Have you heard of baby-led solids? Basically, it means skipping purées and baby cereals and moving straight into “real” foods cut into large chunks that baby can easily grasp and gnaw on. Putting food into the baby’s mouth for them (i.e. spoon feeding) is avoided. The thought behind it is that a baby isn’t ready for food until she can put it into her mouth herself. It puts Stella in charge of whether she eats or not, and how much.
My plan had always been to make my own baby food purées and I had lots of yummy combination ideas I wanted to try out! But, after researching baby-led solids, I changed my mind about purées and decided that doing a baby-led approach is what would be best for Stella. Here are a few reasons why we enjoy this approach:
1. Stella is in control of what goes into her mouth.
2. I feel more comfortable with her learning to chew and maneuver food while her gag reflex is still closer to the front of her mouth. The gag reflex is what protects us from choking and it moves further back on the tongue as a baby grows.
3. We believe that “food before one is just for fun.” WHO, AAP, CDC, and probably other organizations that I don’t know of, recommend that baby’s primary nutrition through the first year of life is breast milk. Right now, giving food to Stella serves only as an introduction to various flavors, smells, and textures of food….not nutrition. By letting her feed herself, I can be sure I’m not making her eat too much of the “fun” stuff (not a lot of the food actually makes it into her mouth!) and that her main source of nutrition is still breast milk. I can also feel confident that she is gaining experience with and understanding of real food.
4. It’s fun! We love watching Stella figure out new foods that we introduce to her and she always gets excited about eating. It has also been exciting to watch her progress. She started out by mostly squishing, poking at, and smearing the food around her tray, but as she has gained more experience and watched us eat, she now actually puts the food in her mouth intentionally.
5. It’s less work. I would be lying if I told you this wasn’t a motivator for us to do baby-led solids! We eat lots of fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean meats, so we almost always have something with our meal that Stella can have, too. I don’t have to prepare something different for her than what I’m already preparing for us.
So, are there any drawbacks? Well, let’s face it…handing your baby half of a banana, a couple of slices of avocado, or a pear doesn’t always end without a mess. Actually, it never does 🙂 Baby-led solids is MESSY and, understandably, that can be enough reason for some parents to choose a different approach. I don’t mind the mess, because I believe that exploring the textures of food (i.e. getting messy!) is an important part of the process of learning about food. But, if the idea of wiping banana out of your baby’s hair and ears and armpits (and, and, and…), then, baby-led solids probably isn’t for you. It’s not always that messy, but it definitely can be.
What about choking!? This is the most common question people ask me when I tell them about baby-led solids. I worry about it, too (then again, I worry about everything), but I worry less about it now than I did in the beginning. It’s important to understand that gagging is different from choking. Gagging is good. Choking is bad. Like I mentioned earlier, gagging is what protects us from choking on our food, so if a baby is gagging, it means she is working through it. If a baby is choking, she will not be able to make noise and may start to turn blue. Stella has gagged on her food several times (and, yes, I was scared and started to take action before realizing she was working through it on her own), but she has never actually choked on anything.
This article about baby-led solids has really great information about why introducing food in this manner isn’t a cause for increased concern of choking (see the section labeled “Won’t he choke?”). I would recommend reading the entire article if you’re considering trying the approach. You should also discuss it with your baby’s doctor.
I don’t follow baby-led solids as whole-heartedly as some parents do. For example, once in a while, I will give Stella bites of food off of my spoon or give her a piece of food with my fingers, but I always let her come to the food rather than putting the food into her mouth myself. For the most part, we let her feed herself.
This is not an “all or nothing” approach. You can adapt it to work for your family. If the idea of a mess makes you squirm or you’re concerned about choking but are still interested in baby-led solids, then I would recommend just starting out with something that’s within your comfort zone. If choking is your worry, then an overripe banana is a good option. If the potential mess is holding you back, then try baked sweet potato fries.
Understandably, not all parents are comfortable with a baby-led approach to solids. What do you think about it? Is it something you would try?