Help your kid have a healthy start! Read these key considerations to ask yourself for what foods to avoid versus encourage with infants.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
When we had our first daughter, I researched infant sign language A LOT. It was one of those awesome things that as a first-time, single-child, stay-at-home-mom I actually had time to look into at length. I found my go-to site, we bought several of the infant sign videos (which our daughter later LOVED), and checked baby sign books out from the library to go through with our little girl.
Now looking back, I am grateful I invested the time and attention into this when I did. Even though it is no longer my reality to have that time to research it (with two mobile little ones and a budding at-home business), I still recall much of what we learned. Better yet, our now 3 year old is also able to communicate with her sibling at meal times and be mommy's helper in meeting the needs that her sister signs.. She has quickly recalled many of the signs we previously used, being able to not only use them but also to reinforce them with her sister.
For our family, I had the goal of using baby sign language to bridge the gap between non-verbal and verbal communication stages.
I will admit, I am not someone who started signing at birth nor someone who planned to used American Sign Language as my children aged. I did however find it to be hugely helpful in understanding our daughter's wants, needs, and requests, without having to work through quite so many ambiguous babbles as her vocabulary developed and ear-piercing screams as she found her voice. While it does take a bit of time and intention to teach (on average, it takes a six-month-old baby two months of signing exposure to start signing back), the payout was well worth it. Both of our daughters have been able to learn it and use it successfully in many applications, including eating and meal times.
Conveniently, most sources recommend parents start teaching their infants sign language around six months of age. Since this is also when children start to eat solids, it seems like a natural time to begin integrating infant sign into meal time rituals, manners, and conversations with your kiddo. Sources also recommend starting with five signs before adding to your and your child's signing vocabulary. As BabySignLanguage.com puts it,
"Doing one sign fifty times a day is much better than doing fifty signs only once per day."
With that tip in mind, here are the best signs to start with:
Try starting with the first five, then adding others to help your family experience less meal time stress and more feeding success with your infant!
First Five Baby Signs to Introduce
Others to Teach After the First Five
For these, our daughter LOVED the Baby Signing Time videos, particularly the ones that had signs for different foods (like this one and this one). We asked for them for her first birthday as gifts, and they were great ways to engage her in learning new signs. Plus, since we greatly limited TV time before two, these were a special treat and the main "show" she would get to watch. This "Silly Pizza Song" in particular offered quite the entertainment for toddlers! There are many other great flashcard resources for more foods available here.
These have been some of our favorite signs that have helped us to effectively communicate with our daughters at meal times.
I'd love to hear, what are some of your favorite signs to use?
There is nothing worse that fear mongering geared towards new mothers.
When we have so much to process and apply to our infant's well-being already, the last thing we need is confusing noise compared to evidenced-based nutrition. Especially when it comes to conversation about high levels of heavy metals like arsenic in every day staples for infants like rice cereal.
FDA Press Release
This past April, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a press release about their efforts to reduce the amount of arsenic in infant rice cereal. This followed after the European Commission set standards for the amount of arsenic allowed in rice itself. The FDA has focused its efforts around infant rice cereal specifically, based on data that shows rice consumption is at its highest (relative to body weight) at eight months of age.
I have been following the discussion on arsenic content in rice and rice-based products for years before ever becoming a parent, as it has long been a hot topic among the gluten-free community. As people who consume more rice-based products (than those who are not on gluten-free diets), there has been much debate over how much rice is "acceptable" on a gluten-free diet.
As a parent, what you are probably asking is,
How much infant rice cereal is safe for my baby to eat?
Let's break down our question:
How much infant rice cereal is safe for my baby to eat?
According to parent and pediatrician Dr. Claire Chehrazi, "the amount of arsenic in rice is equivalent to one teaspoon of arsenic in the size of an Olympic sized pool." This may sound trivial, but she advises that we consider "the potency of the poison" before we made a decision regarding risk, especially among our youngest eaters.
