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February 20, 2024

July 5, 2023

How to Start Baby Led Weaning Without Anxiety: Overcoming Concerns About Starting Solids

E:
180
with
Katie Ferraro
Registered Dietician

What You'll Learn

  • What Baby Led Weaning Is
  • How Baby Led Weaning Helps with Picky Eating
  • How to Start Baby Led Weaning
  • The Difference between Baby Led Weaning and Conventional Feeding
  • Overcoming Anxiety Around Feeding and Choking
  • The Importance of Early Allergen Exposure
  • Reducing Worry About the Mess of Baby Led Weaning
  • Letting Go and Embracing Our Children’s Feeding Capability

Starting solids with your baby can be scary—especially if you struggle with anxiety. Many of us are interested in baby led weaning, but we often experience food-related concerns, from worries about choking to fear about nutrition. When you understand the feeding process, you can learn how to start baby led weaning with confidence. 

Today, I’m joined by dietician Katie Ferraro, founder of Baby Led Wean Team, to discuss how to start baby led weaning and overcome anxiety around feeding. 

Allergies, Feeding Anxiety, and Starting Solids

As a first-time mom with postpartum anxiety, it was very hard to start solids with my son. I was afraid of everything. And when we experienced a scary choking incident and allergies, it became even harder. 

Working through anxiety and letting go of control around feeding took a lot of time—especially when I had three under three (which seems like nothing compared to Katie’s SEVEN under three!). Even now, well past those days, it can be tempting to try to control what my kids eat. I’ve had to learn to take a step back and trust them. 

We ended up doing a combination feeding approach that worked for us. But baby led weaning always intrigued me. And now, it seems like everyone wants to know more about it!

The more we understand about the feeding process, the easier it is to find the path forward that works for our family. That’s why I was so excited to chat with Katie about how families can put baby led weaning into practice with confidence.

What Baby Led Weaning Is

Katie stumbled into baby led weaning almost out of necessity. With so many littles in the house, she needed a way to feed everyone without sitting down and playing helicopter to get food into mouths. Over time, she grew to love the philosophy behind it, both as a mom to seven and someone training to become a dietician.  

Baby led weaning is a responsive feeding approach that serves as an alternative to adult led spoon feeding. You wait until the babies are ready and offer them safe, wholesome foods they can feed themselves. 

The approach is rooted in the idea that babies can and should be allowed to make their own food choices—rather than trying to coax them into purees, they are exposed to a wide range of foods, most often fed a version of whatever the rest of the family eats. 

Babies can and should be allowed to make their own food choices.

As Katie experimented with baby led weaning, she realized that her toddlers had tried more than 100 foods by their first birthday. She believes that baby led weaning can promote independence, reduce picky eating, and create an empowering feeding environment. 

How Baby Led Weaning Helps with Picky Eating

One of the potential benefits of baby led weaning is its exposure to many different foods. Katie said that traditionally spoon-fed babies sometimes only eat 10-15 different types of foods before they are one. 

Then, when they enter the toddler stage, which often comes with developmental picky eating, they might reject the majority of those foods. 

But with baby led weaning, they could be exposed to more than a hundred foods. If they reject several foods, it’s less impactful because they still have so many other options. 

Katie pointed out that while there is no way to truly prevent picky eating, baby led weaning can help mitigate it. 

She said that it’s been amazing to watch babies all over the world participate in mealtimes with their family, enjoy foods from their family or culture, and reduce time, money, and sanity stressing over feeding. 

How to Start Baby Led Weaning

With baby led weaning, finger foods are the focus instead of purees, and babies are encouraged to drink from an open cup beginning at six months. 

Katie also pointed out that there is a common misunderstanding that baby led weaning means never feeding babies purees, but that isn’t the case. Purees are an important texture to expose babies to—but it’s one of many textures babies benefit from trying. 

In baby led weaning, parents load a spoon for the baby with natural purees, like oatmeal or yogurt, and allow the baby to feed themselves. 

Katie pointed out that putting anything in a baby’s mouth, including a spoon, can be a choking hazard. This is one of the reasons why independence is heavily emphasized in baby led weaning. 

With baby led weaning, the finger foods offered are about the size of an adult pinky finger—and they are soft, solid strips of food. Babies around six months old can use their whole hand to rake and scoop these pieces of food up themselves. Later, they develop the ability to pick the food up between two fingers. 

Katie also pointed out that babies don’t need teeth to start eating—with safe, soft foods, babies can chew with their gums, push food around in their mouths, and, if the food goes too far back, they will gag and push the food forward—a natural part of learning how to eat solids.

Over time, babies develop these feeding skills independently by practicing every day.  

The Difference between Baby Led Weaning and Conventional Feeding

The biggest difference between baby led weaning and conventional feeding is who is in control. In traditional feeding, a parent feeds a baby from a spoon. There is often a temptation to encourage more feeding beyond what the baby wants to eat. It’s an adult-driven process. But with baby led weaning, the baby is encouraged to eat what and how much they want. 

Katie said that baby led weaning is really an extension of responsive feeding we practice early on with infants. When a young baby is full, they will turn their face away from the bottle or breast, and we know that they don’t need to continue eating. 

But once we move into solids, we often try to control the process more. Katie believes we need to continue with the responsive approach, trusting babies to know when they are full or don’t want to eat something. 

