Baby Led Weaning

How to involve infants in meal times (before solids are even introduced)

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I receive a lot of questions from parents with infants four to six months old who question if their child is developmentally ready to start solids. It is understandable with conflicting opinion over when to start solids and how to handle that uncertain “in between” when technically you can feed your child and yet might choose not to.

If starting with purees and spoon-feeding, you may be considering starting as early as four months old. At this stage and age, infants are usually unable to sit unsupported. They may not be able to reach for their own food nor handle a spoon independently. Often unable to swallow standard stage 1 solids, parents may thin purees before putting them on a spoon and serving to the child. While self-feeding is inappropriate at this age, parents may feel successful with spoon-feeding solids at this age.

Alternatively, those who wait closer to six months of age to starting solids may have a different experience due to different developmental milestones being met. At this age/stage, infants show the skills necessary to become more independent in their eating. Often able to sit unassisted (or sitting upright with minimal support) and reach for safe first foods offered, infants around six months can begin to safely coordinate self-feeding using an approach like BLW or to begin traditional stage 1 solids.

If you find yourself somewhere in between this window (or even slightly after!) and yet eager to introduce solids, this post will share five ideas for how to involve you infant in meal times before foods are actually offered. Then, you can begin to find the joy of sharing in meals with your infant safely and slowly, based on when they are developmentally ready to do so.

 
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Here are 5 ways to involve infants in meal times (before solids are even introduced)

1 Get comfortable with the routine of having your child join in at meal times

If you are used to being up and about the kitchen at meal times, practice finding new rhythms that will allow you to sit and supervise your newly feeding baby. This will both promote the bonding experience of meal times with your baby while also getting you into the habit of being closely available for safety purposes as well as hands on, as needed, to help with objects that might fall when foods are first introduced.

Preparing for this new season also will likely demand you looking at your schedule to determine when and how you can begin to meal prep a bit, or at least so that there are nourishing options available for your infant. Many items can be made in advance and stored for infants (being purees or BLW options) so that you aren’t having to cook on the spot each time food is to be offered. Depending on the habits your family has for cooking versus eating more convenience foods, this is something to think through so that starting solids becomes less stressful.

For reference: When I meal prep based on my seasonal meal planner, I consider what items I can slightly modify to make baby-friendly for our infant.

2 Choose a high chair

According to most feeding experts, it is ideal to have your infant in a seat that you can look at face to face. This causes family’s to often invest in large high chairs with feeding trays attached or to practice unsafe methods for feeding like Bumbo seats placed upon the kitchen counter or family table. While both options do allow you to look at your baby directly, neither is ideal if you are in the market for a highchair/feeding seat.

Pediatric feeding expert Melanie Potock shared the following in a post provided on Science of Mom. According to Melanie, the Bumbo seat, "puts the child’s pelvis into a posterior tilt, causing pressure on the stomach that can exacerbate reflux and spitting up at mealtimes." So besides the safety aspect of keeping this chair up where the rest of the family enjoys a meal, Bumbos are not considered an ideal seat for infants to eat in.

As for larger high chairs with attached feeding trays, you do not have the ability to bring the baby up to the table to be a part of a meal. These are often used best when babies are fed independent of family meal times, which is not a practice most experts would ever recommend.

Instead, opting for a high chair with a removable tray (so that you can pull the baby up to the table) allows for both safe AND allow your baby to be seated at the table with you. Regardless of whether they are ready for solids yet or not, this offers a valuable time for them to learn to social aspect of sitting with other family members for meals.

For reference, these are the chairs we have/most commonly use:

  • Engaging infants at the table: We use the Stokke Tripp Trapp chair with our third child and have really liked it. It was a bit of a learning curve, which is another reason why I encourage families to get to know their child’s high chair a bit before food is offered. This sets parents and child up for less meal time stress and more feeding success.

  • Engaging infants in the kitchen: We also have this counter-top option, which is another way to engage our babies before food is offered. While we rarely ever offer food in this chair (because it lacks the 90-degree support addressed above), it has allowed each of our children the chance to be up at the counter in a safe and secure way while I am preparing meals.

  • Engaging infants on the go: When traveling or at others houses, we have loved this option as it is easy to pack and set up.

