I’ve never bought a jar of baby food.  I have never pureed food simply to feed it to my baby either.

While this is a bit different from the typical way to lead babies to solids, it has worked great for us!

When my oldest was just little, like many other moms, I read up on how and when to introduce solids to my baby.  I discovered that, despite what many pediatricians tell you, the CDC recommends waiting for your baby to be about six months old before giving them anything other than breast milk or formula.  In fact, it’s not really about age, it’s about these three factors (again, taken straight from the CDC):

  1.  Your baby can sit up unsupported (no slumping in a high chair!)
  2. Your baby has good head and neck control.
  3. Your baby is acting interested in food.

The main reason for this recommendation is that your baby’s gut lining has not matured enough to properly handle solid foods until six months.  Interestingly, your the gut lining closes up about the same time a child can sit up unsupported!

What about those iron-fortified cereals that Aunt Sally recommends adding to a bottle at night are more effective at feeding E. coli in the gut than increasing your baby’s iron stores.  And they won’t actually help Baby sleep through the night.

So, let’s say you do wait until your child is sitting up unsupported and actually interested in your food, trying to grab it from your plate while sitting on your lap?  What do you feed them?

You have options!  Both of my girls started with banana, and Budrow Wilson’s first food was avocado.  Both of these were soft, easy to pick up (if a little slippery), and nutrient dense.  Other great options are roasted winter squash or sweet potato (cut into sticks so one end can be held by a little fist while the other is gnawed on), chopped sautéed spinach (mixed with breast milk if you wish), or very finely diced tender chicken.  If you can squish the food between your thumb and finger, it’s soft enough for little toothless gums to chew.  Watch Bella Bean eat her very first food – a banana – in the video clip!

In fact, with a little forethought to reduce the salt in your food (and don’t we all need that anyways?), you can pretty much feed your little one whatever you’re eating!  Spaghetti all over the face is a classic. On nights that we have taco salad, I would give the baby some rice, beans, seasoned ground beef, and avocado and let him try all of it.  Herbs and spices (not including salt) are all great for your baby to try!  And once your child develops a pincer grasp, between 8-12 months of age, they’ll be able to pick up smaller foods like peas, blueberries, and grape halves.

On a practical level, one of the best things about baby-led weaning is that the pressure is off of you to get the baby fed.  Put food on his tray, let him play, and maybe some of it will end up in his mouth.  If it doesn’t, that’s okay, because milk is still his primary source of nutrition.  And I’ve found that my children have a broader taste palette now, and I attribute that at least in part to the variety of tastes and textures they were introduced to through this style of infant feeding.

Of course, there’s nothing saying your baby can’t eat mashed foods.  After all, mashed is just another texture to explore!  Often for adults, we thin out mashed foods with dairy or broth.  While (sodium-free) broth or stock is fine for babies, they really aren’t ready for dairy yet.  Use a splash or two of breastmilk instead!  Tip:  Think about the baby spoons you typically see.  They often have a really long handle, right?  This is because they’re designed for you to feed your baby with it, not for your baby to feed himself.  If you’re planning to baby-led wean, long-handled spoons won’t be very useful. Look for spoons with shorter handles, such as these.

One thing to be aware of:  when you first see a baby trying baby led weaning, it may look like the child is choking sometimes.  He’s not!  If his gag reflex kicks in, that’s actually a good thing that protects your child.  Don’t stick your finger in and try to fish the food out.  You’re more likely to accidentally push the food back further in his throat than to actually remove it this way.

Your child may put a food in his or her mouth, squish it around for a little while, then spit it back out.  That’s okay.  As they say, food before one is just for fun.

I hope this post gives you an idea of the possibilities there are surrounding introducing your baby to solid foods.  A fantastic resource detailing what to expect using this feeding method is a book called Baby Led Weaning (For the record, the word weaning is meant in the British sense in this book title, so weaning simply means introduction to solid foods, not removing breastmilk from a child’s diet).

The links to the book and the spoons are indeed affiliate links through Amazon, but again, I added them because these things will actually be useful to you.  I read through the Baby Led Weaning book when I was preparing to feed my own little ones solids, and it gave me great ideas for foods to try and things to watch out for.  And I’ll admit, I never used those specific spoons, but I wish I had!  I don’t think they existed when General Leia was a baby.

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