When it comes time for parents to begin feeding their baby solid food, one option to consider is baby-led weaning.
But what is baby-led weaning? And is it safe?
What Is Baby-Led Weaning?
Dr. Jenelle Ferry, neonatologist and director of feeding, nutrition and infant development at Pediatrix Neonatology of Florida, tells TODAY.com that baby-led weaning refers to a method for introducing solid foods to your baby, where infants are encouraged to self-feed and the focus is more on whole, soft foods than the more traditional method of spoon-feeding pureed foods.
"Infants are offered foods similar to what the family is eating for dinner, encouraged to pick up the food and put it into their mouth," she says.
Ferry says in any method of solid food introduction for babies, human milk or formula remains the main source of calories for the first year of life.
"In learning to eat solid foods, the overall focus should be on introducing new foods and how to eat," she says. "The quantity of solid food is much less important."
Advantages of Baby-Led Weaning
Ferry tells TODAY.com that encouraging your infant to self-feed can improve both fine motor skills and oral motor skills.
"For some babies, it can also help them sense a feeling of fullness and regulate when to stop eating," she says.
The Florida-based doctor says that one of the biggest benefits of baby-led weaning comes from being a part of the family dinner table, observing how others eat and becoming interested in trying new foods.
"As an added bonus, we know that the act of having dinners together as a family and the conversation that generally occurs can be good for social and emotional development of all children," Ferry says.
Disadvantages Of Baby-Led Weaning
Ferry says baby-led weaning may require a bit more patience and will likely result in quite a bit more mess than spoon feeding.
"There haven’t really been any major drawbacks identified," she tells TODAY.com.
What Foods To Start Baby-Led Weaning With
For safe feeding, make sure to avoid hard, crunchy and large foods. This means no nuts, popcorn or chips. Items like grapes should be cut into quarters. Foods like blueberries can be mashed before giving to baby.
Ferry says other vegetables and fruit should be soft and cut into strips that baby can hold with their entire hand with part of the food sticking out of the hand to go into the mouth.
"Foods like baked sweet potato, baked carrots or avocado can work well," she says.
Ferry tells TODAY.com parents should avoid adding salt or pepper to foods.
Is Baby-Led Weaning Safe?
Ferry tells TODAY.com that this method of feeding has shown to be safe.
“There have been some studies that show no difference in risk of choking with baby-led weaning,” she says.
Ferry says that an infant should always be supervised when feeding.
“It’s a good idea to turn off TVs and put away phones to be able to keep a close eye on baby,” she says. “Some choking and gagging is likely to occur, and can be scary, but is also very normal. This is your baby’s way of protecting his or her airway. It will also improve as he or she learns to deal with food in the mouth and navigate chewing, or gumming, and swallowing.”
When To Start Baby-Led Weaning
For a baby to be ready for self-feeding, make sure to monitor for developmental readiness.
"Your baby should be able to sit with minimal assistance, pick up objects with their whole hand and show interest in placing items in their mouth," Ferry says. "In addition, you should see the tongue thrust reflex starting to disappear. For most infants, this starts to happen around 6 months."
Ferry adds that it is a good idea to have a plan for how you will introduce solids to your infant.
"There is no one right answer," she says "You can incorporate some baby-led weaning with feeding pureed foods with a spoon as well."