Baby Led Weaning Foods: Ultimate Guide To Your Baby’s First Foods

Baby Led Weaning Foods

Baby-led weaning refers to introducing solid food to babies and slowly weaning them from an all-liquid diet of breast milk or formula, all while skipping pureed food. This means that you do not use things like a food processor to mash up the food, and you do not purchase retail baby food. You start with solid foods, and the weaning is entirely baby-led.

Remember that there will be things specific to you and your little one throughout your baby led weaning foods journey, like food allergies, preferences, and developmental milestones that are not textbook. As long as the baby eats, you are doing fine. Introducing baby led weaning foods requires patience, faith, and grace.

How to Start Baby Led Weaning

The baby-led weaning approach is about letting your child get comfortable eating solid food and using utensils through exploration and play. When you start baby-led weaning, your child will not know what any of the foods you have presented to them are, and that is okay. There are many things to keep in mind to transitioning from exclusively feeding breast milk or formula to eating solid food.

1. A Messy Process

Textures are wonderful, and your baby will want to experience them all. Be prepared for a huge mess as your little one smashes food between fingers, smears food all over their high chair tray, smooths it through their hair like hair gel, and tries it on as an accessory to their outfit (Invest in bibs!). It’s also helpful to have wipes or a soft washcloth prepared and let your little ones explore. These are neat textures that your baby has never experienced, and it is all going to be worthwhile. Try not to stress over the mess.

2. Food Before One is Just for Fun

We will dive much deeper into ages for baby-led weaning later, but most pediatricians will start to recommend either purees or baby-led weaning foods around the age of six months. This is to prepare them for food options and eating practices later.

Babies need the nutrients that breast milk or formula provides until they reach twelve months. You can and should introduce solid foods before that age, but whether you are feeding baby food or are planning to try baby led weaning foods, do not worry about the nutrition and calories involved in the foods you introduce. They will be getting all of that from their formula or breast milk.

Food before the age of one is just for fun. It is to help your child get comfortable with textures, different tastes, and eating habits. They still need the recommended amount of liquid food in nursing or bottle-feeding to get their nutritional needs met until the age of one. Selecting foods high in certain vitamins or minerals is not the most important thing at this stage. Which specific foods are best, are outlined further down but regardless of foods you choose, do not give your baby junk food of any kind.

Baby Led Weaning Foods

3. Make it Fun

Baby-led weaning is a great way for both parents, and even siblings, to get in on the fun of the baby getting bigger and learning something new. The faces your little one will make the first time sweet potatoes are tasted is a fun memory and probably will induce a smile or a laugh. Make it a bonding experience, and your little one will be much more comfortable trying new foods.

4. Gagging Is Not Choking

The first foods your little one tries may have you worried. There may be some coughing and sputtering. This is because there has never been any spoon-feeding or solid food experience, and your baby’s gag reflex is sensitive. If you want your baby to feel encouraged to eat solid food, stay calm, never cut the food you feed to your baby bigger than their airway and encourage your baby to try their first foods with confidence.

What to Do When Baby Gags

When your baby has trouble with that pesky gag reflex, the best thing to do is to stay calm. Offer a drink of milk or water at mealtimes in a cup, and encourage your child to keep trying. The tongue-thrust reflex is very strong until a child is about six months old, and swallowing solids is a foreign practice.

The tongue-thrust reflex is when a baby pushes food out of the mouth with the tongue. It aids in breastfeeding and bottle feeding and swallowing liquids. The reflex has to dissipate before your baby is really ready for baby led weaning foods. If your child does a lot of gagging and you notice that your little one is pushing the food back out of the mouth with the tongue, it may be best to wait a few weeks before offering baby-led weaning foods again.

Note: The safest route is to be prepared

Knowing the infant Heimlich maneuver and infant CPR are essential skills, regardless of your chosen feeding method. You can go into baby-led weaning or any other solid food introduction with much more confidence if you know and understand these lifesaving measures.

Baby led weaning foods by age

Always consult your pediatrician before introducing solids to your infant. Most will tell you that you are all clear to start the introduction of solids after the age of six months. Signs that your baby is ready to start eating solids are:

  • Can sit without assistance
  • Brings toys or other objects to mouth
  • Seems interested in food when watching family members eat solid foods
  • Doubled its birth weight
  • Keep small bits of food in their mouths instead of pushing it right back out

If your baby is six months old and has hit all of these other milestones or is showing these signs, you are likely ready for baby-led weaning.

At Six to Nine Months of Age

Starting at about six months, you can introduce the baby to foods cut into strips that range from two to three inches. You can also cut foods into pieces no larger than a pea to encourage fine motor skills like pinching and grasping.

While there is really no right or wrong answer when asking for the first foods for baby led weaning, some foods seem to go better when you decide to start solid foods with your little one. The following are the most popular foods to feed your baby when you want to let the baby eat solids by food groups.

baby led weaning foods by age

1. Vegetables

  • Sweet potatoes (can be cut or smashed)
  • Green beans (cut green beans or whole steamed green beans)
  • Strips of carrot
  • Roasted broccoli florets
  • Any other soft foods that are served at family meals. Babies can typically eat the same food as the rest of the family, as long as there is not a lot of added sugar, oil or spices.

