Introducing your Baby to Solid foods

It's Time to Introduce Solid Foods, Should you Choose Baby-Led Weaning, Spoon Feeding or a Combination of Both?

Today we are happy to have guest blogger Maggie Meade, author of The Wholesome Baby Food Guide and creator of Momtastic's Wholesome Baby Food Website join our blog. Maggie has graciously shared some of her ideas on introducing your baby to solid foods and we are delighted to have the opportunity to pass them on to you today. Thank you Maggie!

{If your baby is ready for solid foods, will you choose to begin the journey by spoon feeding your baby purees or by following a Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)** approach?  Both methods of introducing solid foods are acceptable.  The style that you choose is not an "all or nothing" proposition and you could give both methods a try to see which best suits your baby.   I believe that parents must be comfortable with, and confident in, the method of weaning/introducing solids that they have chosen.  Whether it is baby- led weaning or spoon feeding, or even jarred foods versus homemade foods, the “correct” method is the one that works best for both you and your baby.

{left: Parisian Carrots, right: Pink Potatoes courtesy of Momtastic's Wholesome Baby Food}

If you want to explore BLW, you should know that it is not ideal for babies who are less than six months of age and it may not be a good choice for developmentally delayed babies.  Baby-led weaning is a great way to allow babies who are six months and older to explore solid foods and help them learn how to develop their own instincts and eat by themselves; it’s a literal "hands-on" approach.  I think we often forget that exploring and eating food involves all the senses.  Allowing babies to learn about solid food on their own terms and letting them engage all of their senses, including touch, is truly a wonderful thing.   If you believe that your baby is ready to begin eating solid foods prior to six months of age, and the earliest recommended age to introduce solid foods is at four months, spoon feeding your baby purees is really the only option.  You will need to begin with relatively thin and runny textures and progress to thicker foods and eventually “table foods”.  

It is possible to do a combination of BLW and purees and this will work best if you are making your own baby foods.  For example, if you are baking sweet potatoes you would puree a portion and chunk or lightly mash a portion.  Now you will have a puree to spoon feed as well as a portion to let baby explore and try to feed himself with.  Any recipe that you find for homemade baby food purees can easily be made into BLW food; to make BLW foods all you need to do is skip the pureeing step!

Some of the very same foods that you would cook and puree as starter foods for your baby make wonderful starter foods for BLW too!  Apples may be peeled and the whole apple given over to baby to hold and gnaw on or, you can bake a few apples and puree them or just mash them in a bowl and let baby dig in.  Avocado can also be offered as either a BLW food or it may be pureed and spoon-fed.  Cooking up some rice or another grain like oatmeal is a great BLW option; let your baby pick at and eat the cooked grains or feel free to puree the grains into a cereal.   You can spoon feed your baby purees and let your baby play with foods at the same time.  My boys always had a bowl of something that they could dig their hands into while I was feeding them.  There were many occasions where they just ate from the bowl or tray and I put away the bowl I had prepared to feed them. 

I have been reading lately that baby-led weaning is the only way to introduce solids to ensure that babies are eating "real" foods.  I am not keen on the use of the term “real” in this regard as it implies that if parents are not choosing baby-led weaning, then their babies are not eating real foods.  Real food is food that is not prepackaged.  It is food that does not come out of a jar, can, pouch, or microwave container!  Anytime you are offering your baby fresh (and homemade) foods, you are offering "real" foods.  The method whereby fresh food is actually making it into baby's tummy does not matter; spoon feeding your baby fresh food does not suddenly turn that food into fake or otherwise un- "real” food.  I prefer to think of baby-led weaning as starting solid foods by serving "table foods" rather than “real” foods.   After all, a key goal of baby-led weaning is to have baby eating at the table with the family and enjoying the same foods without the need for special food preparation or fuss. 

No matter what method you choose when introducing solid foods, it is important to know that breast milk and/or formula will be your baby's main nutritional source for many weeks to come.  Any solid foods you offer should be a well balanced variety of nutritious foods.  Always pay close attention to your baby's cues when it's time to feed him/her.  Respect his or her cues and resist the urge to ask your baby to "take one more bite".  Just like grown-ups, little ones really do have a keen sense of exactly what they need.  They know when they need more or when they have had enough; don't attempt to override this important sense.   Self-regulation of food intake is an important thing for babies to maintain; it will help them to not overeat!}

**  If you want to explore BLW, you should know that it is not ideal for babies who are less than six months of age and it may not be a good choice for developmentally delayed babies.  When a baby reaches six months of age, there are many indicators according to BLW advocates that will show a true physical readiness for solid foods.  Babies should be making chewing and gumming motions and they should be able to sit up mostly unsupported to help protect against choking.  They should have good [pincher or fist] scoop and grasp abilities to be able to scoop or pick up and move objects/foods to the mouth.  Babies who have not lost the tongue-thrust reflex will not do well with baby-led weaning.  If your baby is younger than six months of age, many of these important abilities are not present.  BLW proponents note that if a baby is not making gumming or chewing motions and cannot sit unsupported or scoop/grasp objects, then that is nature way of telling us that baby is just not ready for anything more than breast milk or formula.