“Weaning” is the process of introducing solid foods to your baby. “Baby-led weaning” is when you skip the purées and go straight to “real,” or finger foods. Baby feeds him or herself. My second child wasn’t very interested in purées, so we mostly followed baby-led weaning with her. Although I don’t really like to label it – I was busy and it was much easier to offer whole foods, and she preferred to eat them!
I don’t like the term “baby-led” weaning – as I think ALL methods of introducing solids can be baby-led. Even if you are feeding your baby puréed food from a spoon, you can (and should!) still follow their lead. Watching for their signs of hunger and fullness, and letting them guide the amount they want to eat.
I do love the concept of introducing finger foods as soon as your baby is ready. If that’s 6 months – fine! I’d rather see a baby eating finger foods, than a toddler that still refuses to eat texture and exists on all purées. However, I do still think there is benefit in offering purées before finger foods.
A lot of parents are worried about choking, and of course there is a bigger risk with solids vs. purées. It gives the baby more of a chance to learn how to chew and swallow, progressing more gently through adding in texture. Also, it is much easier to ensure your baby is getting good sources of iron when you can offer them puréed meats (and/or fortified infant cereals).
There are a few tips to deal with these issues, if you exclusively follow baby-led weaning. Also know, that you don’t have to follow either method of introducing solids 100% – you can offer the puréed meats for iron, along with some fruits, veggies and grains as finger foods!
Choking: Don’t offer round items that baby may choke on: raw hard pieces of vegetables and fruit (can be grated) whole grapes or cherries, popcorn, whole nuts and seeds, wieners. But know that gagging is not the same thing as choking – it’s a normal part of learning how to eat.
Obviously, stay with your baby while they eat, so you can monitor them. Because if they are choking, they will not be making any noise! And take an infant CPR class; it is a good skill to have. Also, don’t put solid foods into your baby’s mouth – this can be dangerous.
Iron: Beans and legumes make great finger food. Chopped eggs and pieces of fish. Slow-cooked ribs or meat that are very tender or ground meat like cut-up meatballs offer great sources of iron. Or let baby chew on a tender pork rib!
Allergies: As you most often feed baby what you are eating, they may be getting mixed meals right away. It's recommended to introduce all allergens soon after starting solids. For high-risk babies, you can check with your doctor to see if testing is recommended first.
Amount: Offer small amounts. Baby leads as to amount he/she will eat. Don’t worry if it’s not much, milk is still their main source of nutrition. Don’t “top up” with purées because you think your baby hasn’t eaten enough. Unless you think they are frustrated trying to feed themselves, and really are hungry! They know their appetite best.
Food Ideas: Frozen thawed vegetables (peas, corn, carrots), a banana or pieces of fruit (either large enough to grip and bite, or small enough to pick up with more advanced fingers and not choke). Can coat “slippery” food in infant cereal, wheat germ to make them easier to handle. Spoon foods like applesauce and yogurt and oatmeal can be offered with the spoon. A main premise (and big benefit!) of baby-led weaning is to feed the baby family meals, so you don’t have to go to a lot of effort to make separate “baby food.”