Baby-Led Solids: An Overview

March 25th, 2011

I fed Miss Mouse baby food.  I made it myself, from scratch, but it was definitely baby food.  I spent lots of quality time with my food processor, and made more than my fair share of airplane noises as I attempted to convince a skeptical infant that spoonfuls of goop were, in fact, delicious meals.

I was preparing to follow a similar trajectory of feeding with Buggie when I happened across an article, written by the owner of my favorite cloth diaper store, about “child led solids.”  In the month and a half since then, I’ve been a woman on a mission, reading everything I could get my hands on, including a terrific book called Baby-Led Weaning.*

The premise of Baby-Led Solids (BLS) is pretty simple: let your kid feed himself.  Spoon-feeding and pureed sweet potatoes are more a product of history than of biological necessity.  The proponents of BLS maintain that, if you wait until your baby is at least six months old to introduce solids (which you should do, according to the guidelines of the American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization), there is no reason that your little one can’t dive right in to “table food” and bypass purees all together.

Woah.  I find this concept both totally shocking and — the more I read/learned/think about it — totally plausible.

It turns out that babies evolve and grow in such a way as to make self-feeding doable from the get-go.  Just as (most) babies learn gross motor skills in a particular and sequential order (rolling, sitting, crawling, standing, walking), babies also learn feeding skills in a particular and sequential order.  Latch on to boob, reach for things, grab objects and bring them to their mouths, explore objects with lips and tongue, bite off a piece of food, chew, swallow, pick up small objects using thumb and forefinger.

What this developmental progression means is that, if left to their own devices when it comes to food, babies will naturally learn to self-feed at their own pace.  The basic mantra is, if your baby can eat a food, she is developmentally ready to do so.  For example, until a baby is capable of swallowing a bite of food without choking, he is unable to move that piece of food from the front of his mouth to the back (he’ll just spit it back out).  The latter skill is developed only when he is ready to start swallowing things.

Pretty cool, huh?

With the exception of foods that pose a serious choking hazard (like nuts or grapes) and foods to be avoided because of their potential for allergic reaction (like peanut butter), BLS empowers you to let your baby eat pretty much whatever you are from a very early age.  No need to agonize over the proper food introduction order — sweet potato first or applesauce??   You can simply share your dinner with your offspring and let him decide what he wants to munch on.

The biggest rule of Baby Led Solids (as the name suggests) is to let your baby set the pace.  Offer a variety of foods, but fight the urge to feed your child.  You need to let your baby learn to feed himself at his own speed, even if this means that meals take a loooooonnnngg time and most of the food ends up on the floor.

A great slogan that I’ve heard is “Food Before One Is Just For Fun.”  This emphasizes the reality that (particularly for breastfed babies) the majority of their nutritional intake is going to come from breast milk for their entire first year.  During a baby’s first year, learning to eat solid foods is just that — a learning process much more than a nutritional necessity.

I look forward to sharing with you our Adventures with Baby-Led Solids and would be curious to know if anyone out there has tried this approach!

*This approach to feeding is also known as Baby-Led Solids

7 responses to “Baby-Led Solids: An Overview”

  1. Carolyn B says:

    We have very similar experiences with both our children. It's funny how the first one is literally a guinea pig and the second one experiences us a little bit more evolved, isn't it? Rush is my second and he eats everything, I'm not kidding either (well besides the obvious, PB and nuts). He also self weaned himself from breast feeding which was a wonderful experience. I agonized over how to wean my daughter and felt such guilt in it. Good Luck…I love your blog!

  2. Kate says:

    That's great encouragement! My daughter is somewhat better these days, but she was incredibly picky when she started eating "table food." For about a year, we rotated between grilled cheese sandwiches, pasta, and frozen burritos! I'm hoping that Buggie will be more adventurous.

  3. Carolyn B says:

    If you keep with it, he will…trust me. I love all the wonderful things Rush will eat. I can make a crazy vegetable soup (which Drew will only eat the noodles and beans) and Rush eats everything!

  4. 00 says:

    We discovered bls through online reading, and purchased a book to round out the reading. So far we have been experimenting with tasting for 1.5 months, and our almost eight month old is becoming a pro at self feeding. Favorites? Over steamed broccoli, slices of tomato, orange wedges.. We also do a lot of veggies from our dinner, but often cut into bigger wedges instead of small pieces. We have noticed that our little guy doesn't do well eating when out, he's just more interested in the world around him- but that's true for nursing when out as well. He also took a "break" and refused food for three days a couple weeks ago- we kept offering, and he'd toss the food on tr floor after playing for a bit. I tried not to stress, and suddenly one day he started eating again.

  5. Kate says:

    @00 — Great tips. I'd heard that broccoli was a good "first food" since it was so easy to grab. It's also good to know that a temporary food strike isn't the end of the world. I'm sure we'll encounter that along the way.

    • grammiepammie says:

      My GD loves to eat food all by herself and bites off big chunks which worries me that she’ll choke. I’m always trying to cut food into smaller pieces. What is the rule of thumb for size of food I should let her eat?

      • Kate says:

        When you’re doing baby-led solids, the general wisdom is that: if they can independently get it from the plate/table to their mouths, they can handle eating it. Physiologically, their fine motor skills develop in synch with their ability to move food from the front of the mouth to the back without choking. That being said, spoon feeding a baby can sometimes mess with that progression (because when you spoon feed you are basically by-passing the child’s gag reflex) so you do need to be careful. Avoid the “usual” suspects of choking hazards — grapes, nuts, etc. A really big piece of something (like a whole bagel to gnaw on, for example) is actually safer sometimes than mid-sized bites.

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