Eating Smart From the Start: A Guide to Baby-Led Feeding
Tiny Organics is food that’s better for your baby and easier for you. Our fresh-chopped baby meals are made with real ingredients and they’re real delicious too. Plus, we’re following recent research to skip over purees and head right into finger foods. So give your kid a solid start, by serving them something that’s grabbably good.
Parents have many questions about finger foods: Why finger foods? When can I start? What foods should I give them first? What size should I cut the food into? Can I add spices to the finger foods?
Baby-Led Feeding (BLF) is a method of introducing solid, finger foods to your baby to complement a breastmilk/formula diet. BLF is all about fostering a healthy and positive relationship with food and reducing picky eating later in life. Mealtime becomes an enjoyable, stress-free experience instead of a battlefield and helps create a greater bond with your child. The BLF method allows for your baby to feed themselves, teaches them dexterity and encourages them to explore new flavors, textures, and smells. Exposure to different flavors and coarser textures early on in life makes your baby a more adventurous eater and encourages your baby to adjust portion sizes to match their hunger.
When to start finger foods with your baby is completely up to you. Most parents start their baby on finger foods from their first bite (roughly 6 months of age). Your baby can start learning to chew even if they don’t have teeth yet. You can also feed your baby purees alongside finger foods. Every baby is different, follow their cues.
Benefits of Baby-Led FeedingHow do I know if my baby is ready for BLF?
- Can your baby sit up independently and have complete head and neck control?
- Are they bringing stuff, such as their hands and toys, to their mouth?
- Does your baby lean forward in the highchair and show interest in food?
Up until about 6 months, the best source of nutrition for your baby is breastmilk or formula. With BLF, solid foods can be introduced to supplement breastmilk or formula. When your baby starts showing interest in food we encourage you to include him/her in mealtimes and offer them age-appropriate pieces of food.
To start, offer easily mashable foods and big enough pieces. A 6-month old grabs the piece of food with their whole fist so any pieces smaller than that get lost in the hand and your baby can’t grab them with their mouth. Try one of two new foods a week. If you’ve started eating solids at 6 months you can accelerate the pace a little.
Need-to-Know: Gagging and Choking
Let’s face it - this has been on your mind the moment you thought about BLF. It’s important to know the difference between gagging and choking. Babies who are younger than 7 months have their gag reflex closer to the front of their mouth. Your baby may start gagging and coughing, even though the food is still safely far away from the airway and this is what they have to do in order to be able to learn how to eat. Coughing, in the beginning, is normal and becomes less frequent within a couple of weeks after starting solids.
On the other hand, choking is something very serious that should not be taken lightly. A choking baby will not be able to make any sound (crying or coughing) and will turn a shade of blue. Here is an official guide on how to stop choking.
We know this all sounds scary. But here's the thing, we have never had any of our kids actually choke on any finger foods. Gag, yes. Choke, no.
For the most part, if you stick to the size foods we recommend, warm your finger foods until tender and sit with your child while they are eating, then chances are that serving finger foods will be a very happy event for both you and baby.
Starter Foods for Baby-Led Feeding
Here is a list of foods perfect for baby-led feeding:
Chickpea, lentils, black beans, and/or pinto bean
Tiny Keys to a Successful Mealtime
Here are Tiny's 9 keys to a successful mealtime:
- Your baby is the pilot, you’re the co-pilot: Let your baby set the pace and respect your baby’s feeling of fullness.
- Embrace the Mess: Learning to eat is all about exploring and play – and it will be messy! Don’t worry if all the food hasn’t been successfully eaten during the first few times.
- Key to Tiny Patience: Give your baby breastmilk or formula before trying out finger foods so your baby is not hungry and has the patience to focus on learning to eat.
- Create a relaxed environment: Create a positive mealtime experience so that your baby will associate food with happiness and will look forward to mealtimes.
- Repetition, repetition, repetition: Experts say that it takes up to a dozen times for your baby to accept a new flavor; don’t give up!
- Support your baby (in more ways than one): Make sure your baby is able to sit upright without assistance. Practice sitting in a highchair before BLF.
- It’s All About Variety: After the first phase of experimenting, offer your baby a variety of different foods, different flavors and consistencies at the same time.
- Find Your Inner Peas: Don’t rush your baby or distract them while they are getting to know the food; encourage them to learn in their own pace and savor it.
- Spread the love: If your baby has siblings, don’t be afraid to share those new flavors and cuisines with the rest of the family.