Starting your child on solids? Sarah Liddy has the lowdown on the self-feeding approach.
Baby-led weaning (BLW), sometimes called self-feeding, means letting your baby choose finger foods right from the beginning of the weaning process, rather than starting with purées. The idea is that you offer your baby a selection of nutritious foods in a manageable size and they will choose the things they want themselves. There’s no need for purées, bowls or spoons. Just put the food on the high chair tray – and be prepared for the mess!
Advocates of this method claim it promotes dexterity and hand-to-mouth skills, and a recent study by psychologists at the University of Nottingham has shown that babies who are weaned using solid finger food are more likely to develop healthier food preferences and are less likely to become overweight as children than those who are spoon-fed puréed food.
The downside is that it is very messy, and there is also a lot of waste. Some foods, such as red meat, can be hard for babies to chew, so if you follow this method, keep an eye on your child’s iron intake after six months. I found that I naturally incorporated more of this method with my second child, as she wanted to try things from her sister’s plate at mealtimes.
If you decide to give it a try, here are a few tips
- Even if your baby rejects a particular food initially, try it again at a later date.
- Let your child decide how much they want to eat – don’t worry if it doesn’t seem like much to begin with – they are still getting plenty of nutrition from their milk.
- Offer sips of water at mealtimes.
- Allow plenty of time for meals – babies can’t be rushed!
- Dietitians advise that babies should try a range of textures, so mushy foods are important too. You might want to offer food such as porridge with a spoon.
Foods to try
Foods that can be cut into chip-size sticks are the easiest for babies to manage. For example:
- Soft fruits, eg, banana, mango, berries, peaches or pears
- Vegetables, eg, avocado, steamed carrots, broccoli, butternut squash or sweet potato
- Meat, cut into graspable pieces or formed into little meatballs
- Well-cooked eggs
- Bread, raisin toast, thick pancakes
- Fish (try making fishcakes with mashed potato)
Foods to avoid
- Anything with added salt or sugar (check labels on products like baked beans, packet gravy, fromage frais, etc)
- Undercooked eggs
There are plenty of books available if you want to know more about baby-led weaning. Check out Gill Rapley’s Baby-Led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food, the original book on the subject, or for a more flexible approach, try Nikki Duffy’s River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook.