There is so much information out there for new moms and even 2nd and 3rd (etc etc) moms & parents that it is overwhelming. Believe me, I am overwhelmed most days of the week. However, one topic that has been so much fun for me to dig into has been feeding my baby. The problem is that most doctors haven’t caught up with the latest research and most people don’t have access to a dietitian. Because of that, many people are not informed on the choices they have when it comes to feeding their baby. I wanted to help you in any way that I can since I personally am going through it. Baby-led weaning, starting solids and everything in between can be overwhelming but it doesn’t have to be. This is a post to help you get started with solids with your baby and hopefully make it fun in the process.
Note: No 2 babies or parents will have the same journey so please know if you choose to go a different route that is OKAY this is meant to just give you insight from a dietitian and mom on what we learned along the way and what has worked for us. If you ever have concerns please talk to your doctor and/or dietitian.
Our Baby-Led Weaning Journey
When I first had Connor the focus was all about getting him fed via breastmilk or formula. That alone was overwhelming and enough to focus on at first. That being said, I was chomping at the bit to learn when and how I was going to feed him actual real solid foods. While I am a dietitian, my focus has been on counseling and educating adults not necessarily infants and children. Since I love food I made sure to dig in deep and I want to share with you what I’ve learned along the way in case it helps you as well.
Disclaimer: this is not meant to be substituted for medical advice or treatment, please reach out to your dietitian and/or doctor should you have any issues or questions.
When I was going to school and learning about nutrition in the life cycle, we didn’t spend a whole lot of time on infant feeding. The little that we did touch on talked about how babies start solids between the ages of 4 and 6 months of age. We also were taught about how they needed “baby food” or purees and at the time being someone who didn’t have younger siblings and no plan on having kids any time soon it made sense. As you can see below, the timeline of when to feed solids to babies has been changing on and off for 100+ years. So to say we are confused is an understatement.
Fast forward to 2021 and as I’m reading up on how I’m going to feed my kid, the evidence is clear that babies 1. don’t need solids until 6 months of age and 2. can have normal food (i.e. not baby food) as soon as they are ready. This was pretty awesome for me to find out and honestly waiting til 6 months to start feeding him was mentally easier. Having a baby is a lot on the body but also on the mind, you are just getting into a groove at 4 months, and some sleep, so there is no need to add any extra stressor, in my opinion.
That all being said, we are now 3 months into feeding Connor (he’s 9 months at the time of posting this) solids and it has come with it’s fair share of questions, fears, anxieties but also joys, laughs and honestly just true amazement. Every baby’s journey is different so please keep that in mind, I just wanted to share with you some insight and resources to hopefully help you on your journey!
What is Baby Led Weaning (BLW)?
Baby-Led Weaning is the process of letting the baby self-feed themselves via finger foods in place of spoon-feeding and purees (even though purees are totally OKAY on BLW). It is recommended to start around 6 months of age (adjusted for preemies) and is more or less practice for the baby to learn fine motor skills and be introduced to all different foods, textures and flavors. Baby is in charge of what and if they eat. Parents/care-takers role is to provide the what, where and when of food but the baby gets to choose what they eat or if they eat at all. It was pioneered by Gill Rapley but is more or less how many cultures have fed their babies for generations. You can read more & listen more about it via the resources found below.
The process of baby-led weaning involves the introduction of solid foods along side the slow weaning of breastmilk/formula. Every baby will be on their own timeline so how much food and how fast they wean will be up to baby & care taker. That being said, breastmilk and formula are still meant to be the primary source of nutrition for baby until at least 1 year of age. At the 1 year mark, babies can be weaned from breastmilk/formula to whole cow’s milk but breastfeeding can also continue for as long as mom and baby want.
Baby-Led Weaning FAQs
There is a lot of information out there but I tried to narrow it down to some of the most FAQs I had as well as many asked on social media. I did an Instagram live with my friend and Pediatric RD here and it has some of these questions answered for you as well. Otherwise, here are some of the biggest questions either I’ve had or I’ve been asked about starting solids and baby-led weaning.
When do you start solids or BLW?
It depends of course! If you have any concerns please consult your pediatrician and ask for a dietitian referral if at all concerned. Otherwise, the hallmark signs your body is safe & ready to start solids are:
- Baby can sit up relatively unassisted and has good head & neck control.
