Confession time – lots of my practical parenting decisions are driven primarily by a need to simplify my life as much as possible. I feel no need to martyr myself to motherhood. Breastfeeding? Easier than making bottles. Babywearing? Faster and less annoying than pushing a stroller. So when my son started to become interested in food, I wanted to take the easy way out.
His first bite of food was a piece of lettuce that he haphazardly picked off my plate at lunch one day. I happened to be out with some other mothers and their babies. Upon seeing my six month old grab food off my plate, all the moms at our table cringed and jumped to grab the lettuce piece of out his hands. “It’s fine,” I said, and kept on eating.
This hadn’t been the first time my son had shown some interest in solid foods, but it was the first time he actually grabbed something and popped it into his mouth. He had four teeth. I figured he’d try and chew the lettuce, get bored, and spit most of it out. My prediction ultimately came true and my son managed to get some of the lettuce into his belly but most of it wound up on his shirt and my lap.
At that time I didn’t know that going straight to finger foods and avoiding conventional “baby food” and other purees was actually a legitimate and common way to introduce solids. Eventually, I discovered that this approach, known as baby led weaning (weaning as they speak of it in the UK, meaning introducing solids, not the way we think of it here as getting baby off the breast or bottle) could save me a ton of headaches in the meal department.
As my son’s interest in food grew and his development advanced, I ordered the Baby Led Weaning Cookbook and set off to give him real, whole foods from the start. It was such a fun experience for my husband and I to watch our little boy explore food in a multi-sensory manner. Baby led weaning was a great decision for us, but it did require some preparation and a little bit of knowledge to do comfortably.
Here’s how you can get ready for the fun.
1. Take an infant CPR class. There, you’ll learn the difference between choking and gagging. Your instructor will equip you with knowledge and skills that will put your mind at ease when introducing solids.
2. Start simple. Let your child explore the simple flavors of real whole foods without a lot of stuff added. Great first foods are just one or two ingredients. Prepare them in the appropriate size and texture (easy to pick up and hold in a fist) for a small baby to handle. Great first foods include roasted veggies like squash, sweet potatoes, and carrots cut into fry size, baked or otherwise softened fruit, avocado, and strips of slow cooked meat.
3. Be prepared for a hot mess. There will be food everywhere. If you don’t have a dog, be sure to invest in something like this to make cleanup a little easier. Long sleeve bibs or bibs with pockets are also useful. Don’t stress over the mess.
4. Take it slow. Your child probably won’t get much food into his or her belly in the first couple of meals. It may even take a couple of months for a significant amount of solids to make their way into the digestive tract. That’s ok. Offer a variety of textures, flavors, and food groups and let your baby explore with taste and touch.
5. Consider iron. After six months, infants need iron in their diets. Try to offer iron rich foods every day. Some great iron rich foods include lean meats, dark leafy greens, and beans.
You’ll want to avoid honey and cow’s milk until after your baby’s first birthday. Other than that, all foods are fair game! Old school recommendations were to avoid allergens early on in baby’s life, but no need. New research suggests that earlier introduction is actually preferred. If you have food allergies in your family, be sure to consult your pediatrician about how and when to introduce the potential allergens.