3 Practice having your child sit in their high chair

Many parents ask me what to do when their child doesn’t like the high chair. One of the first things I like to find out is, how much experience did the infant have in the high chair before solids were introduced? If a parent knows that their child was comfortably seated and content in their chair prior to solids being introduced, we can begin to evaluate further what is causing the frustration for the child. If, however, the grand introduction to solids also starts with a high chair the child is unfamiliar with, it can be hard to differentiate if a child is uncomfortable with the opportunity to eat itself or their placement in their new chair.

I have some of my favorite chairs linked to my Amazon shop, but in general, the most ideal options are those that stabilize the ankles, knees, and core all at 90 degree angles (you can read more about this here). This will help to stabilize your child properly for safe feeding from infancy on through their potentially picky eating years (when placement can also be important).

4 Consider other essentials

Wondering how to minimize baths after every meal? What bibs are the most practical to pack for daycare or keep at home for easy cleaning? What about your floors - are you ready for the splatter paint project your infant will soon be working on (that you will want to work against)?

All of these things will quickly come up as you introduce solids. Particularly with self feeding where things get a bit messier, you might want to be prepared so that you find yourself less frustrated and more at peace over the process that will soon take place.

For reference, here are some of the “essentials” in my book:

  • LOTS of wash clothes: I ordered these before we started BLW with our third and we use one per meal to wipe him down with. Then, I toss them in the wash each night. It is so nice to have some fresh, soft wash clothes on hand ready to help clean up once solids are started.

  • Splat mat: This Splat Mat is maybe my number one item, outside of the necessities of a high chair and wash cloth. Otherwise, this thing saves me again and again from the mess that happens on the floor once self-feeding begins. Bumkins ships quickly, which is good because if you start self-feeding without a splat mat, you will likely realize very quickly how much you need one of these. You can also use an old towel, table cloth, or bedsheet (for more full coverage), but I find the lined nature of the splat mat (or lined table cloth) helps protect the floors and wipe clean even easier. You can get 15% off any sized order on Bumkins.com using code VEGGIESVIRTUE15.

  • Bibs: We love our Bapron Baby Bibs for some full body coverage that is machine washable. You can get 10% off using coupon code, “VEGGIES10.” We also have these silicone ones that easily wipe clean or these from Bumkins, which also wash up easily alongside our Baprons.

  • Utensils: With self-feeding, you don’t necessarily need any utensils. However, some babies might enjoy the chance to self-feed themselves with them when given the chance (as addressed below).

  • Cups/Straws: Around six months, infants are encouraged to start using open cup and straws. Offering these instead of a bottle at meal times is another fun way for your infant to begin developing new skills at family meal times. Whether you choose to use breastmilk, formula, or to introduce water at this age/stage is up to you and your child’s pediatrician, any of these may be placed into a transitional cup. The process to effectively drink out of a standard cup vs bottle typically takes time, so starting with products like these highly-recommended trainer cups or an ezpz Tiny Cup may help introduce your infant to a new mouth feel for consuming fluids.

5 Practice with utensils

When infants are offered solids prematurely, they often lack the hand-eye coordination to not only hold a spoon but also to bring that spoon to their mouth for a successful bite. One of the wonderful ways to engage infants during meal times before they show readiness to eat is to allow their exploration of how to use utensils. This offers them something to do while seated at the table apart from playing with a completely unrelated toy. Giving clean, infant-sized spoons is a fun and developmentally appropriate way to introduce your child to utensils before they actually “need” to know what they are for. Such familiarity helps them understand the purpose, sensation, and skills required for holding a spoon in their hand, bringing it to their mouth, cupping their lips around it, and the mouth feel of it inside the mouth on their tongue.

If you are feeling really brave, consider giving your child a bowl that will stick to the table or their high chair tray with frozen breast milk in it. Freezing it is a thin layer on a pyrex dish then stirring up to have a “slushie” consistency offers them an age-appropriate offering for meal times. Furthermore, the texture is safer than allowing infants to eat ice cubes or chips and yet a firm enough consistency where they may practice their spoon skills with some “reward” for their hard work (compared to a bare spoon). This is best executed using products like this first feeding set so that the silicone slip-proof base helps lessen the chance for an utter mess or your hard earned breastmilk (or formula) ending up on the floor.

For reference, these are the utensils we have/most commonly use:

  • Goo-tensils: These are the ideal pre-feeder utensil. Unfortunately, they are rarely available on Amazon due to limited supply from Num Num. I spoke with a representative from their team and was advised that directly on their site or from local small shops may be the best places to find these until more retailers are restocked. I had to pay twice the price of the set we have due to such limited supply (on Amazon).