- Baby shows an interest in food. They will stare, grab, etc.
- Baby no longer has tongue-thrust reflex aka they don’t automatically push food out of their mouth.
- Baby can reach and grab for items. Pincer grasp (ie use of finger and thumb) is not really seen until around 9 months so that’s not necessary for them to start solids!
- Is at or around 6 months of age. This may be an adjusted age depending on when baby was born and the above factors.
Can you do purees with baby-led weaning?
Yes. Baby-led weaning is also known as infant self-feeding which means that baby is learning to feed themselves and cue into their hunger cues. We have and continue to feed Connor purees. The difference here is that we aren’t ONLY doing purees they are just a part of the process because after all we all likely have purees or similar consistencies in our diets like yogurt, applesauce, creamy soup, etc. It’s totally fine to start here if you are nervous but the goal is to progress to different textures. With purees we will either allow him to feed himself with his hands (yes it’s messy but that’s ok!) or we will pre load a spoon and have him grab for the spoon and bring it to his mouth.
What should first foods be?
It totally depends! I went with softer foods that I felt more comfortable with. It can also be tempting to avoid allergens but offering them early & often is recommended so we started right away. Week 1 for us included: sweet potato (fries & mashed), avocado (slices & mashed), banana (strips & mashed), oatmeal (cooked in breastmilk) & yogurt (his first allergen- dairy).
How do you introduce allergens?
Please make sure you check with your pediatrician before starting allergens. I also recommend asking them about dosage for Benadryl (and having Benadryl on hand) just to have some piece of mind. Talk to your partner or whoever helps out with the care of your child and have a plan should something go wrong, not because it will but just so you are prepared.
The major 9 allergens include: dairy, egg, wheat, tree nuts, peanuts, soy, fish, shellfish, and sesame. I know it’s nerve-racking, believe me, I sat on the edge of my seat each time we introduced an allergen. But the allergy will often happen on the 2nd or 3rd exposure so just be attentive and know that the symptoms are likely to be obvious (i.e. hives, trouble breathing, vomiting, malaise, etc.).
We offered 1 allergen per week and skipped them on the weeks he was really sick (because we didn’t want to confuse allergen with sickness). We often did it on a Saturday morning and afternoon (and again Sunday morning) as it was helpful to not be in a rush and to have both of us home. I also offered them as the only new food for that meal when offered. Here’s how we first introduced each allergen:
Dairy: full fat yogurt
Egg: egg omelet strips
Wheat: toast (Ezekiel bread)
Tree Nuts: mixed almond butter powder into oatmeal and yogurt
Peanuts: mixed peanut butter into oatmeal and yogurt
Soy: mashed edamame
Fish: salmon made into salmon cakes
How do you offer meats?
Meats were definitely the hardest for me to feel comfortable giving to Connor. I was worried about him choking with meats more than any other food. We started with chicken drumsticks and pork ribs both of which he basically just gnawed on. From there we progressed to meat patties where I combined ground meat + a scoop pureed pumpkin or 1 mashed sweet potato + 1 egg + enough breadcrumbs to help bind them + spices form them into a burger patty and bake for 20 minutes at 400F in the oven. We have also now progressed to other meats because he has his pincer grasp and can pick up smaller pieces of meat.
But won’t baby choke on foods that aren’t pureed?
This is what most people are nervous about, myself included. How could a baby who has only ever had milk/formula know how to eat food and not choke?! Well, let me tell you they WILL gag but gagging is not choking. If you can watch videos of baby gagging before you start that can be SO helpful so you can know more of what to look for. But, if foods are prepared correctly (seriously the Solid Starts app is a godsend) AND baby is ready to start solids (see above list) your baby will likely be able to manage the food they may just gag and gagging is normal. The best advice I received was to sit on my hands and let him work the food out. This was NOT easy to do and I definitely stressed out BUT Connor did just that, he gagged and worked it out. Around 8 months it got way better and while he still gags its way less frequent.
Do you have to serve 1 new food at a time and wait to serve others?
