The milestones of childhood are regarded as monumental events — from the first time Baby rolls over, to the first step and first word. And then there’s the first time Baby tries solid food.
When I had my first child, I enthusiastically embraced the milestone of his first time trying solid food. He had been breastfed since birth; I knew nothing of gut health or allergies. I just knew that my mom and aunts and cousins had all given their babies purées of some kind. And I knew they all did it around 4-5 months old.
I knew I wanted my baby to be healthy; that’s why I fought so hard to breastfeed.
Related: 10 Reasons to Love Baby-Led Solids!
Someone had given me a baby food mill for making purées at home, and I liked the idea of freshly made baby food, so I set out to make my own.
I bought some sweet potatoes, carrots, and bananas. I put the bananas straight through the mill, producing a perfectly smooth purée, and did the same with the sweet potatoes and carrots after they were steamed. I waited until the mush had cooled and spooned it lovingly into little containers to keep it fresh until it was needed.
I then sat my baby down in his little chair, put on his bib, retrieved the tiny spoon, got the camera, and fed him some mush.
He was hesitant. It wasn’t breast milk, and it didn’t smell interesting. It didn’t really look appealing either.
I fed him a spoonful, and he sort of choked it down. I was determined. I fed him another spoonful, and he did the same thing — swallowed the mush, but didn’t seem enthused. It was cute to watch him eat, though, and he was interested in the experiment, so I kept going.
Soon enough, he wouldn’t take another spoonful. Then he promptly barfed.
He threw up everything he’d just eaten. He cried about it. I felt awful.
I also felt like it was a sign he wasn’t ready for solid food.
I am grateful for my intuition. It felt wrong to watch him choke down bland purées, despite how cute it was initially. It of course felt wrong to witness him vomit after eating.
These feelings prompted me to look into it more. I found stories online of moms like me, moms who had tried to offer their baby food, only to have it rejected or, later, ejected.
That’s how I discovered the concept of baby-led weaning.
Western culture in particular is enamored with jarred baby food; the convenience often outweighs the importance of nutrition. Unfortunately, conventional baby food products are not particularly healthy. In fact, they are practically devoid of nutrition.
In order to be shelf-stable, baby food must be cooked and processed so that it is mostly fiber with very little bioavailable nutrients. The commonly used rice cereal options are even worse. Toddler snacks, puff, bars, and crackers have the same problem, but with added sugar. In fact, there is no research supporting purées — canned or homemade — as a healthy or even necessary way to feed babies.
If the way we feed our kids throughout childhood programs their tastebuds for the day they start cooking for themselves later in life, sticking to the conventional jarred and packaged food products ensures a generation of kids addicted to junk food.
But that approach is not the only way.
Baby-led weaning is a philosophy which encourages parents to skip the purées and give kids nutrient-dense, age-appropriate solid foods. Baby-led weaning allows babies to feed themselves using their pincer grasp, or utensils when they are ready. Rather than cooking or mashing food specifically for baby, baby gets to eat what everyone else is eating — as long as none of the typical allergens are present. It is also important to make sure the food does not present a choking hazard.
Baby-led weaning means that baby eats what the rest of the family eats. No jars of processed food, no mashing, no mush, no spooning empty calories into baby’s mouth. Just real food.
These are the top three reasons to try baby-led weaning:
1. It’s healthier.
Baby-led weaning provides babies with more nutrients than conventional baby food, and the philosophy encourages parents to wait until baby is at least six months old. Recent research shows that gut health is crucial to overall health. One way to support lifelong gut health is waiting until baby is at least six months old before starting solids.
Exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months is “protective” of baby’s health, and waiting to introduce solids help protect the sensitive digestive system. Poor gut health is linked to multiple health issues, including cancer, autoimmune disorders, and mental health issues.
Baby-led weaning naturally supports good gut health.
2. It’s easier.
Being a new mom isn’t easy, and who needs more work to do? Making your own baby food is time-consuming. But as long as the food you cook is healthy, whole food, it is perfect for your baby.
Simple fresh fruit, fresh or steamed vegetables, and eventually protein like meat, eggs, beans, and nuts are good options. The following foods trigger the vast majority of allergic reactions, so proceed with caution or ask your doctor if you have reason for concern: milk, wheat, eggs, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, and seafood.
3. It’s cheaper.
Conventional canned and packaged baby food products are expensive. Some of the newer pouch options are over a dollar per pouch, even if they are made solely from a cheap ingredient like bananas. Keep your diet simple and healthy, and your baby’s will be too.
If you have a baby who is over six months old, look for these signs of readiness before starting solids:
- Ability to sit unassisted
- Pincer grasp is developing
- Tongue-thrust reflex does not push food back out
- Ability to chew and swallow
- Imitates eating, chewing, lip-smacking
- Shows interest in food.
I waited for the above signs when I took this new approach to starting first foods with my second child. My second baby was interested in food before he was six months old, as many babies are. This alone is not a sign that they are ready to eat solid foods; most babies will show interest by four months old, because they are naturally curious about what adults do, and they start to mimic.
Knowing this, I continued to wait until he was over six months old, and then I sat back and enjoyed the sight of him devouring a wide variety of foods.
My baby would eat anything I ate, including plenty of fruit as well as green beans, broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, zucchini, kale, spinach, romaine, beans, and various squashes. He began to smell food as I cooked it, and he would holler at me from the kitchen floor until I picked him up and fed him. My baby ate beans, rice, chicken, steak, pork chops, bacon, fish, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, pickles, olives, and lots of Indian food.
I added seasoning and spices to my food, but avoided salt because too much sodium is bad for babies. I’d push some food aside for him on my plate, then add salt and pepper to mine.
Both of my children are now healthy eaters with good appetites, and I credit that to the health empowerment that comes with baby-led weaning.