Introducing solids to your baby is an exciting, messy and enjoyable stage of development that marks the beginning of a long and tasty journey. We as adults, taking food to our mouth, biting, chewing, and swallowing is automatic, but we must remember that our little ones need to learn how to eat step by step.
Weaning has changed a lot over the past few generations and differs between cultures, for example mashed pasta as a first food in Italy, fine rice porridge in China and mashed mild curry in India.
Back in the 1950s, parents were advised to feed babies solid food (and by “solid” we mean sources other than breastmilk or formula, like baby purees) around 3 months old. By the 1970s, the guidelines changed to recommend parents wait until babies were closer to 4 months old. In the 1990s, the guidelines were changed again recommending parents wait from 4 months up to 6 months before introducing food.
Irrespective of the weaning method used, the goal is the same – Start your baby on solid food at the recommended months and have them consuming a nutritious family diet by twelve months.
It is the steps to get to family foods that may differ. Either way, feeding your child should be an enjoyable and positive experience for both the parent and child.
Generally there are two main approaches to introducing solids. These feeding methods can be used solely or combined to suit the baby’s needs.
Traditional weaning method
A traditional weaning approach usually begins with spoon feeding by parents of smooth purees and moves through to lumps, chunks, finger foods and family foods. Infants are fed with a spoon until they can communicate fullness. From around eight months, finger foods are offered and gradually increased to replace spoon feeding. Variety is increased by adding one new food every few days to see if your baby has an adverse reaction. With this method, parents are in control of the texture, variety and the pace of the meal.
- Your baby is likely to consume more variety in foods and be exposed to different flavours early in the process
- Iron and nutrient rich solids can be pureed and offered regularly
- Less messy
- Infant gagging is less frequent
- Time consuming (Cooking, blending, storing and spoon feeding for the length of meal)
- Entire process is moving at your pace rather than your baby’s
- Difficulty reading your babies fullness
Baby led weaning (BLW)
This type of approach focuses on the independence of your baby taking food to their own mouth and consuming the quantity and variety they choose. You don’t puree foods, but rather offer them foods from what everyone else is eating at the family mealtimes. Your baby is the only one to put food to its mouth using hands or cutlery.
- Baby can learn the art of eating independently
- Independent eating sooner (learning to chew and managing foods)
- Family meals (no separate cooking)
However parents need to show your baby how to eat and behave at the table so eating as a group becomes the norm. Families often embrace this stage as they think of it as a chance to overhaul how they eat and increase the variety of healthy foods in their own diet. Whilst BLW assists in developing hand to mouth skills, the developing independence that accompanies it allows for an opportunity to encourage communication, family bonding time and the social interaction enjoyed with food. This is in turn creates a positive association integral to mealtimes.
- Beware of gagging and choking (however it is a typical part of learning to eat), knowledge of basic first aid can ease some parents’ concerns
- Wondering if the baby is eating enough
- Messy (e.g. floor, clothes, chair and carpet), we recommend parents to clean baby once at the end as wiping throughout the meal is disruptive and disliked by babies.
- Food allergy identification (allergies may be harder to identity and treat because of the introduction of many foods simultaneously rather than a systematic exposure), the recommendation is that you do not delay the introduction of solids that may cause allergy so this works well with BLW
In the meantime, if you have a baby or know someone who does, 6 months is the ideal time to start solid food.
There is no a fixed method to starting your baby on solids. Knowing the benefits and challenges of these approaches can help you choose the method that will work best. Often combination of two feeding styles work well as you are able to have the best of both methods, whilst witnessing your child discover a delicious world of flavour and texture.
For further information on toddler nutrition and weaning, visit:
Article by Lauren Gladman