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Goodbye Fussy Eaters: 3 Expert Tips to Be a Pro at Baby-Led Weaning

Baby-led weaning helps with a child's motor and social development and raises less picky-eaters. Get started on the journey with this guide.

Asian baby with a spoon in mouth

Are you able to avoid toddler tantrums over food at the dinner table and have your baby calmly feed themselves? With a new baby-led weaning technique, this scenario has become a reality in many homes!  

Baby-led weaning places the responsibility to feed oneself on babies, allowing them to choose what they want to eat and feed themselves. While this may seem absurd for grandparents who see adults feeding babies as the norm, this technique has gained traction from young parents who don’t have the time or patience to placate tantrums. 

Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning 

Apart from the huge advantage of maintaining calm at mealtimes, baby-led weaning potentially has many benefits for babies. It gets them started with the experience of family dinner time at a young age, contributing to their social development. It also imbibes invaluable developmental skills – the ability to self-regulate and fine motor skills for picking up food and bringing it to their mouths.

The variety of food that a baby can experience through what is available at the dinner table is more diverse than pureed and pre-packaged foods that a traditionally weaned baby receives. Parents save on time and money spent on baby food as an added benefit. By getting an early start on your family’s food habits, your child will also transition more smoothly to familiarise themselves with the available foods and culture.

Family of 5 dining at table together
Allowing your baby to dine with the family and feed themselves introduces them to food and culture earlier.

When to Start Baby-Led Weaning 

Baby-led weaning should be started only after six months of age, with breastmilk being the baby’s only diet till then. Western and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) encourage mothers to continue with breastfeeding even after six months, but breastmilk alone may not suffice for adequate growth of the child.

TCM Physician Jolene Chong is a strong advocate of baby-led weaning. She says, “From six months to one year of age, babies’ sense of smell and taste is the most sensitive; thus, this is the right time to present solid foods. Introduce a wide range of food types and tastes and well-balanced nutrition”.

It is important to consider the baby’s weight when advocating baby-led weaning. “The baby has to grow to twice their birth weight or at least six kilograms,” advises Physician Chong. Before you start, make sure your baby is developmentally ready to take up the challenge – they should be able to sit upright with minimal support, reach out for an object and bring it to its mouth, and not be using the tongue to spit things from the mouth.

“Most babies develop these milestones at around six months but be patient if your child is not ready yet. Each child develops differently. Other signs that your baby is old enough for baby-led weaning is when the baby shows interest in adult foods, demonstrates biting actions or is not satisfied with the usual feeds,” explains Physician Chong. 

A child who has achieved the required milestones is usually not at risk of choking or gagging. However, do not leave your child unattended. It might also be worthwhile to acquaint yourself with the Heimlich manoeuvre if they do choke – learning a life-saving skill never hurts! 

Preparing for Baby-Led Weaning 

Know your options, prepare a list of the possible foods and stock up your pantry before you plunge into baby-led weaning. Physician Chong has some great advice for new mums trying this technique. Here is a list for you to get started with: 

A baby boy sitting on a highchair eating a broccoli floret
Before you start baby-led weaning, ensure that your baby is developmentally ready.

Best first foods 

Start with soft fruits like banana, pear, avocado, kiwi and mango. You can progress to strips of vegetables such as sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, and squash. You will need to roast, bake, steam or boil these to ensure they are soft enough for your baby to chew. Once your child is adept at eating, you can also offer ground or soft shredded strips of meat. If your baby can bring a spoon to his mouth, give soft foods like oatmeal, applesauce, whole-fat or Greek yoghurt. 

“Introduce only one food at a time and stay with the food type for three to five days before introducing the next food type. Also, move on from a smaller to larger quantity, and smoother to harder texture”, advises Physician Chong.

This is a list for you to keep handy on various foods you can experiment with based on your baby’s age: 

  • Six months: rice cereal, congee, egg yolk, mashed fish, tofu, vegetable puree, fruit puree 
  • Seven to nine months: cut noodles, baby biscuits, shredded vegetables, fish and poultry 
  • Ten to 12 months: porridge, soupy rice, buns, bread, pasta, etc.

TCM considers foods that build the Spleen (usually of warm nature) as suitable early foods. These include pumpkin, Chinese yam, yam, apples and bananas. Ensure your baby gets well-balanced nutrition by having a variety of foods in their diet. 

Avocado and bananas on a table
Fruits like avocado and banana are great for babies to start feeding themselves with.

Foods to avoid 

Avoid food that may be a choking hazard at all costs. These include firm and round foods such as grapes and whole berries. If you must, cut these up into smaller pieces. Also, avoid hard and crunchy foods such as popcorn, nuts and corn or tortilla chips. Vegetables that are firm need to be boiled or steamed to a soft consistency. Avoid sticky food, such as peanut butter, as your baby may find it difficult to swallow. 

Regarding other foods to avoid, “Do not give honey and egg whites to children less than one year old,” cautions Physician Chong. For babies with a family history of food allergies, she suggests weaning them one to two months after the six-month mark. She says, ” Avoid potential allergens such as shellfish, peanuts, and egg whites until the child reaches three years of age”. 

Also, limit the salt to avoid burdening your baby’s kidneys. Doctors do not recommend adding monosodium glutamate to a baby’s diet as studies suggest it damages brain cells. 

Food preparation 

Cut food into bite-sized pieces which your baby can pick with his fingers. The best finger foods are firm enough to be held with fingers, long enough to be seen even after holding and soft enough to be chewed.

Use your creativity with different colours and shapes of foods to give your child an interesting food experience. Physician Chong says, “Babies who enjoy eating will be more receptive to wearing and grow up healthier. However, make sure you handle the food with care and maintain hygiene. Children who get tummy upsets risk becoming averse to eating, which can hinder the weaning progress.” 

Baby-led weaning can set your baby on track with a healthy relationship with food. Use these tips from Physician Chong to provide wholesome, healthy nutrition to your baby for its optimal growth and development. 

References

  1. Parents, What is Baby-Led Weaning? How to Help Your infant Feed Themselves, [Accessed on 25 May 2022].  
  2. Cleveland Clinic,  2021, Baby-Led Weaning: What You Need to know,  [Accessed on 25 May 2022] 
  3. National Library of Medicine, 2012, How feasible is Baby-led Weaning as an approach to infant feeding? A review of the evidence. Nutrients,  [Accessed 27 May 2022] 

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