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Baby-led weaning has rapidly gained popularity in the last decade. I came across it just as my oldest daughter was starting to hit the age when you introduce solids.
Now I've used this method with all three of my children (so you can see I'm a huge fan).
The basic concept is that there's no reason to introduce your baby to solids via the usual bland rice cereal before graduating to pureed jars of baby food. You can skip the spoon-feeding and trust babies to rely on their instincts. That is, babies can feed themselves and eat most table foods starting at around 6 months (my girls have fluctuated a little, depending on how early they started being furious at being left out of mealtime).
Here are a few quick ways to know if baby-led weaning might be a good fit for your family:
1. You are laid back enough to let your baby gag a little.
I won't pretend it's not a little bit freaky to watch your baby gag on something.
All the baby-led weaning material is very clear that gagging and choking are different. Choking? Very bad. Gagging? Your baby's body is responding to figuring out how to deal with actual food instead of milk and moving that food around to the right place so they DON'T choke. But I won't pretend it's not a little bit freaky to watch your baby gag on something.
2. You can deal with mess.
A friend recently told me that she nurses her babies exclusively until they are 1 because she just loathes dealing with the mess of introducing solids. And it's true—solids are messy, no matter how you introduce them to your baby. But be warned that baby-led weaning is definitely more messy than spoon-feeding your baby (as you can probably imagine).
3. You would prefer not to buy overpriced tiny jars of peas or those weird baby sausages.
When our first daughter was born, we were pretty tight financially, and the idea of moving from breast milk (free!) to jars and jars of baby food at a dollar a pop was really unappealing. It was so much less expensive to do baby-led weaning because we just used food we already had, which was almost always much less expensive than the prepared baby food.
4. You don't want to prepare two meals.
I prefer to think of this as being streamlined, rather than lazy.
I can barely get lunch for MYSELF on the table. I knew from the get-go that the idea of making all my own baby food was just never going to happen. One of the big appeals of baby-led weaning was that I could feed my baby the same things we were eating for breakfast, lunch and dinner. (I prefer to think of this as being streamlined, rather than lazy).
5. You care a lot about food.
If you're something of a foodie, you probably want your baby to love food too, and one of your best bets is exposing your baby to a wide variety of foods as early as possible. My babies have loved eating curry, soups and stew, tons of fruits and vegetables, bits of meat, and all the yogurt I'll provide. They've all gone through semi-picky stages, but overall, they have turned into solid little eaters. Since nothing makes me happier than a good meal, it delights me that they can join in.
6. You don't want to drag special foods everywhere you go.
I love that when we go out to dinner or to a friend's house, we can just feed our baby whatever we're eating. Pizza? She's all in. A salad? Give her all the toppings (lettuce is really hard for a baby to chew). BBQ ribs? She'll go to town. My goal in life is to haul as little baby stuff around as possible, so when I can skip the baby food, that makes my life way easier.
7. You want to give your child a chance to practice fine-motor skills.
I love that my kids get to practice holding and picking up food from an early age. I don't have anyone to compare them to, but it seems like they have great fine-motor skills, and I'll happily attribute it to all the foods they've fed themselves.