  • Chewtensils: These are a great option to begin introducing once infants begin to master bringing a utensil to their mouth. Use code VEGGIESVIRTUE15 for 15% off any sized order on Bumkins.com.

In Summary

Hopefully this helps give you some items to brainstorm on before starting solids. With a little pre-planning, you can plan on a smoother start to solids - whenever that might be!

Do you still want more help with how to get started in introducing solids?

I am a member of the International Infant Nutrition Network of Registered Dietitians. This network provides evidenced-based resources for families who want information and support with introducing solid using a Baby Led Weaning approach. For more information on the courses available, please visit here.

The Most FAQs of BLW

This post is sponsored by Regalo. Thank you for the Regalo Easy Diner Hook On High Chair and for the opportunity to share this information with my audience. Please note, this post also contains affiliate links. As always, all opinions are my own.

It was almost exactly a year ago that I was in my kitchen starting Baby Led Weaning (BLW) with my second daughter. Having used BLW with my first daughter as well, I had a growing interest in how this approach to infant feeding had evolved into one that more and more families in the States are starting to adopt as well.

That's why when my best friend scheduled a visit to Texas right at her daughter's 6-month milestone, I was eager to know if and how they would be introducing solids. As their visit got closer, it was a delight to know my friend wanted to initiate BLW while they were here. What a treat for me to help her with!

This post includes many of the FAQs that came up both with my friend and as submitted by many fellow moms. I hope the content below will be a helpful starting place when it comes to starting solids with BLW - both at home and when away.

 
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Just because my child is 6 months old, can I assume they are ready to start solids?

Although most organizations recommend starting solids at or around 6 months (as discussed in an article shared here), there are other considerations to keep in mind before jumping into BLW.

When an infant is spoon fed purees, some parents may hastily assume their infant can already handle food since it requires less coordination of their gross, oral, and fine motor skills to be spoon-fed purees versus self-feed soft table foods.

Some signs of readiness that matter particularly with BLW, however, are for an infant to show the developmental signs of readiness to self-feed (as shared in a post here and here). When an infant shows adequate head control, core strength, the ability to open their mouths to food, loss of tongue thrust, and the fine motor skills necessary to self feed, a parent can safely and effectively move forward with BLW. Ensuring these developmental milestones have been met before starting solids allows the infant to focus more on exploring the food and self-manipulating it towards their mouth, as well as the actual act of eating.

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When traveling, can I just hold my infant in my lap to feed them? I would prefer not to worry about toting along a high chair.

For ease's sake, this is an understandable question most parents ask.

Without wanting to pack even a traditional chair-topper "portable" high chair, it can be tempting to feed your infant from your lap. This is not recommended, however, for a few reasons. One, it is important that your child is in a safe and secure location. Part of the autonomy developed with BLW is your child's ability to self-feed (in a safe way). Your securing them into a high chair allows them to lead this process, regulate the pace of feeding, and gain coordination in doing so from a seat.

Further, it is important that you are always able to see your child's face as they eat. In order to ensure safe feeding practices and prevent choking, parents need to be able to supervise their child. Attempting to do so with an infant seated in your lap, most often facing outward with their back to you, would be both awkward and ineffective. Lastly, the more support you can provide your child while eating the better (that goes for all ages!). Offering an adequate back rest, base, and ideally spot for feet allows your child to have the reinforcement they need to successfully self-feed.

For a safe, affordable, and compact option, the Easy Diner Portable Hook On Chair satisfies the needs parents have while traveling. It comes in a bag where the chair easily breaks down and lies flat, slim enough to slide into even that outer zipper area of a suitcase. The chair then reassembles easily so that you can securely attach it to any table or counter (assuming there is no lip underneath). We used our Hook On Chair often when traveling with littles and appreciated how easy this set-up worked when having to pack all the items needed for infants. Possibly what I appreciate most though is that this Hook On Chair is not exclusive to travel.

Even with a more traditional high chair in our home, I can't imagine our infant years with each child not having a Hook On Chair. Similar to how the Learning Tower is a mainstay at our island, hook on chairs were their vehicle for "at the counter" engagement until they became big enough to stand at a learning tower like stool. This made me more pleased with my purchasing this for travel, as I was able to extend its life at home on the counter, to complement the traditional (non-portable) high chair that stayed table side.

