Baby-Led Weaning: Some Gear You May (or May Not) Find Useful
Is there any equipment which might be useful for the baby-led approach to introducing solid foods?
Baby-led weaning is a way of introducing solids to an infant without "traditional" purees and spoon-feeding. Infants who are older than 6 months and are showing the developmental signs of readiness for solids are given solid chunks of “real” foods to grip in their fists and chew, suck, gnaw and otherwise explore, rather than being spoon-fed “baby food.” The developmental signs of readiness for solids are:
Baby must be able to sit upright (assisted or unassisted)
Baby must be able to reach for, grasp, and rake food towards themselves and bring it to his or her mouth
Baby has lost the tongue thrust reflex, (which pushes anything solid out of the mouth)
Baby is interested in joining the family at the table and exploring food.
Read more about why you might consider trying a baby-led approach to solids in our previous blog post.
Items that you may (or may not) find useful during your baby-led weaning journey.
1. A high chair You don't necessarily need a high chair, as baby can sit in your lap and even on the floor once they can sit up unassisted. But most families find a high chair useful, if for no other reason that it makes it easier for you to relax and eat your own food. The most often recommended one amongst baby-led weaning families is the Ikea Antilop high chair. It is extremely inexpensive, easy to clean (you can even throw it in the shower and hose it down) and comes with an optional inflatable cushion and washable cover. Some babies do not feel comfortable with their legs dangling, but you can hack your Antilop to make a foot rest in any number of ways if you do a quick google search.
If you don't mind investing more money upfront, an adjustable wooden chair
like the Stokke Tripp Trapp can be used from infancy right up through toddlerhood and beyond. You often need to pay extra for the cushions, the infant insert and/or tray, but these chairs can work very well during the wiggly toddler years (when they often refuse to sit in a high chair any longer and may prefer to be pulled up to the table), and it can be adjusted to fit your child right through adolescence. The cushions are washable, and though they do wear out in time, you can order those separately.
2. A splash mat (for mess control). Many BLW parents find that putting a vinyl or fabric shower curtain down on the floor under their baby's chair not only makes clean up easier, but means that you will be able to "recycle" food that gets thrown on the floor prematurely. You can shake your splash mat out in the bin or outside (feed the birds) and throw it in the washing machine. A smaller version or disposable plastic sheeting can be taken with you for restaurant eating or out and about at friends and family's houses. If you have a dog (or even a cat, in our case), most of the mess will be taken care of quite nicely, but wiping down your splash mat may be easier than giving the floor a mop after every meal.
3. Bibs. In our warm UAE climate the easiest approach is often feeding baby
in the nude, with a diaper/nappy on only. Some families like to use a full-coverage bib that goes all the way to the wrists (but which can be quite warm). We liked bibs that left the arms uncovered but offered full coverage down the front and included a nice pouch (called a "crumb
catcher") at the bottom. The pouch caught some of the dropped food (which could be "recycled" if baby was still interested in having another go) and could be opened and closed with snaps or velcro for easy cleaning. We used a disposable version of these when we were out and about and on the go.
Some parents cope with the mess by saving the messiest foods for the last meal of the day, to be followed by a quick trip to the bath tub. Others have been known to hose down babies in the kitchen sink. We kept a pile of soft, washable, cotton tea towels in the kitchen for post-meal wipe downs. I designated one cloth for wiping the chair, table and floor, and a different one for wiping hands and faces.
For the OCD amongst us, there are a couple products which aim to contain the mess a whole lot more than your average bib. I include them for those parents
who otherwise really would not be able to relax and enjoy baby-led weaning, but I encourage parents to try to learn to embrace the mess. Babies learn from us and I have definitely observed babies learning to fear messes from parents who feel stressed by messy.
have lower rates of picky eating and possibly even sensory integration struggles. Kids definitely learn to have a healthy relationship with food when they can be messy with it in an uninhibited way during this early learning period.
I knew one clever mama who didn't like the smell of fish in her baby's hair for the rest of the day, so she put a shower cap on him when serving something stinky earlier in the day (when he wasn't headed straight into the bath.)
