I stumbled upon baby led weaning when my son was 4 months old. Being a rather unfamiliar method of weaning; the literature was sparse in the Indian context. In this post I’ll address some of the concerns Indian moms might have regarding first foods, choking, appropriate gear for baby led weaning, nutrition and much more.
As a child, I was a fussy eater and know firsthand how much I hated being cajoled into eating. This became the primary reason why I wanted my son to be in control of how much he wanted to eat.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby led weaning is a method of weaning where the baby is allowed to explore his/her food and self-feed from the age of 6 months. The baby controls how much he/she eats, dines with family and eats what the family eats.
The method seemed perfect in my setup – a nuclear family with a traveling husband. It would cut down on special food preparations and the idea of my kid becoming an independent eater was very appealing.
On a side note – I hold nothing against traditional weaning as long as your child isn’t force-fed and his/her hunger limits are respected. I believe that a basic respect of childs hunger cues is more important than the ongoing debate on the internet about pros and cons of traditional weaning versus baby led weaning.
Now lets address the two elephants in the room:
Choking is by far the biggest concern for any parent. It is important to note that a baby’s gag reflex is in the front of the mouth which prevents them from choking on food. Babies gag when they are not ready to swallow a big chunk of food.
When a baby chokes their entire airway is blocked, they go silent and may change color in face. Whereas in gagging they cough and look uncomfortable. Make sure never to offer high risk choking foods. Check that every food offered is soft enough to turn to mush between your thumb and forefinger.
A September 2016 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics found that baby-led weaning did not cause more choking than traditional spoon-feeding. (Fangupo et al., 2016).
I have provided an exhaustive list of foods that should be avoided below.
It is very important to understand the difference between choking and gagging. I found this article very helpful in understanding the difference between the two.
Iron becomes a hot topic of discussion in baby led weaning groups. Breastmilk stores of iron start to drop post 6 months therefore it is important to incorporate iron rich foods in your baby’s diet.
Examples of iron rich foods are: Cereals, lentils, legumes, chicken, red meat, egg yoke. Check the image below for a more detailed list.
If you have concerns about any specific nutrient deficiency you can consult with your pediatrician for supplementation.
What are the first foods for Baby Led Weaning?
As a guideline, cut all foods in long strips so it’s easier for baby to grasp in their tiny palms. Here are few examples of foods to offer a 6 to 9 month old:
- Ripened: Banana, Papaya, Mango, Sapota (Chikoo), Muskmelon, Avocado;
- Steamed: Apple, Pear, Pumpkin, Cauliflower & Brocolli Florets, Idli;
- Boiled: Dal, Potato, Sweet Potato, Egg Yolk
- Cooked: Chicken Liver, Oats, Ragi & Oats Pancake, Scrambled Egg Yolk.
Around 9-10 month old babies get better at eating due to development of pincer grasp. This is a good time to offer family food in sizes appropriate for pincer grasp.
Always start weaning by introducing one new food at a time and trying it for 3-5 days depending on allergy history of that food in your family.
Choking risk foods
I steered clear from offering any hard raw fruits like apples, pears, grapes etc. for more than a year of baby’s life. Also, I didn’t feel comfortable offering steamed carrots as they always felt to be not soft enough.
It is best to avoid,
- Whole Nuts
- Whole Seeds
- Hard raw fruits (e.g. Apples and Pears)
- Foods with thick peel (e.g. grapes, plums, tomatoes)
- Lotus Seeds (e.g. Makhane)
- Raw salad leaves
- Big chunks of meat
- Bony Fish
For a more detailed idea of what foods to avoid, I found this link by the New Zealand Ministry of Health very helpful. (Ministry of Health NZ, 2012)
Baby Led Weaning Essentials
One that is easy to clean. Expect a lot of mess with baby led weaning. So it’s best to have an easy to manage chair.
- I would recommend the Chicco Pocket Lunch High chair. We used this from the beginning of our BLW journey. It is easy to clean by spraying some water and wiping off. Once a week I pull out the cover and wash under hot water with some soap. The chair comes with a large tray so a lot of the mess stays on the tray itself.
- Another very popular option is the Ikea Antilop High chair. You can find similar designs to the Ikea Antilop in the Indian market on all the leading retail websites.
