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The Easiest Way To Start Baby Led Weaning

It wasn’t till my 3rd baby was born that I decided to try baby led weaning. I kind of stumbled on the idea by accident when I realized I had NO time to make baby food with 3 kids under 4, and we weren’t getting free baby food through WIC anymore.

Instead, I began with super soft foods in tiny amounts. After a while, I began chewing little bits of whatever we were eating at meals and letting my baby try that. Fruits, soups, chewed up bits of meat in tiny amounts…he loved the flavors and ate it all.

It was the easiest thing and I’ll for sure be doing it with my next baby who’s almost ready for solids! Let me show you what it looked like, how simple baby led weaning is, and what some of the best foods are to get in lots of nutrition.

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a baby picking up baby led weaning foods from his highchair and bringing them to his mouth

What is baby led weaning?

Baby led weaning should really be called baby led feeding. The idea is that as your baby is ready for solids, you give them foods they can eat that they feed themselves!

What they can eat changes and grows as they get teeth and learn to swallow new textures.

No spoons required, and no jars of baby food to be made or bought (of course you can if you’d like)!

You don’t need to buy processed rice cereal to mix with milk.

It’s just so simple. Your baby eats what you eat, modified for them. Some things may need to be cut or softened. Or my style was more “pre-chewed” till my baby could do more chewing on his own. 😉

Signs your baby is ready to try solids

It’s now recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics to wait at least 6 months for babies to try solids. And the WHO recommends at least partially breastfeeding till the age of 2. So sometime within that timeline, your baby will be partially switching over to real food.

In addition to that, there are a few other signs that clue you in it’s ok to start trying food.

My 4th baby is 7 months old and is not showing signs he’s ready for anything but breastmilk yet. I’m a fan of not pushing food too early. Here’s what I’m looking for:

  • They reach for your food.
  • They seem interested in you eating.
  • Baby can bring something to his mouth to suck on.
  • They can sit on their own without tipping over.
  • Grunting every time they see you eating and not sharing.
  • You have tried putting something pre-chewed and tiny in their cheek and they are able to swallow it.

Baby led weaning starter foods

When your baby is brand new to food, think soft and squishy foods. What are small, nutrition packed foods you could give them? Here’s a few we like:

  • bananas
  • avacado
  • chewed up tiny pieces of meat (great for adding iron to their diet)
  • eggs
  • lentils or beans smushed
  • nut butters
  • oatmeal
  • yogurt
  • salmon
  • soft fruits and veggies

Soft fruits

Cut up bananas, chewed up pieces of apple, cut up strawberries, the list is long. It will depend on what your baby is able to mouth without gagging.

There’s no set age I’ve found as every baby seems ready on their own time sometime between 6-12 months.

Steamed veggies

We steamed broccoli, carrots, and fed him veggies in soups. When my son had 4 teeth I could give him little pieces of soft veggies and he could chew it or gum it.

But when he was first starting solid foods I chewed even soft veggies into mush before putting it in his mouth. I think that helped him learn to swallow with pretty much no incidents of choking/gagging.

Why you want some foods high in iron

While I didn’t know this as a first time mom, your baby’s iron reserves last till around 6 months. After that, they need to start getting more iron from food.

That’s one of the reasons why chewing up meat SUPER well can be one of the best first baby foods!

That’s also why you’ll see iron fortified rice cereal next to the baby food isle.

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a baby in a highchair eating gerber puffs and gerber lil crunchies, some of his favorite baby led weaning foods

Yes, you can introduce top allergen foods with baby led weaning

It’s now recommended to expose your babies to allergenic foods early and often! There’s no particular order to go in, just whatever you feel comfortable doing.

My pediatrician did say it’s helpful to them if you introduce ONE at a time, THREE days apart so that if an issue comes up, they’ll know what the last new thing was you introduced.

Top allergens:

  • nuts
  • eggs
  • soy
  • cow’s milk
  • fish
  • shellfish
  • wheat

Do babies need teeth for solids using the baby led weaning method?

This really surprised me, but no! The gums do a lot of the mashing. Even after babies get their first 4 little front teeth in, they aren’t crushing all their food with them. Molars do that, and they don’t get those for a while!

So even without teeth, babies can mush up a lot of foods in their mouth. If you’re nervous, just start with the softest nutritious foods you can find. Even purees are fine to start.

And then slowly start moving on to a new texture for them to play with.

How we have started solids differently with each of our 4 kids

Each baby has been different and I was a more confident mom with each. I had no idea I had even tried the method “baby led weaning” until reading about it… I think it’s a pretty natural and normal progression.

Kid 1:

I used rice cereal mixed with breast milk with him in hopes that he would sleep longer because I was SO SO tired and he was a huge baby waking up every 2 hours for like 6 months. But he wasn’t ready for even that, only wanted mamas milk, and his natural reflexes just made it so he pushed it out with his tongue every time.

We switched to Gerber fruit and vegetable purees later once he was interested (I can’t remember how old).  And eventually chunkier soft foods like sweet potato and avocados. We did not technically do “baby led weaning” here as I was feeding him purees with a spoon, rather than him feeding himself at a later time. But this worked really well for us, and allowed me to nurse a lot less during the day.

Kid 2:

She had no interest in pureed food. Or rice cereals. They just wouldn’t go down. She would turn her head away and spit it out.  So we breastfed until she was ready for the softer food we ate at the table, which she clued us in when she wanted them by grunting and pointing.

Her first food was really chewed up meat, which is a fabulous first food due to the decreasing amounts of iron carried in breastmilk.

Kid 3:

At first I just started offering him little flavor nibbles from my plate after he turned 6 months.  Like a tiny crumb of pancake with syrup or a tiny, tiny chewed up piece of my meat.

He would make a weird face like “what was that?!” After a while he learned how to swallow better and then I’d try a tad bigger chewed chunk. He ate what I ate, but chewed up.

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The easiest way to transition your baby to solid foods

Pre-chew whatever you are eating that you want your baby to eat. Eventually, you won’t have to do that and can set food right on their tray!

All the first foods we introduced were chewed up so that they could slide down a baby’s throat with a tiny bit of effort with little or no gagging at all.

At first, I’d just put a tiny bit in to see if it would stay in there and get swallowed.

I was so paranoid about choking that I made everything really small and very well chewed up.

Now prechewing regular table food isn’t pretty, but guess what? It made it so that my baby could eat other nutritious food like meat or vegetable soup I made without needing a blender and without worrying about choking.

And as my baby got better at swallowing, I started to put soft foods on his tray rather than chewing anything up. And no extra work for me! (I love that!).

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Your baby can eat most of what you eat, if you mush it up first

My babies get whatever we make for dinner and if needed I chew it up a bit and put it on his plate.

I just love that the rice, steamed broccoli, and chicken I eat can get chewed into little boluses for my baby. So much variety and nutrition with no extra work.

When they get a little older, small pieces can go right on their plate without pre-chewing!

But when in doubt about the texture, if you can mush it between your hands, it’s probably soft enough for them to mush between their gums.

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