Obviously discuss this with your doctor as every kid is different but the short answer is no unless it’s an allergenic food. So we literally would add 2-3 new foods at a meal (not allergens) and then add new foods the next day. The only time we’d add a single food would be the allergens and usually we’d only introduce 1 allergen per week. Also when we would add the allergen to his plate we would only add it with foods we knew he had already had a few times before.
How do you continue nursing with starting solids?
This could probably be it’s own post as my breastfeeding journey has been a bit stressful and not what you read about online to be honest. Connor took to food really fast and a short time later we started him at daycare so he got sick, I got sick and it was a hot mess express. My supply dipped quickly AND at the same time I was starting to pump more and I just don’t respond well to the pump.
That being said what I did was always made sure to offer the breast before a meal (not right before but maybe an hour or so before) so that way he wasn’t prioritizing food over breastmilk as they should be getting most of their nutrients from breastmilk and/or formula until they are 1 year old. I also have added a 10pm pump daily since around 6 months so that I can have a little extra to add to his bottles the next day.
My current 9 month nursing/pumping schedule is:
- Work Days: 6:30/7am nurse, 10:30am pump, 2pm pump, 6pm nurse (sometimes he snacks when he gets home), 10pm pump
- Weekend Days: on-demand which is usually now ~5 nursing sessions
Where do you find recipes for BLW?
I love the Solid Starts app! Other than that I’ve mostly just found simple recipes online (or in my brain) that just have simple ingredients. I love to get creative in the kitchen so oftentimes I’m just ad libbing. Each week I pick about 4-5 new foods I want to introduce him to (we are at about 85 new foods at this point) and then find recipes from there. In the beginning it’s truly just offering the food on it’s own (can also roll in things like hemp seeds, nuts/seeds, spices, etc.)
How do you talk to your Pediatrician about BLW?
I just told my pediatrician we were doing BLW and that we were waiting until 6 months of age to start. We discussed what to look for as far as growth & development and together we agreed to be open and honest about it all. She also knows I’m a dietitian so she may feel like it’s my area of expertise (even though it’s not!) But, if you don’t have a pediatrician that is willing to hear you out then it may be time to give them more information (seriously share Solid Starts with them) or find a new pediatrician.
Do you feed foods that you don’t like/eat?
Oh, absolutely! I may be overambitious with exposing him to foods (like liver) but my goal has been to expose him to as many foods as I can! I’m not naive to think he won’t become picky at some point but I’m doing my best to give him options when he’s willing.
How much food should I serve baby?
There is no known amount of recommended food for baby especially before 1 year of age. Breastmilk and formula are still meant to be the primary source of nutrition. I get it, it’s so frustrating because you just want to know how much to feed them. However, babies are super intuitive so as long as you are offering breastmilk/formula before a meal (usually about 1 hour before) then your baby will likely self-regulate how much they eat (i.e. it’s unlikely they will overeat!). So what I’ve been doing is offering a protein, a fat, and a carb then let him decide how much or if he eats it. It gets easier as you go because you start seeing how much or little they eat and can adjust portion sizes from there.
How do babies eat if they don’t have teeth (or all their teeth)?
This is amazing to watch to be honest. In the beginning they are mostly just exploring and not really eating the food but as teeth come in and as they learn how to chew they have pretty hard gums and are able to manipulate the food and eat it just fine. The key here is to serve the appropriate textures of food so that they are safe and easier for baby to eat. For example, instead of serving a piece of steak, try ground beef that is in a sauce (or yogurt).
Do you eat the same time and/or same meal?
I wish I could say yes but right now it’s just not possible to do every meal together or even the same meal. The goal for us is eventually to eat meals together because I know how important that is and how special it will be for us. Right now he eats breakfast, lunch and snack at school (i.e. daycare) and dinner around 5pm. The rush of the day makes it so that we oftentimes are trying to get everything done and get him fed/bathed/nursed, etc. so at best we are eating a snack with him at 5pm. On weekends this is different and we often eat breakfast and lunch with him and then we often have a snack while he eats dinner.
As far as similar meals, I try to overlap foods so that I’m not cooking 2 separate meals! As he keeps getting more comfortable with food it’s easier to overlap our meals.
How do you plan out his foods/meals?