4. Spoons. While you will avoid spoon-feeding purees and "baby food" with a baby-led approach, there is still going to be the need for baby to eat soft, mushy and even pureed foods like yogurt, dal, soup, porridge or overnight oats, etc. Babies do quite well with their fingers in soft foods, and will also happily dip other foods like toast fingers or fruit and veg sticks in soft foods. You can also offer pre-loaded spoons that you fill and then hand over or leave on the tray for baby to pick up and lick and suck the food from. A basic spoon works fine, but there are some clever adaptations available that might make self-feeding easier for little hands.
5. Bowls and plates. Many parents who attempt to put food in bowls or plates
for their baby report that they immediately become a projectile missile, a frisbee
or a hat (see above!), and don't really serve any purpose for eating, so do not feel you have to buy anything like this. Placing food directly on the tray or table in front of baby works best for most families. Other families find they do like to have a bowl with a suction cup bottom, or a special plate or feeding surface for baby. Some of the options families have tried include:
6. Cups. The preeminent baby-led weaning cup is the Doidy cup, designed
to help babies learn to drink without a sippy cup, beaker or straw baby cup. It will spill when dropped or tipped, however, so only put a small amount of water in it, and this special design may not be any easier for babies than any small cup with handles. And you may want something else for out and about.
Many of my baby-led weaning families swear by the Munchkin 360 cup, which does have a valve to stop all the water from pouring out, but can teach baby to drink regular cup style. You could also use whatever sippy cup, beaker or straw cup works for you and your baby (my experience was that my kids were intrigued by whichever cup my friends' kids were drinking out of!) The most enticing thing to your baby will also be whatever you are using, so offer sips of water from your own cup or water bottle too.
7. Mesh feeder This is intended to allow your baby to experiment with real food without choking, but as your baby will be experimenting with real food right from the start, it really isn't necessary, nor is it considered a baby-led weaning gadget. In my experience, however, it does make a brilliant teether. There is something very soothing to irritated, itchy gums to gnaw on some cold fruit and that scratchy mesh. So by all means try it for that reason!
8. Gear for out and about. You can usually find a high chair at a restaurant, but I sometimes needed a portable travel seat when visiting grandparents and friends who didn't have babies. Many parents have recommended this one from Phil and Teds to clip onto a table.
I also liked to carry a Tidy Diner mat with me to make sure I had a clean surface to feed baby on, and to make
clean up easier (I tried to leave a restaurant as clean as I found it). My eating out kit also included a mini splash mat in a plastic bag to just fold up and then clean once I got home, some disposable pouch bibs and lots of wipes (plus a few snacks to tide a hungry baby over until food arrived)
9. Cast Iron cookware. While not exclusively baby-led weaning equipment,
I am a big proponent of every family cooking in cast iron. Cast iron is old-fashioned, but not as difficult to maintain as you might think and has a pretty good non-stick surface when well seasoned. It avoids any toxic chemical concerns associated with Teflon and other non-stick cookware, If you have the plain uncoated cast iron (not enamel coated) it will also add iron to your food naturally, particularly when you cook acidic foods like tomato sauces in it.
If you do not wish to buy new cookware, investing in a Lucky Iron fish which you can place in your simmering sauces will also automatically add iron to your food.
If you are curious to find out more about baby-led weaning, check out my blog post on 5 reasons why you should consider trying baby led weaning, or sign up for our introductory workshop for parents of 3-6 month old babies here, our Baby Led Weaning UAE Facebook support group here.
What has your experience with weaning your baby to solid food been? I would love to hear what gear and gadgets you have found useful?
Good luck and Take Care!
Amy Vogelaar, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant and former midwife. She has 2 daughters who weaned before baby led weaning "existed" but came to a similar approach on her own when her first daughter refused all purees. She teaches Introduction to Baby Led Weaning classes and is founder and primary administrator of the Baby Led Weaning UAE Facebook support group.