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Besides making sure my child is safely seated, how can I prevent them from choking? It seriously freaks me out.

One of the best things parents can do prior to starting BLW is to educate themselves.

Many parents hesitate to allow their child to self-feed through a BLW approach out of fear for their child choking. While this is a valid concern and one every parent should heed with caution, it is also one that can most often be minimized with a proper understanding of what BLW is, when to start, what foods to include plus which foods to avoid, and how to prevent choking. Often, parents confuse choking with gagging though. To better understand this question and others, I shared a post on here that highlights how parents need to:

  • Avoid choking hazards
  • Offer safe finger foods
  • Minimize distractions while eating
  • Understand what gagging in infancy really is(includes a video of what to look for!)
  • Recognize choking early
  • Educate caretakers on CPR readiness
  • Run a finger swipe test when a meal is finished

A few of my other favorite resources for parents to consider in order to better familiarize themselves with BLW and the associated safety precautions include this flagship BLW book as well as a newly released book called, Born to Eat. A couple of online infant feeding classes specific to BLW that I also highly recommend are those by Registered Dietitians Megan McNamee at Feeding Littles and Jessica Coll of JessicaColl.com.

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What are some of the best foods to start BLW with?

The fun thing about BLW is the options of what to offer your infant are truly endless. When first starting out though, there are a few foods that most feeding experts and pediatric dietitians particularly prefer. These include those that are nutrient-dense and offer nutritional benefits to complement a diet of predominantly breastmilk and/or formula. Some great first foods include:

  • Avocado: Raw; cut into 1/8 lengthwise to offer long strips
  • Baked sweet potatoes: Baked whole; cut into 1/8 lengthwise to offer long strips. May cut strips in half so they are a fist-and-a-half long.
  • Eggs: Scramble into pieces large enough for infant to hold in their fist or boil to make an egg salad they can scoop with their fingers into their mouths.
  • Yogurt: Choose a whole milk, plain flavored yogurt. Don't fall for "Yo-Baby" as an ideal choice for infants. Give them a small, safe spoon to use or allow them to use their fingers to self-scoop.
  • French Toast: Using breastmilk and eggs, soak whole grain bread (free from whole nuts or seeds on the crust). Cook until golden brown and then cut into 2 inch strips. For additional flavor, you may also add other items into the milk and egg mixture, including flavors like cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, applesauce and/or plain, canned pumpkin.
  • Peanut Butter: Using the yogurt or french toast ideas from above, introduce peanut butter by swirling it in until well mixed with yogurt. Or, thinly smear onto a warm finger-like strip of french toast.
  • Steak: Cooked medium to medium well so it is juicy and tender. Cut into fist-and-a-half long strips. Do not add any salt-containing seasonings or marinades; may season with any other herbs or spices, however.

For more ideas on how to offer fruits and vegetables for BLW (including specific instructions for how to cut and cook), check out the post I shared here.

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How do I know if a food is safe to offer my baby?

In general, there are three rules of thumb parents starting BLW should know.

One, offer a "finger-like" strip of food. More specifically, give your child strips of food that are about one-and-a-half lengths of their fist. Visually, this means that even with a good grasp on the food item, your child can still have some sticking out to eat from. This helps your child to learn how much they can safely handle in their mouth at one time. This also gives parents a safe target for the most appropriate shape of foods to offer children ages 6-8 months old, before their pincer grasp develops (closer to 9 months of age).

Two, do the "smoosh test" (my technical term here). If you are ever in doubt about if a food may or may not be safe for infant self-feeding, press it firmly between your pointer finger and thumb. Similar to how a ripe avocado would "smoosh" when pressed in this way, a safe food should be soft enough should do the same. This allows infants, even without teeth, to firmly gum their foods in a way that smooshes them down to an almost pureed like texture.

Three, avoid foods that could break off easily into small pieces. Such foods may create a small choking hazard that could block baby's airway. Such foods often include raw fruits and vegetables that are hard, crunchy, or overly firm (think carrots, apples, raw broccoli and cauliflower). For any of these foods, find other ways to serve them either cooked (to a consistency that meets the smoosh test) or finely chopped and added into another food item (like muffins, pancakes, sauces, etc.).


Are there any foods I need to avoid all together with BLW?