I pick 4-5 new foods that I want him to try for the week. However, I only offer new foods at night or on weekends as I don’t want to put that on daycare to deal with and they ask that a kid has had the food at least 3x before sending it in. From there I try to figure out how we can also eat those 4-5 foods for the week as well. Oftentimes his breakfast, lunch and snack will be the same for the week because it just makes my life easier. For example this week’s new foods are: corn, ground chicken, tofu, clementine, and walnuts. How I incorporated these foods:
Corn: Polenta which will be a dinner side dish for him and us
Ground chicken: in veggie chicken patties for his lunch (and dinner)
Tofu: roasted and used at dinner for him and in my lunches (quinoa teriyaki bowls)
Clementines: dinner for him and snacks for us
Walnuts: pesto to add to his pasta this weekend (tree nuts have to be at home because they are not allowed at our daycare)
How do you do BLW at daycare?
First things first, please talk to your daycare directors and teachers to make sure they first understand what BLW and second feel comfortable doing it. If they seem to be scared or hesitant then it may not be the right answer for you at least at first and that’s okay! It’s totally okay if you need to do purees at daycare and BLW at home.
The first 2-3 months you can get away with just doing 1 meal per day anyway and that can be dinner! Once baby gets more comfortable eating and you increase meals it may be easier to send purees (like mashed sweet potatoes or yogurt) to school and then trial other textures and foods at home at night and on weekends.
At 9 months, I still like to send foods that I am confident in him eating like: egg muffins, yogurt + berries, oatmeal + tahini + fruit, banana pancakes, meat patties, sweet potato fries, pouches, etc.
What are you thoughts on pouches?
I love the convenience. Sure, the BLW zealots may come for me but I live in the grey space with everything food. Sometimes you just need convenience and pouches are that for us! We have been loving the Serenity Kids Pouches (LAURA15 gets you a discount) and I’ve even been making my own with these reusable pouches. I don’t use them as a staple but pack them for when we go hiking or on a road trip to make sure we have portable snack options ready to go.
Favorite Baby Led Weaning Resources
They say it takes a village to raise a kid and they (whoever they are) are not wrong. Here are some of my favorite and most trusted resources for all things baby-led weaning and starting solids. (I will continue to add to this as I remember or find new resources!)
Caitlyn Edson, RD (Pediatric Dietitian)
Caitlyn is a pediatric dietitian and mom of 2 and is a wealth of knowledge. She has her own private practice in Upstate NY (but is virtual!) and works with kids of all ages to help with the feeding journey. She also has an instagram account (and website) that has easy bite size pieces of nutrition information.
Honestly not sure what I would do without Solid Starts. I use the app to help track the food we have had Connor try which I love. They have information on how to serve food, recipes and so much more. I highly recommend the app and following them on Instagram.
Baby Led Wean Team
This podcast has so much information and I highly recommend listening to it if you feel overwhelmed because the episodes are usually 10-20 minutes making it so easy to learn and apply the information.
If you need to laugh, this Instagram account is for you. So much information on how to feed your kids and how to deal with picky eating.
Kids Eat in Color
Another great Instagram follow that has tons of help with the whole feeding journey as a parent and how to deal with picky eating.
Dr. Mona with PedsDocTalk
Pediatrician and mom who shares not only her expertise but also her experience as a mom. She is a doctor that supports BLW and is just a wealth of knowledge. Her podcast is also great too and you don’t have to listen in order to get the benefit of her expertise.
Favorite Baby Led Weaning Tools
I had no idea what to register for when it came time to but the things I truly wished I had registered for were the items below. Obviously you do not need any of these items but many of these tools can make it easier and safer for you and baby to start solids and enjoy the process. (Note: if you have an item you received as a registry gift you normally have a year to return it! So, if you already have an item you can always return and get another that more suits your needs).
Abiie Beyond High Chair
There are so many high chairs on the market and I had no idea how to choose so I originally went for a Graco one but when it arrived I realized how bulky it was and how hard it would be to clean. So, I swapped it for this Abiie Beyond High Chair and we love it. It’s super easy to clean (all the parts come apart easily) and it’s adjustable for him as he grows. The footrest is nice too and puts him in a great position for eating safely. I also love the size of it as it doesn’t take up nearly as much space as the other one.
