Baby Led Weaning

BABY LED WEANING: WHAT IS IT?

Starting at around 6 months (or later depending on the child), the baby joins in during mealtimes with him (will alternate gender throughout post) own table/finger foods that he may or may not eat at first.  The point in the beginning is for the child to explore his food.  He may get a taste, but he is still getting the main source of his nutrition from formula or breast milk.  The concept with baby led weaning is exactly as it sounds – the baby feeds himself and is in control of what he eats and how much.  You are taking the cues from your child, not force feeding your child what is on the spoon.  Your child determines how much he eats from table foods and how much formula and breastfeeding he gets.  It is recommended to give your child some breast milk or formula before meal times so that he gets the majority of his nutrition from those sources first.  As your child grows older, he will determine what this balance is.  For example, my 1 year old takes less breast milk when he knows meal time is coming.  He usually drinks the most breast milk at night before bed.

BABY LED WEANING: WHY DO IT?

There are many benefits to baby led weaning, especially for children with Down syndrome (see Resources to see the Baby Led Weaning book, which is a great source and must read for mothers doing Baby Led Weaning independently who want further guidance):

  1. Helps teach our children to self-moderate and be in control of what they eat and how much.  When children are spoon fed, they are less aware of their hunger cues and when they are full.  This is an important lesson to teach at a young age as people with Down syndrome tend to have a lower metabolism than typical.  I read somewhere that it can be as low as 10% less, probably partly due to lower muscle tone, which is why it is also important to keep our children active as well as eating healthy.
  2. It is also possible that children who are in control of what they eat will be less “picky” eaters.  By exposing your child to a variety of age appropriate foods early on, she will enjoy mealtimes versus the battle of being spoon fed.  Plus, the different flavors of her meals will be more pleasant because table foods tend to be much more flavorful than pureed baby foods.  This encourages babies to be more adventurous and have a more diverse palette.  Babies who are breastfed also will likely adjust well to baby led weaning as they are already used to the diverse tastes of their mother’s breast milk.
  3. Food is a great motivator to help strengthen and develop those gross and fine motor skills.  Babies with down syndrome tend to have lower tone, and they sometimes keep their arms at their sides because they have to work harder against gravity to lift their arms and bring their hands to their mouths.  This work is much more rewarding if they are bringing a tasty morsel to their lips!
  4. Sometimes, if children with Down syndrome get used to being spoon fed all the time, they expect to be spoon fed even when they are much older.  It is much easier to help them be independent if you start when they are young.  Even if you do spoon feed soups, you can give your child steamed vegetables and cut up fruit that they self feed before or after you spoon feed the soup.  You can also give them a child safe fork with meats/diced vegetables on the fork that they can feed themselves while you spoon feed them the broth of the soup.
  5. Especially in the beginning, your child will explore different textures by playing with their food.  This will help her explore her environment, which is both physically and mentally stimulating.
  6. By self feeding appropriate sized food, your child will experiment with what they feel like in her mouth, including how she moves that piece of food around in her mouth.  This teaches them how to safely feed themselves.
  7. By biting and chewing table foods, your child will exercise the muscles in the mouth, which can also help develop the same muscles needed for speech.
  8. Since your child will want to eat what you are eating, this motivates you to eat healthier too!
  9. It tends to be cheaper and easier to do as there is no baby food to buy or separate pureeing of foods.  Plus, you can eat your meal while your child is having theirs (unless you are feeding your child soup that needs to be spoon fed).

HOW DO I GET STARTED?

If your child is 6 months or older and showing an interest in eating foods (watching you eat and sucking on her hands during meal times), then she may be ready to start with baby led weaning.  Start off slow with maybe one meal in the high chair a day.  You can give her broccoli, sweet potato wedges or steamed carrots that are long enough to hold in her hand but short enough so that an inch or two sticks out so she can easily take a bite.  Remember that in the beginning, the main purpose is for the baby to play with the food and have a taste, but the majority of nutrients and calories will still come from breastmilk or formula.

To start off with, you may want to begin with a feeder and put some avocado or bananas in it.  For a mesh feeder, you can try this one out (click here to view).  For a silicone feeder, I’ve tried out a couple.  The Boon feeder is a little heavy and has one large handle (click to view).  The Kidsme feeder is lighter, comes in several sizes and has 2 smaller handles to hold (click to view the Kidsme large size).  If your child finds it difficult to hold heavy items, I would try the Kidsme.  If your child finds it easier to grasp one handle versus 2 smaller handles, I would go with the Boon.   For Luke, I wish there was a Kidsme with just one handle as Luke liked to hold the single handle of the Boon feeder more but then couldn’t bring it easily to his mouth due to the weight.  He could bring the Kidsme feeder to his mouth more easily but would lose grasp of it more easily.  There is an XL size Kidsme feeder that has a circular hole handle, which still doesn’t seem ideal to me as a spoon like handle would be more natural in my opinion.  I haven’t tried this one out as Luke has outgrown the feeder stage, but let me know how you like it if you do get it (click here to view the Kidsme XL size).

