Your baby will make a noise when she gags, but it will not bother her. She will move the food and she will continue to eat.

Choking is different, because if your baby is choking she will not make a noise because her airway is blocked. Your baby will become frightened and you will know the difference when this happens. There is no real way to prevent choking during baby led weaning, but there are precautions you can take. Make sure that food is cut into bite size pieces, and make sure that you fully supervise feeding times. Baby should be sitting up during mealtimes and not leaning back in anyway. It’s also a great idea to enrol on a baby first aid course so that if choking occurs you will know what to do.

Don’t be afraid of the mess

Babies use their senses to explore and to learn about the world around them, and playing with food is a totally natural progression of this. Let her investigate her food by poking it, prodding it and smashing it in her fist. It will not hurt! Take the following precautions if the mess really bothers you:

● Pop a waterproof mat (or an old shower curtain) down on the floor to catch fallen food.
● Invest in some sensible bibs- long sleeve ones are fantastic
● Invest in a high chair that is easily cleaned

Make sure the time is right

The World Health Organisation recommends that weaning takes place at around 6 months of age as it is deemed by this age milk alone is not enough to sustain your baby. But all babies are different, and some may not be ready at this time. It’s important to remember that when you first introduce solid food to babies, it is really just for taste and texture, rather than nutrition. So until 12 months of age, milk is still really important, and where baby will get most of her nourishment from. It’s important to time it right, so look for these signs that baby is ready:

● baby can sit up in a chair, unaided
● baby can hold her head up
● baby can chew
● baby is not tired, or too hungry- offer milk first, and view solid foods as an exploration rather than a meal, at first.
● baby is interested in food

Are you ready? It’s an exciting time, but it’s not without it’s stress too. Take each day as it comes, and don’t expect too much from your baby. If you are relaxed and happy at mealtimes, she will pick up on this and is more likely to grow into a happy eater. Good luck… and have fun!

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