As a pediatric nurse, I was trained a very specific way to introduce solids to a baby.
At 4-6 months of age, or whenever developmentally appropriate, offer rice cereal with a spoon to your baby. Then work up to pureed foods, and finally meats (or iron rich foods) at 9 months.
Things have changed!
Although many pediatricians will still follow this sequence, many parents do not.
Baby led weaning is the practice of letting a baby have size appropriate bites of what you are eating, and to let them feed themselves with their hands. Also, this does not usually happen until after six months of exclusive breastfeeding.
According to the website Baby Led Weaning, a distinction is made between weaning in British and American English:
In the UK, ‘weaning’ means ‘adding complementary foods’, whereas in the States it means ‘giving up breastfeeding’.
It is important to keep this in mind as an American nurse, because I really do regard weaning as the ending of breastfeeding. However, I really like the idea that a baby is beginning to “wean” when starting solids, even though they may continue to breastfeed for years after this point.
When Is My Baby Developmentally Appropriate?
I have always taught new moms that there are a few cardinal signs of when your baby is ready for solids:
They show interest when you are eating; they follow your food from your plate to your mouth with their eyes.
They can sit up unsupported in a high chair, and stay there for the duration of a meal.
They can bring their hands to their mouth (for the most part) to feed themselves.
Most importantly: they have lost their tongue-thrust reflex. This means that when you look at them, the tongue is in the mouth behind the gum line, not sticking out past the lips. This is an important indicator of being able to swallow correctly.
These four things are important for any way you choose to feed your baby solids, but especially for babies that will be, in essence, feeding themselves.
Why the change?
I saw this method take hold after the great arsenic scare with rice cereal. At the time, people began to question cereals in the first place, and parents that wished to skip that step were sharing practices of other cultures.
Also, many parents making purees realized that by softening the vegetables they would have pureed, and babies were given something to hold onto and chew on their own. Some experts argue that a baby achieves other milestones independently and feeding themselves should be one of the milestones.
Parents have several choices when it comes to feeding their babies. I cannot determine at this time if this trend is a fad or here to last, but I have to admit, I love seeing Facebook posts from parents discussing the wide range of food their babies are eating due to baby-lead weaning. And, I cannot help but think logically about this concept, and that it may discourage picky eating and let the baby control portion sizes, which may lead to a reduction in childhood obesity over time.