Arsenic exists in the earth's crust. Since crops grown in the ground are exposed to the earth's crust, they absorb arsenic and will naturally have higher levels of arsenic than most non-plant based food. Depending on how a food is grown, the amount of arsenic in that product can vary. Since rice is grown in large rice fields full of water, arsenic is present not only in the soil but also becomes part of the rice's composition from the exposure to arsenic in water as well.
Now that we understand there is little we can do to remove arsenic from rice itself (other than with this method), it is important to recognize that different forms of rice contain varying amounts of arsenic. This helps to elucidate that there is not a threshold of this many teaspoons or Tablespoons of infant rice cereal allowed per day, but rather what are your best options and how to include them in amounts considered safe to your child's size.
How much infant rice cereal is safe for my baby to eat?
Rice cereal comes in a variety of types. From white rice to brown and all the multi-grain options that include rice as an ingredient, some parents may be confused about which rice cereal is considered the "best?
For a brief review, white rice as a whole has lower amounts of arsenic because arsenic is most concentrated in the germ. The germ is the part of the grain that is removed when changing brown rice (a whole grain) to white rice (a refined grain). While the amount of arsenic may be reduced with the processing of white versus brown rice, the nutritional content of white rice is degraded as well. Brown rice will offer more fiber, vitamins, and minerals for marginal amounts more arsenic. Data also shows that arsenic levels are similar between organic rice and conventionally grown rice.
So organic may not make a big different in the argument of arsenic, but what does? Should parents minimize exposure to arsenic and buy white rice infant cereal instead of brown? Or, for the nutritional benefits of added fiber, vitamins, and minerals, should we marginalize the varying amount of arsenic and opt for brown rice infant cereal?
Without understanding the underlying safety standards now put in place for all of these options, some may be ready to throw the baby out with the bath water. But don't refuse brown nor white rice as options just yet.
How much infant rice cereal is safe for my baby to eat?
The FDA evaluated over 1,300 samples of infant rice cereals for arsenic. Of the infant rice cereal on the market in 2014, nearly half of samples tested (47 percent) met the FDA's proposed action level (100 parts per billion (ppb)) for arsenic. Now with the FDA's proposed "action limit" officially in place, consumers can rest assured that the amount of arsenic must be at or below this level in order to be made available in the mainstream marketplace. This makes all infant rice cereal products - from brown or white rice - technically "safe" from the standpoint of the FDA.
Eating too much of any one type of food, however, can come with risks. Infant rice cereal is no exception. It is safe to consume this rice-based product, but all parents should consider varying the grains in their infant's diet. By including other whole grains like wheat, bulgur, barley, millet, quinoa, amaranth, buckwheat, corn and oats, arsenic exposure is minimized while nutrition is maximized.
How much infant rice cereal is safe for my baby to eat?
It is a personal decision if and how much rice-based food you feel comfortable exposing your infant to. With the aforementioned information about the known exposure to arsenic and conflicting information about the health benefits to rice (brown specifically), it is a decision many parents look to experts to help them make in a more informed fashion.
Most scientists, professionals in the field of food safety, and dietitians alike agree that rice products, especially brown rice based, can have a place as part of a healthy diet. Dr. Claire Chehrazi shares openly that she has offered rice products in moderation to her child since 5 months of age. The American Academy of Pediatrics, advises that "parents offer their children a wide variety of foods, including other grains such as oats, wheat and barley, which will decrease their child’s exposure to arsenic from rice." Personally, I prefer to avoid traditional infant rice cereal while my daughters were/are infants and instead provide infant cereals made from oats or multi-grain options. This affords me the opportunity to include similar vitamins, minerals, and iron-fortification from infant cereals, while also exposing our family to other brown rice based products that we tend to include in our diet.
Put bluntly, a recent article by the International Food Information Council Foundation answers our question of "How much infant rice cereal is safe for my baby to eat?" simply and succinctly: "The best way to mitigate any concerns about arsenic is to eat diverse foods and follow the Dietary Guidelines for Americans."