In short, yes. While there are some obvious foods, such as those that are choking hazards, there are also ingredients that are best avoided in infancy. In a post I shared here, the following foods are best avoided: added salt, added sugar, and choking hazards. The best foods to encourage are those that include iron, zinc, vitamin D, and fats, especially omega 3s.


What do I do if the food feels too slippery for my infant to pick up on their own?

With BLW, one of the best known tricks for this is to roll any slippery food item (like mango) in almond meal or oat cereal (you can also use infant rice cereal). This will cut down on how slippery the item is while also giving a little nutritional boost to whatever makes it into their mouth.

One reality to learn how to embrace in this season though is that of messes. Particularly with BLW, it is messy! The self-exploration of foods at this age will end up all over. That isn't something to try to tame or discourage though. Infants ability to explore new foods, textures, and feelings in both their mouths and hands (and likely hair!) gives them valuable experiences to store when learning new foods. Instead, find things that make your life easier like bibs that actually stay on (this one and this one are two of my faves), a splat mat (or old bedsheet!) to catch what falls, as well as a sustainable system for cleaning up after your messy kid.

The removable insert in the Regalo Easy Diner Hook On Chair is an ingenius addition to this portable high chair. Unlike some of the other hook on chairs we have used or seen, this allows parents to remove the main insert on the chair where food may have fallen and made a mess. While the straps and chair itself will still need a nice wipe down after each meal, I appreciate how I could remove this piece of the chair without completing disassembling and washing the whole thing.

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Do I need to space out foods or use the "wait rule?" My child does not have a family history of food allergies.

Research shows that parents with children who are not at increased risk for food allergies do not need to wait 3-7 days between the introduction of different foods. For families with a history of food allergies, speak with your pediatrician about what the preferred approach is and how much time they suggest you take between introducing new foods. Otherwise, the more foods and flavors you can introduce early on, the more likely you are to spur your infant on as an adventurous eater.

For families who find themselves in the kitchen and/or cooking often, this is another one of the reasons I love and encourage Hook On Chairs at the counter. Having your young child at a safe and yet close distance as you cook with you affords a naturally opportunity to get kids in the kitchen from infancy onward. It also reminds parents that starting your infant on solids isn't so much about the calculated effort of what single ingredient food to offer and when, but rather engaging them in the foods, flavors, and feelings that a variety of foods offers them at even an early age.

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Is there a feeding schedule I should follow?

When introducing solids, most experts recommend that you start offering foods at one meal a day and gradually increase the frequency for when complementary foods are offered until your child begins to join in on three main meals as well as 2-3 daily snacks. This develops over 4-6 months however, from the time solids are introduced until 10-12 months when your child begins to get a better grasp on self-feeding (literally). Follow your child's lead as they begin to show more of an interest in food and ability to self-feed. Then you can begin to include them in more family meals and snacks to support their growing needs.

The key here to remember is that whatever you offer your infant is intended to be complimentary. Starting BLW does not replace breastmilk nor formula, but rather is intended to help compliment it by adding important nutrients, flavors, and textures to your child's growing diet.

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The Big Picture of BLW

Transitioning your infant to more of a schedule for WHEN to serve meals and snacks, while also factoring in WHAT foods you offer them and WHERE you will serve them (like in a Hook On Chair) begins to set the stage for any new parent to adopt the Division of Responsibility in feeding.

As the most highly recommended feeding approach to use with children of all ages, I respect how Baby Led Weaning equips parents early on in what their role is with the Division of Responsibility in feeding while also respecting their child's role - even in infancy. The Division of Responsibility is something that is sorely missed in most infant education materials and often goes unheard of until later on when parents may begin to struggle with signs of picky eating. Instead, practicing this approach with your child from an early age makes maintaining a Division of Responsibility in your home a more natural transition when it comes time to feeding a toddler.

For this reason and all the answers we worked through above, I am so grateful to have gotten my best friend "hooked" on BLW as well as the Regalo Easy Diner Hook On Chair. Being from a family I know loves to cook and travel, I know my best friend's daughter could use this as a portable way to engage in meals, snacks, and the cooking process for years to come!

A special thanks to Regalo for this opportunity to share some of the FAQs for BLW, as well as for providing us with the perfect portable seat for my best friend's 6-month old to use during their visit. A special shout out to both Baby Tay-Tay and her mom, as well. You both did such a great job starting BLW in a safe and enjoyable way. Thank you for letting me be a part of your feeding journey!