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The Benefits Of Baby-Led Weaning Are Worth The Effort

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Have you heard of baby-led weaning (BLW)? The formal term is given to the practice of skipping purees for baby and going straight to "real" food they can feed themselves. Personally, the idea of skipping the pureed stage and offering my six-month-old baby finger foods sounded terrifying.

My brother and his wife chose this technique with both their babies and I was pleasantly surprised to see their six-month-old eating grapes, watermelon slices and cubes of cheese. I have to say the gagging scared me to death, but the babies were able to work through it and break their food down with only a quick scoop of food from their mouth.

Pros of baby-led weaning
While baby-led weaning has been around for a while, it seems the practice is becoming more mainstream as parents look to build independence in their children, widen exposure to a variety of foods and encourage babies to eat the same food as the rest of the family. It's believed that if a baby is exposed to a variety of foods and textures as early as six months, they will develop a palate for different food and become less picky as they grow up.

Pros of feeding purees
There are also benefits to offering purees first. A lot of parents worry about choking, which is a bigger risk when working with solid finger foods. Purees give your baby the chance to learn how to chew and swallow, progressing gently as you add texture to their meals. It's also easier to ensure baby is getting good sources of iron when you can offer them pureed meats or fortified baby cereals.

Are you (and baby) ready?
I believe that babies should enjoy finger foods as soon as they are ready. If that's at six months, and you and baby feel confident, then great! Better to see a baby experiment with finger foods than have a toddler who refuses texture and exists solely on purees.

If you are interested in incorporating baby-led weaning, here are a few tips. You can also combine the methods by offering purees (such as high-iron pureed meats and cereals) alongside chopped fruits, veggies or grains as finger foods.

Tips for baby-led weaning

Choking: Remember that choking is not the same as gagging. Gagging is a normal part of learning how to eat; if they are choking, they will not be making any noise. Obviously, stay with your baby while they eat so you can monitor them. Don't offer round items that they may choke on, and refrain from putting solid foods in their mouth, as this can be dangerous.

Allergies: If you are feeding baby what you are eating, they will likely be getting mixed meals right from the start. Especially if your family has a history of allergies, remember to introduce one new food every three days.

Amount: In a sense, all methods of introducing solids should be baby-led -- whether purees or solids, baby should always take the lead as to the amount they wish to eat. Don't worry if it's not much; breast milk or formula with still be their main source of nutrition. Don't "top up" with purees unless you get the sense that baby is frustrated, trying to feed and really is hungry. They know their appetite best and will eat as appropriate.

Suggestions for baby-led first foods

Here are some suggestions for baby-led first foods:

- Thawed frozen vegetables (like peas, corn, carrots)
- Pieces of banana or other fruit that are large enough to grip and bite, or small enough to pick up with more advanced fingers and not choke
- Beans and legumes
- Chopped eggs and pieces of fish
- Slow-cooked meats that are very tender, like ground meat and cut-up meatballs, provide great sources of iron. You can even let baby chew on a tender pork rib!
- Your baby will likely find it difficult to grasp slippery foods such as avocado and banana. Try coating these with wheat germ or baby cereal to make them easier to handle.

How do you feel about trying baby-led weaning with your baby? While it may not be 100 per cent of the time, using some of these ideas in your routine can be worthwhile. And while it may sound new and scary, the biggest bonus is that you won't have to make a separate meal just for baby anymore.

Everyone eats the same food... sounds nice to me. Happy feeding!

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