As your child gets older and is wanting more volume of foods, you can try pretty much anything that isn’t a choking hazard (nuts, popcorn, etc.).  Also avoid anything fried, salty and sugary for nutritious reasons.  For example, a one year old shouldn’t take in more than 1mg of sodium.  Luke likes Trader Joes Gluten Free waffles (not crumbly like other kinds with a nice texture), Udis gluten free bagel, Cheerios, yogurt, fruit for breakfast.  For lunch/snack, he will have a salt free rice cake with black bean dip or hummus, avocados, Glutino Vegetable crackers (gluten free), turkey, ham, steamed carrots, fruit and sometimes I feed him some chicken avocado soup or Greek lemon soup (see recipes here).  For dinner, I sometimes give him brown rice (when younger I read that sometimes to limit whole grain bread and rice because it is filling and makes baby feel full and take less formula or milk than they need), steamed diced sweet potatoes, rotisserie chicken (salt free), turkey meatballs (recipe to come), gluten free pastas, soups/meats similar to those suggested for lunch, steamed broccoli or carrots or asparagus, and fruit.  His favorite fruit are pears, tangerines, watermelon and bananas.

Do not leave your child unattended while he or she is eating.  Luke has made a gagging sound sometimes when eating as he’s moving food around in his mouth.  Although this is normal, do not hesitate to remove food from your child’s mouth.  If Luke makes a gagging sound, I look into his mouth and if I see a piece I don’t like, I take it out.  It doesn’t hurt to do a sweep of the mouth after mealtime is over.  Luke has a high palette so food can sometimes get stuck up there, so it’s a good idea to make sure your child’s mouth is clear of any food before you pick him up.

If you find your child is not bringing his hands to his mouth, make sure he has the proper support in his high chair.  Next month I will be posting pictures on suggestions on how to make a high chair insert so that your child has the proper support while feeding.  You can also use rolled up towels or thin baby blankets to help support under your child’s arms.

For steaming vegetables, I like using the Baby Bullet Steamer (click to view on Amazon but you can also get at Babies R Us).  It’s small and simple to use.  If you follow the directions, just remember that you may want to cut the steaming time down a tad since the purpose is to steam it enough for the baby to take a bite easily, not to puree the food.  You can also buy a microwave steamer like the Nordic Ware Multipot (click to view), which has more versatility and more space to steam foods.  I like both for their ease of use and how quickly they get the job done.

BOTTLE WEANING

For weaning off the bottle, many people recommend staying away from sippy cups and to use straw cups instead.  The Playtex Lil Gripper Straw Cup 7 oz. (click to view) is a great cup to start with.  You can squeeze the bottle in this cup to get liquid into the straw to make it easier to teach your child to drink from it.  Make sure you get the 7 oz. cup with 2 handles that have 3 little oval grippers on each side of the handle.  So take a close look of the picture/cup before you buy it.  The 6 oz. cups tend to leak and you can’t press it to get liquid in the straw.  Place a finger on his chin to help him close his lips around the straw, then when his lips are around the straw, give it a little squeeze.  Luke drank from this cup on his first try!  But don’t be disheartened if it takes a little while.  Luke was a year old when he did it.  We had previously been using the honey bear straw cup (click to view) with a valve that keeps the liquid in the straw and a lip blocker to stop from chewing on the straw, but with little luck.  But for Luke, I think the straw in the Playtex cup made it easier for him to suck up the liquid and drink from the cup.  For “grown up” cups, the Reflo cup (click to view) is helpful for learning how to drink straight from the cup and has a no-spill lid.  You can also try the cut out cups, which has a half-circle cutout at the rim so that you don’t have to tilt the cup back so far to get a sip.  We have yet to try either, although I did buy the Reflo cup to use when Luke has graduated from the straw cups.  As the Reflo cups don’t have a handle on it, I don’t think Luke is going to be using it any time soon.

I will post a few videos of Luke doing baby led weaning in his high chair once I can find out a way to post videos without having to pay for the upgraded service.  In my next feeding post, I will talk more about eating gluten free and why we do it.

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