If you have been thinking about starting baby-led weaning for a little while, you might be wondering, “Does my baby need teeth to start baby-led weaning?
No. You don’t have to wait until your baby has teeth before you start baby-led weaning. Your baby will suck the juices out of any food given to them. They will also use their gums to “chew” food, grinding it down into more manageable pieces.
The act of chewing food involves a lot of other parts of the body, apart from just teeth. You need the tongue to move food around the mouth. The cheeks and lips help to contain the food and move it between the jaws. And finally, the jaws open and close, chewing the food.
Your baby can do all of those things quite effectively without actually needing teeth.
Teeth come in handy when you need to start breaking up more complex fibres or if you need to tear food.
How Baby Teeth Develop
Your baby started developing their teeth before they were even born. They are waiting below the surface of the gums until they start pushing through or erupting between 6 and 12 months.
Each child is different and it is difficult to say when the teeth will come through.
What is interesting in terms of baby-led weaning is that the teeth that we use for chewing and grinding food (the molars) normally only come through at around 2 (1).
The American Dental Academy has produced this really helpful graphic on when teeth develop and emerge.
Can you imagine if we waited until those chewing teeth were through before we started introducing solid foods to our babies?
So, if your baby doesn’t need teeth to start baby-led weaning, let’s look at some of the things that you need to know to get started on this amazing food adventure with your little one.
How do you know your baby is ready for baby-led weaning?
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that for the first 6 months of life, your baby should be breastfed (or formula-fed) exclusively. After the 6 month mark, you can start considering weaning your baby.
Now, if you are specifically looking into baby-led weaning, there are some other cues that you need to look for before starting.
Your baby should be sitting
Before your baby is able to sit on their own, they “prop” themselves up using their arms to stop themselves from falling over.
This is important as they develop their core muscles and balance skills.
But, if your baby is propping themselves up, they can’t use their hands to feed themselves. So, sitting independently is an important milestone your baby needs to reach before you can start baby-led weaning.
Your baby should have lost the tongue-thrust reflex
The tongue-thrust reflex is an important reflex that helps your baby latch to the nipple and helps to protect your baby from choking or swallowing objects.
This is an important reflex in the first months of life. But, it starts to be “integrated” or go away between 4-6 months.
This is an important milestone because a tongue thrust reflex is going to stop your baby from being able to move food around their mouth and explore it.
Your baby should be showing an interest in food
As your baby starts to get ready for solid foods, their interest in foods will grow. Soon they’ll be trying to steal food off of your plate. This interest is important and it’s one of the milestones to look for when thinking about starting weaning with your baby.
Your baby should be able to actually pick up food and bring it to their mouth
This seems obvious but your baby needs to be able to actually pick up foods and bring it to their mouths. As your baby’s fine motor skills develop, they will start picking up food with their whole hands.
Soon they will be able to move one or two fingers on their own, not all of the fingers at the same time. And the pincer grasp will emerge.
But here is the thing. As long as your baby is able to pick up food with their whole hands and bring it to their mouth, they have the fine motor skills to start baby-led weaning.
As finer fine motor skills develop, they will be able to pick up smaller pieces of food with more ease and less frustration (2).
So, if your baby is developmentally ready to start solids, what foods can you start with?
Best foods for baby-led weaning for babies without teeth
When thinking about foods for your toothless baby, it is a good idea to think of soft foods that will dissolve easily and be manageable with gums. So, here is a quick list of great foods to start to introduce solids to your little one.
- Cooked vegetables – broccoli, carrots, cauliflower etc
- Soft fruit (bananas, berries, watermelon etc)
- Roasted vegetables (sweet potato wedges, roasted carrots)
- Meat that can be sucked on
Avoid cutting food to small for your little one. When you first get started, they’re not going to have great fine motor skills so they need to be able to pick up the food and get it to their mouth.
How do I know how much my baby has eaten with baby-led weaning?
One of the benefits of spoon-feeding your baby is that you have a rough idea of how much food your baby has eaten, with or without teeth. But, with baby-led weaning, it can be difficult to tell how much your baby has actually eaten.
Let’s be honest, its probably going to feel like the food has gone everywhere – on the table, all over their face, clothes and hands and you’re probably wondering how much has actually made it into their mouths.
When your baby is first learning to eat until they are at least a year old, milk will be their primary source of nutrition. So, they will still be having regular milk feeds and will be exploring solid foods with baby-led weaning.
So, although you may not know how much your baby has eaten, the milk feeds will keep them nourished and their tummy’s full.
Baby Led Weaning is a Food Adventure
Your baby is learning at an incredible rate and is exploring their world. And of the main ways your baby is learning is by bringing EVERYTHING to their mouths. You know what I mean.
They reach for a menu at the restaurant and it goes straight to their mouth.
Here’s a rattle to play with. Into the mouth it goes.
Nothing is safe – car keys, remote, your hair.
But those things probably don’t taste very nice. Now think about how those things taste.
But, when you start introducing your baby to solid food, you are opening up a whole new world to them. Let them explore food with their hands, face, lips and mouth. It is a whole-body experience for them.
And what an adventure it is!