2. Fruits

  • Avocado slices
  • Sliced strawberries
  • Banana slices
  • Smashed blueberries (can be eaten with hands or spoon-fed)
  • Roasted apple wedges (thinly cut)
  • Thick mango slices
  • Ripe peach chunks or slices

3. Proteins

  • Scrambled eggs (one scrambled egg is typically sufficient)
  • Shredded meat like beef and chicken
  • Boneless fish
  • Hummus

4. Dairy

  • Plain yogurt (full fat)
  • Cottage, Ricotta, Swiss, or Mozzarella cheese

5. Grains

  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Oatmeal

At Ten to Twelve Months of Age

Once your baby starts developing the skills needed to eat certain foods easily, you can start introducing more and somewhat smaller foods. Continue to offer baby foods they like, but starting solids means venturing into new territories. If your child does not seem to care for mango at six months, try again at ten months. Taste changes, and as a baby learns to eat real food with more confidence, what they want to eat can change.

Also, consider finding recipe ideas to incorporate healthy foods into the baby’s diet. At about six months of age, the ability to absorb iron decreases, so starting to offer foods that are rich in iron can help combat that. Also, foods packed with vitamin C increase the body’s ability to absorb iron.

Cut Food and Whole Foods to Try

  • Roasted sweet potato wedges
  • Baked chicken, cut into small chunks
  • Grilled cheese sandwich cut into wedges
  • Deconstructed tacos
  • Pasta with Parmesan cheese
  • Melon slices

Foods to Stay Away From

Generally speaking, your baby can eat the same foods you do. However, there are exceptions. Baby led weaning foods need to be safe for the baby, and that means that some foods just do not make the cut, regardless of how much the rest of the family enjoys the foods.

how to start baby led weaning

1. Hot Dogs

Hot dogs are one of the biggest choking hazards for people, especially infants and toddlers. In fact, in children under the age of three, hot dogs are the biggest cause of choking. They are easy and quick to prepare and eat at a baseball game or cookout but keep these away from little ones until they pass the toddlerhood stage if you want to be safe.

2. Whole Nuts

Whole nuts are another major choking hazard for infants and toddlers. They are also one of the major allergen foods. While we will visit the topic of food allergies shortly, keep whole nuts off the menu when eating solids.

3. Raw Apple

Apples are one food that is a great choice when the baby starts self-feeding. However, never give babies raw apples since they can be hard for their age and absolutely a major choking hazard for them. Any apple that you serve to your infant should be cooked. Apples in their raw form should never be an option.

4. Cherry Tomatoes

The perfect size to lodge in the throat of a little one unless they are thinly sliced and the seeds are removed, cherry tomatoes are a danger to your little one. Much like grapes, which are another restricted food when served whole, they can easily become lodged in the throat, and due to their rounded and smooth shape, they are difficult to get out of a baby’s throat.

An Early Introduction to Food Allergens

Allergic reactions can be terrifying at any age, but it can be especially scary when you start baby-led weaning because you do not know which food they may react to or how sensitive they are to foods. If you have a family history or specific food allergies, you may want to pay close attention to your child’s reactions when those types of foods are introduced.

Should You Wait?

Many parents fear the idea or notion that their baby might be allergic to a certain food. It would be extremely helpful if all little ones came with a personal manual, and we could just refer to it when it came to such worries. However, since we can only determine what our kids are allergic to through careful exposure to allergens, many parents contemplate when the best time is to introduce their babies to certain allergen foods.

Research indicates that offering your baby common allergy foods, like cow’s milk and tree nuts, may reduce their chances of having food allergies. So allowing your baby to try foods like peanut butter or whole milk is not something that you need to wait on.

How to Introduce Allergens

You do not have to wait to give your child a taste of peanut butter, but you need to take certain precautions with foods that are known to cause issues with allergies.

For example, you can give your child something that has peanut butter in it, but you should not introduce your child to any brand new foods for the next few days to see if your child develops any reactions to the peanuts. Only serve foods your child has had several other times and had no adverse reactions to.

It is also a good idea to note any allergy foods that are in any recipe ideas you have when you cook foods you plan to serve to your baby. There may be whole milk or dairy, shellfish, tree nuts, nut butter, or other foods in the recipe, and unless you are thinking of the allergy factor for these recipes, you may be left scratching your head trying to figure out what caused the reaction if your child has one.

Always Ask an Expert

Opinions on baby-led weaning differ widely depending upon your pediatrician, family history, medical history of your baby, and your child’s development. Be sure to ask your child’s doctor about your child when it comes to allergies, foods, and when the right time is to introduce new things. You can also seek the help of a registered dietitian nutritionist to find out what the best foods are for your little one to help them get the most well-rounded diet once they reach the age of eating only solids. Also, ask what you should do in the case of a food allergy in your baby.

Get Support

There are many opinions that you will hear when raising a baby. Some people believe that it is best to only start with puree when introducing foods to your little one, while others swear baby led weaning foods are a great option. Whether your baby likes sweet potatoes from a jar of food you bought at the store or strips you cut yourself, a fed baby is best.

There are endless online and in-person support groups and expert information from nutritionists, pediatricians, and other parents out there that can help you stay confident in your decision to start baby-led weaning.

A quick online search for Facebook groups or other social media will yield many results. Also, there are books and references you can find at your local library that will give you everything from a step-by-step guide to baby-led weaning. Nutrition facts, personal stories of parents who did baby-led weaning, and even recipes can also be found at your local library.

Always reach out for help if you feel overwhelmed. Try to stay patient and confident. They only stay little for a while, and we all want to be perfect parents and caregivers. Just giving it your best effort and giving yourself a bit of grace will get you far when feeding an infant, especially if you choose baby-led weaning.

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