By Taryn Tacher
Parenthood is new and exciting when you are experiencing it for the first time. It is full of changes, firsts and a ton of decisions. From the moment you learn you are expecting, you are faced with countless choices. And once the baby is here, the choices only multiply. What will you name your baby? How will you and your partner divide up the roles of parenthood? What type of parent do you want to be?
When babies reach about 6 months old, it’s time for yet another decision, this time about how to incorporate food into their diets. Instead of going for the traditional baby food method, some parents are opting for baby-led weaning and providing their children with foods that they are able to eat on their own. This means no jarred fruit purees and no canned vegetable mush. Your baby is eating real fruits, vegetables and other food items cut in to sizeable pieces that they can pick up and put in their mouths all on their own. You can steam carrots, bake apples, slice bananas — whatever your baby seems to enjoy. Avocados, sweet potatoes, ripe peaches and melons, egg yolks and soft breads are also great options to give your little ones as they start to feed themselves.
The benefit of baby-led weaning is that it is much easier for you, as well as for your baby. It is far less time consuming for you to make adjustments to your meal that are suitable for your baby to eat than it is to take out the blender or food processor to create “baby food.” Baby-led weaning
puts less stress on your baby because she can eat at her own pace, without feeling the pressure of a spoonful of mush zooming toward her mouth in true airplane fashion. And because your baby is feeding herself, you are free to eat at the same time.
“I was breastfeeding and planned to keep doing that for a year,” said Caitlin Maribona mother of one with another on the way. “Baby-led weaning seemed like a natural fit for both of us. It allowed us to continue breastfeeding and [my daughter] to try out different tastes and textures.
The main concern some parents have is that their babies may choke if they begin eating “table food” at such a young age. While little ones are bound to gag from time to time as they become accustomed to moving food around their mouths, babies’ gums are strong enough to break down the soft foods they are eating, so choking should not be an issue. In fact, a recent study published in Pediatrics, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, addressed this issue. According to Dr. Diane Howell of UFHealth Pediatrics, the study showed that while infants between 6 and 8 months of age had more instances of gagging while eating than their counterparts receiving traditional baby food, the rates of choking were not significantly different. “That being said, if parents are not careful about the foods they offer and ensuring their infants are watched closely and fed only when in an upright and seated position, the risks of choking can go up significantly,” said Dr. Howell.
Baby-led weaning exposes your child to a wide variety of healthy foods early on, which may make them more likely to enjoy these foods later on in life. “Some observational studies would seem to suggest that baby-led weaning may lead to healthier eating habits, healthier growth and infants who will be less picky about what they eat as toddlers and beyond,” said Dr. Howell.
And while babies are feeding themselves, they are exercising their motor skills as they bring their hands back and forth from their food to their mouths.
“Right off the bat, she was exposed to various tastes and textures,” Maribona said of daughter, Cecilia. “She has never been a picky eater, and I truly think it’s because she tried such a wide range of food (that wasn’t mush) before her first birthday. We didn’t have to prepare separate foods or constantly run to the store for more baby food. She ate what we ate, and it was great! I would absolutely recommend this method to others.”