- I recommend Fisher Price Quick Clean N’ Go Booster. It’s cheap, lightweight, easy to clean, comes with a shoulder strap and has a built in wipes compartment. This makes this booster the ideal travel companion. Amazon always runs deals on this booster.
- My second recommendation is Mastela Deluxe Comfort Folding Booster Seat . Its also easy to clean and lightweight. Additionally it has a two level height adjustment which can be used for older toddlers (upto 30 months of age). The only con is that it doesn’t come with a shoulder strap so its inconvenient to use for travel.
A plastic spray bottle:
- To clean any leftover messes on the chair. Fill it with water and white vinegar (Ratio 3:1) or use an all-purpose disinfectant like Chicco Multipurpose Disinfectant.
- Buy plates and bowls with a suction bottom. Babies end up throwing the bowl on the floor and suction bottom is a real effort saver. These bowl and plate sets by Avanchy are very sturdy, made of bamboo wood with silicon headed spoons. The spoon is wonderful for those soft gums and also double up as a teether.
- There are varied types of cups available in the market. There will be a lot of trial and error and you have to figure out which one works best for your baby.
- My recommendations are; 1) Regular stainless steel cup: works from 6 months up, 2) Philips Avent Classic Soft Spout: 6-12 months, 3) Philips Avent Strawcup: 12 months up.
Crumb catching bibs:
- I absolutely love the Chicco Soft Bib With Crumbcatcher. It’s perfect for baby led weaning. We have two of these.
Other Points To Consider
One of the basic tenants of baby led weaning – “The baby eats what the family eats” is not without its caveats because not all families follow healthy diets. The food offered to the baby maybe heavily processed, devoid of nutrition and high in sodium. Parents need to be aware of their children’s nutritional needs and plan healthier family meals.
Most family foods can be modified for your baby by cutting out salt, sugar and reducing spice. An easy alternative is to steam the vegetables separately if you are making a spicy version for yourself.
Also baby requires more fat than adults; if you’re household follows a low-fat diet then consider adding a side of grated coconut chutney, ghee on chapattis/dal/rice or avocados just for baby.
A 6 to 9 month old baby is still mastering the pincer grasp making it difficult to properly eat a typical Indian meal. Start out with finger food versions of family meals and slowly ease into complete family meal as the pincer grasp improves.
Another point that comes up repeatedly is, explaining baby led weaning to the extended Indian family. Here you may have to hold your ground more than a few times. Once non-consenters see the baby eat on their own, they too are proud. Stay patient, its best not to get stressed. Ultimately only the parents are the best judge of what suits them and their baby.
Our Experience With Baby Led Weaning
The idea of a self feeding baby always appealed to me. There are videos online of 6 to 7 month old babies eating big chunks of meat off the bone, while its quite an attention getter – I wanted to proceed more gently.
What I loved about our experience with baby led weaning was the freedom from elaborate meal making for me and independence it offered my child from the onset. We introduced him to a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in the first year. And it is amazing watching just how quickly our little humans pick up all the skills. Baby led weaning and “no pressure tactics at the table” allowed him to be a great eater and a happier child.
To sum it up
- Feeding your child should focus on sharing in the joy of eating healthy and nutrient rich foods. Don’t worry too much about the rules!
- If your baby is having a difficult time with baby led weaning you can always try pre-loaded spoons or switch to traditional weaning.
Whatever ways you choose to wean you need to be respectful of your baby’s hunger. If they squirm and move their head side to side, spitting out what you feed, stop the session. Try again later. An unhappy baby at the table will never learn to associate food time with positive interactions. You have to be patient and let your child lead.
1] Fangupo, L., Heath, A., Williams, S., Erickson Williams, L., Morison, B., Fleming, E., Taylor, B., Wheeler, B. and Taylor, R. (2016). A Baby-Led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking. PEDIATRICS, 138(4), pp.e20160772-e20160772.
2] Baby Led Weaning: A Complete Guide to Choking & Gagging. (2014). [Blog] Baby Led Weaning Equipment. [Accessed 10 May 2017].
3] Ministry of Health NZ. (2012). Foods that pose a higher choking risk for children under five years. [Accessed 10 May 2017].[/box]
Disclaimer: This is a personal blog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and do not replace professional medical advice. Consult your paediatrician and nutritionist for any concerns you may have.
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