Baby led weaning is designed to put control back in the baby’s hands. 

Otherwise, we take away their autonomy. Baby led weaning is designed to put control back in the baby’s hands. 

But Katie pointed out that it’s vital to wait until babies are ready. At around six months old, when a baby is sitting independently on their own, with good trunk strength and head support, they are able to safely swallow something other than formula or breastmilk. It’s also important to make sure foods are prepared properly—cut to finger size and cooked so that they are soft. 

Overcoming Anxiety Around Feeding and Choking

It’s very common for parents to experience fear and anxiety when starting the feeding process. Some of us might have a very low tolerance for hearing our baby gag or be very hyper-vigilant around choking. 

Katie said that it’s helpful to understand the fundamental difference between gagging and choking. Gagging is actually a very good and healthy thing—it’s a crucial part of the learning process. Choking on the other hand is a potentially life-threatening experience. 

When a baby gags, might turn pink or red, and they make noise—coughing or sputtering. That means that air is passing through. But when a baby chokes, they turn blue or purple, and they are silent—in the vast majority of cases, you don’t hear a baby choke. 

As long as a baby has a place to independently sit on their own, and their feet can rest on a solid footplate, they can recover from a gag on their own. 

Katie said that it’s important to create a safe eating environment. Ensure that baby has a footplate and only eats while seated in their chair. Don’t permit snacking while walking around, even for toddlers or preschoolers. Put away distractions and stay focused on baby when they eat. And refresh your infant and child CPR before starting solids. 

All of these steps can help us keep our babies safe and help us feel calmer and more confident about the feeding process.  

The Importance of Early Allergen Exposure

It can be tempting to avoid giving your baby highly-allergenic foods. But Katie said that early introduction of the “big nine allergenic foods” is important. 

Research shows that early introduction and repeated exposure of these foods reduces the risk of food allergy down the road. There is no benefit to withholding introduction. 

Early exposure is also better because anaphylactic reactions are more likely to be severe in older children. (Katie pointed out that anaphylactic deaths in infancy are all but unheard of.) It’s better to expose babies early and often. Allergic reactions often only occurs on repeated exposures, so it isn’t enough to offer these foods only once. 

It can be very frightening if your baby does experience an allergic reaction. But you can take the proper steps to get them medical treatment and come away with valuable knowledge about how to keep them safe in the future. 

This is what we went through with my oldest. He began to show early signs of a peanut allergy. We were able to get this confirmed and prevent peanut exposure. We worked with a pediatric allergist, and later down the line we were able to do controlled exposure through oral immunotherapy to ultimately reduce the allergy. 

Reducing Worry About the Mess of Baby Led Weaning

Another area of concern regarding baby led weaning for parents, especially those who are anxious or easily overstimulated, is the mess. Parents might want to control feeding to keep mess or waste to a minimum.

But Katie said getting messy is a crucial aspect of learning how to eat. The experience of eating encompasses various sensory activities such as touching, smashing, and even getting food in their hair. Gradually, babies will discover the taste, learn to chew, and swallow. 

We can try to minimize the mess, but the goal isn’t eliminating it entirely. It’s more helpful to focus on overcoming the belief that there should be no mess or that the state of the home reflects our capabilities as a parent.

Babies need to be given ample time and opportunity to explore and learn how to eat while enjoying and interacting with food.

Letting Go and Embracing Our Children’s Feeding Capability

We also need to be able to let go of control in the feeding process in general. Baby led weaning requires trusting our children to know their own bodies. It’s based on Ellyn Satter’s concept of the division of responsibility.

It’s our job to choose what food we offer, where we offer it, and when we offer it. But it’s our children’s job to decide how much to eat of what. 

It’s important to build trust in our children and let them make confident, empowered choices about eating.

It’s helpful to remember that during 6-12 month period, babies are also getting plenty of nutrition from milk. We don’t need to worry about every vitamin or mineral. The exposure and environment matters more. 

It can be hard to let go of control—but it’s important to build trust in our children and let them make confident, empowered choices about eating. 

Katie has dedicated her time to creating resources, workshops, and programs to help parents feel confident in how to start baby led weaning, including how to safely prepare foods, helpful recipes, and valuable safety tips. It isn’t always easy to find safe, qualified information on baby led weaning online. If you’re ready to start baby led weaning and need help, visit her website, Fortified Family, or follow her on Instagram

If you’re struggling with anxiety and don’t know where to turn, our mom therapists are here to help! Book a free 15 minute virtual consult with one of our team members today.

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Tags:

Infant feeding

Stage:

Postpartum, Motherhood

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OUR GUEST

Katie Ferraro
Registered Dietician

Katie Ferraro R.D. is on a mission to help parents and caregivers give their babies a safe start to solid foods without spoon-feeding. Katie is a registered dietitian, mom of 7 (quads, twins and a singleton), baby-led weaning expert, and host of the top-rated parenting podcast called BABY-LED WEANING MADE EASY.

In addition to her work educating tens of thousands parents about baby led weaning, Katie is an Associate Professor of Nutrition at the University of California San Francisco Graduate School of Nursing and an Assistant Clinical Professor of Nutrition at the University of San Diego School of Nursing and Health Science. She is a Lecturer in the Exercise and Nutrition Science program at San Diego State University and has authored a number of textbooks and chapters on clinical and infant nutrition.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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