As your baby becomes more interested in foods, you may be wondering, “What age can you start baby-led weaning”?
The World Health Organisation recommends that you wait until your baby is at least 6 months before you start introducing solids. But that doesn’t mean that you should start baby-led weaning as soon as your little one hits 6 months of age. There are other signs of readiness that you should look for before you start weaning.
I remember how excited I was when I started weaning both of my children. This is such a bit and exciting milestone for you and your little one and it is really important to make sure that your baby really is ready to start weaning and that you don’t rush the process.
By delaying and making sure your baby really is ready to start weaning, you will minimize frustration levels for both you and your little one. For example, many mothers start solids in the hope that the solids might sustain their little one for longer so that they will sleep through the night.
This is not the case for baby-led weaning. The process is slow and your baby may not even be swallowing foods for a week or two. Starting weaning in the hopes that your baby may sleep a little longer is only going to frustrate you!
So, now that we know that your baby should be at least 6 months before you start weaning, let’s look at some of the other signs you need to look out for to know that you baby is ready to start the baby-led weaning adventure.
One of the most important signs to look for is that your baby should be able to sit independently. You want to make sure that they are not propping themselves up with their hands and that they have enough core stability to be able to focus on exploring the food in front of them.
If your little one is not yet sitting, so much of their brain’s focus and attention is on finding stability and not falling over. There is little brain capacity to start exploring foods.
So, when your baby is sitting on the floor, they can sit without propping themselves up with their hands or slumping into the cushion behind them. If they are sitting in their high chair, they are not slumped over or having to rely on the high chair harness to keep them upright.
Hold their Head Steady
Head and neck control goes hand in hand with being able to sit independently but you want your baby to be able to hold their head steady and upright before you start introducing solid foods.
Be able to bring foods to their mouth
Unlike spoon feeding where you take the food to your baby’s mouth, in baby-led weaning, your little one is doing this for themselves. So, they need to have the proper fine motor skills to be able to pick food up and actually bring it to their mouths.
In the beginning, when you first get started with baby-led weaning, you’ll find that your baby grasps the food with their whole hand. Heck, even their lower arm is going to be covered in food, This is a whole body – or at least upper body – exercise.
As they develop better fine motor skills and as your baby learns to bring food to their mouth, they will be able to use more refined finger movements and grasps and will be able to pick up smaller pieces of food.
Have integrated the tongue-thrust reflex
The tongue-thrust reflex is an important reflex in your baby’s early life and it stops food or objects from being swallowed and causing a choking hazard. It also helps your baby to latch effectively when they were born.
You can see the tongue-thrust reflex in action when your baby brings something to their mouth and the tongue immediately comes out, preventing anything but a bottle or nipple from entering the mouth.
So, while important, it is not conducive to learning to eat real food. So, waiting for the tongue-thrust reflex to be integrated is a good idea.
Be showing an interest in food
You might be at the point where your baby is desperately trying to take your food off of your plate or watching you like a hawk as you have your morning breakfast. This interest in food is a positive sign that your baby is getting ready to start on solids.
On the other hand, if your baby is sitting independently but is not showing any interest in food, you may find that their interest grows with time.
Will my baby be ready for weaning at 6 months?
As a mom, I know you know this but every baby develops at a different rate. If you have done antenatal classes and if you still see some of the moms from your class, you will know that there is definitely some variability in when baby sleeps through the night, learns to clap hands or sits independently.
Just because your baby is 6 months old, doesn’t mean that they are developmentally ready to start on soft foods. If they are not meeting all of the other developmental milestones that we have already spoken about, I really want to encourage you to wait until baby is ready and don’t rush the process.
Remember, breastmilk or formula will remain your baby’s main source of nutrition until they are at least 12 months old so you still have plenty of time to feed baby, help them develop their oral motor skills and get them used to baby-led weaning.
Also, ask yourself why you are so keen to get started.
Is it because you think your little one will sleep for longer at night or even sleep through?
Perhaps you are just excited about sharing family meals with your little one.
Or maybe your baby is showing a lot of interest in food and you’re excited about the adventure that awaits them
Maybe you’re seeing all of your friends around you who are taking a more traditional spoon-feeding route and they’re in a mad frenzy pureeing baby food.
Understanding why you feel this rush to get started on weaning will help you to manage your own expectations and help you enjoy the journey for what it is.
So, just to summarise, the WHO recommendation is that you wait until baby is 6 months old and has met the major developmental milestones like sitting independently, have an integrated tongue thrust reflex, be able to bring food to their mouth and be showing an interest in food