We have always gone the route of stripping Connor down to just his diaper when eating and using a bib. The bib is nice in the sense that it catches food so that he can pick it up again. It doesn’t really keep him much cleaner if I’m being honest BUT they are super easy to clean which I appreciate.
Baby led weaning is MESSY. Mess is to be expected but how you clean up the mess can make all the difference. We learned quickly that we didn’t have enough wash cloths and paper towels weren’t going to cut it (nor did we want to have to use so many). So, my friend suggested getting a stack of wash cloths and we did that and now we probably do 1 load of wash cloths (with towels) a week and it’s so nice to just have a pile dedicated to it. Pro tip: wait til the end to clean up 🙂
You definitely don’t need any kind of plate/serving mat but it can be super helpful especially in the beginning when they can only scoop up food with their hands. The Abiie high chair doesn’t have a huge surface area for the tray so the EzPz mat that we love is slightly too big but it’s worked just fine for us.
We started giving these spoons to Connor before he was ready to start food. It was helpful to let him sit in the chair and play with his spoons so that when we were ready to feed him it wasn’t completely foreign to him to be sitting there. That being said he is just now getting the full concept of a spoon. We still load it for him but now he gets that he can grab it from us and feed it into his mouth.
I never would have thought a 6 month old could drink out of an open cup, but Connor proved that belief to be wrong. He still needs help with picking it up without spilling and doesn’t quite get how to put it down gently but it’s so fun to watching him learn. Highly recommend the tiny cup if for no other reason than it’s totally entertaining.
Travel High Chair
We took a vacation soon after we started solids and I didn’t want to lug around an entire high chair so we brought this high chair along and it was great & easy to pack. This was another one we had considered and know friends who use it and love it.
While you don’t need any fancy tools, here are a few that are fun when it comes to meal prep and food storage:
- Crinkle cutter – can make some foods easier for them to grab
- Cherry pitter
- Silicone bento box
- Small plastic storage containers (for daycare)
Connor’s Current Feeding Schedule
At the time of this post going live, Connor is 9 months old. This is just our schedule and sometimes it changes based on our schedules, his sleep schedule, how he’s feeling and so much more. I only share because I know that it can be so confusing and honestly I felt so guilty for so long because our schedule didn’t look like others, so take it with a grain of salt and know that every baby is different.
We started out with 1 meal a day and quickly advanced to 2 meals per day within a week. We then stayed with 2 meals a day for about a month or so and then around 7.5 months he was on to 3 meals per day because the kid loves to eat!
6:30-7a Wake up
7a Nurse ~20 minutes
8a Drop Off at Daycare
9a AM Snack/Breakfast
Example: Oatmeal + Tahini + Peaches
~9-10a Nap (if at daycare it’s around 30-40 minutes, if at home usually 1.5 hours)
11a Bottle of Breastmilk (usually ~4-5 oz. )
Example: Veggie Egg Cups + Sweet Potato Fries
~1:30-2:30p Nap (if at daycare it’s around 30-40 minutes, if at home usually 1- 1.5 hours)
2:30/3p Bottle of Breastmilk (usually ~4-5 oz.)
3p Afternoon Snack
Example Banana, Applesauce or Banana Pancakes
4p Pick Up from Daycare
Example: Salmon Cake Patty + Greek Yogurt + Watermelon
630p Bath, Read a Book, Nurse, Bed
So as you can see, Connor is eating about 3 meals and 1 snack a day + 4 Nursing/Bottle Feeds. This is ever changing and evolving and I used to look obsessively over the internet to try and see what I was “supposed” to be feeding him. However, when you lean into Baby-Led Weaning the point is that the BABY is in charge and so I’ve been trying to lean into that and let Connor tell me what he needs.
I’m no expert in pediatric nutrition but am happy to share what we have been doing as I know a lot of mamas and parents out there feel so lost and confused. I love food and nutrition so I’m always happy to talk about it and what has worked for us. Remember, if you or your baby are struggling with eating, nursing, feeding, etc. it is definitely worthwhile to reach out to your pediatrician and perhaps even look into a referral for a dietitian and/or a lactation consultant as all can help you on yours and your baby’s feeding journey.
Pin Now, Start Solids Later
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