Baby-Led Solids. Say WHAT?

Dear Mamas,

My little girl is 5 1/2 months, and ’til recently she was on a mostly-breast-milk-with-occasional-formula-added diet. At our last well baby visit the pediatrician said I could offer solids, and recommended rice cereal as a starting point.

When she didn’t seem too interested, a friend of mine told me about “baby led solids”, which she described as letting the baby decide which solid foods she’d like to explore, starting with what the grown-ups are eating. No baby food required. I’ve never heard of this before … is it safe to try?

Delilah

Dear Delilah,

‘Baby led solids’ is a concept that’s fairly new, but here’s what we know.  The term comes from Britain, where they coined ‘baby led weaning’, which refers to the transition from breast/bottle feeding to solid foods.

The idea is that our traditional approach to introducing solids, starting with the infant cereals and moving on in a stepwise fashion to strained vegetables and fruits, and then to chunkier baby foods,  is all wrong because it sets kids up for limited appreciation of varied tastes and flavors.

Instead, we should offer babies who are ready to start solid foods (no earlier than 4 months and preferably as late as 6) the same foods the adults are eating, with the exception of  foods that aren’t safe.  Babies are attracted to a variety of flavors, and the theory is that if they’re offered a range of healthy choices they’ll develop a balanced diet.

Dr. Alan Greene, a big fan of this baby guided approach, has recently written a book called Feeding Baby Green. He says, “Right now it’s all about rules. Most of those are safety things like trying to avoid allergies. I propose throwing out most of those. I suggest eating eggs and peanuts and fish as early as 6 months. The things I don’t suggest are the the things you wouldn’t eat during pregnancy – unpasteurized soft cheese — or honey. From an allergy perspective everything is backwards right now. It’s good to introduce these foods while they are a baby. It’s good to introduce them to mixtures at the beginning, spices at the beginning.”

While this new approach is fairly radical in the baby care world, we don’t see a big downside — with a few caveats.

Obviously, heavily spiced food should be approached with caution. You may love Szechuan chicken from your favorite Chinese take-out, but offer baby a small taste before chopping up a serving. Fried foods, and those with high saturated fat content are just plain heart-unhealthy — no reason to go there.  Avoid sweets and baked goods for the same reason. No baby needs dessert before that first birthday cake.

Keep food pieces small and soft (always beware of choking risk), go slow, and you should be fine. IF signs of food allergy show up (irritation around the mouth, hives or rash on the skin) back off and think about which foods from the last several days might be the culprit. It may be a bit harder to pin down than on a traditional baby food diet, but you’ll figure it out.

Good luck, and what an adventure!

~the Mamas

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Ellen and Rachel are two old friends and “expert” mamas—one a pediatrician and one a family therapist—with fifty years of parenting experience between them.


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One response to “Baby-Led Solids. Say WHAT?”

  1. Miriam

    Hi there!

    Just read your note with great interest… I followed a ‘baby-led weaning’ approach to introduce solid food to my daughter, but only came across the theory by chance in a magazine article. And I’m so thrilled I did! It is simply one of the best parenting choices I have ever made, and if you’re open to a little mess, then I would encourage anyone thinking about it to give it a go.

    It has been so rewarding, joyful, fun and above all stress-free, and I now have a little girl who loves mealtimes, and is totally in control of her own eating. Which means we get to eat our food hot, and sit round the table as a family!

    If you want more information, there are a couple of really useful resources out there. One is an online guide available at http://www.babyled-weaning.com. It’s practical and informative, and I was asked to present a demonstration video for it with my little girl which was so much fun!

    The other is Gill Rapley’s book about BLW which is available to order from Amazon or other book stores.

    I hope those of you who try it have as much fun on this amazing adventure as we have!

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