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The 4-1-1 on baby-led weaning

Monica Beyer is a mom of four and has been writing professionally since 2000, when her first book, Baby Talk, was published. Her main area of interest is attachment parenting and all that goes with it, including breastfeeding, co-sleepin...

Skip the purees

You might not know a baby's first solid food doesn't need to be refined rice cereal, which can be constipating and lack a nutritional punch.

Learn all about baby-led weaning and why it may be the best way for you to introduce solids.

You may be eagerly awaiting your baby's first experience with solid food. Before you pick up that box of rice cereal, consider giving her real food instead, using the baby-led weaning method. How does it work? Read on!

The basics

Baby-led weaning simply means you let your little one feed himself as he gradually weans from a diet of milk. Once your baby shows signs of readiness, you can begin offering him food.

Babies are generally ready for solids near the six-month mark. Signs to look for are universal whether you choose to feed traditional pureed baby food or try baby-led solids. Your baby will begin to really notice your dinnertime activities and may eagerly start following your every spoonful with his eyes.

Soon, your baby may start reaching out and grabbing at your dinner plate or swatting your fork as it makes its way to your mouth. These all mean, "I'm ready to try!"

Good starter foods

You will want to select foods your baby can pick up herself. Soft fruits and lightly steamed vegetables are good ones to try. Put a piece of food in front of your baby and watch her face light up with glee. It may take a little while for her to successfully pick it up, and at first she may just lick, smash or play with the food without trying to eat it.

Self regulation

Babies who participate in baby-led solids do so at their own pace. There is no pressure to finish off a jar of baby food, and early research is showing baby-led weaning may result in less childhood obesity as the child learns to self-regulate -- that is, once he's full, he stops eating.

And what a terrific bonus that is!

Eventually, your baby will try to gnaw on the food, but early attempts will generally result in food on the face, table and floor, instead of in her belly.

Keep in mind babies will still get the bulk of their nutrition from breast milk or formula for their entire first year, so early forays into solid food are fun learning experiences instead of a necessary part of their diet.

Choking is less of a risk than you might think. Babies try the foods according to their own developmental pace, which means they won't move food toward the back of their mouth until they are ready to chew. If food strays back there anyway, the baby will automatically gag, which can be frightening, but they can clear it out within a moment.

More on feeding baby

Infant feeding: When is your baby ready for solid food?
Is baby cereal necessary?
Transitioning baby to first foods

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