How many 4-year-olds do you know who choose to order carne asada tacos with chipotle crema at a restaurant? Or specifically ask to buy brussels sprouts while grocery shopping with their mom? While not all kids have such exotic tastes, it's been shown that introducing babies to solid foods from the beginning expands their palate and interest in trying new things. And that's exactly what I've done with my kids.
A few weeks before I was planning to start feeding my first baby something more than breast milk, I came across something called baby led weaning (known as BLW), and after a ton of research, I was 100 percent on board. No purees, no spoon feeding, no force feeding, and no worrying about how much your baby eats. Baby led weaning isn't weaning your baby from breast milk, it's just literally offering your baby any and everything you eat. There are very few limitations, including no honey before the age of 1 (nothing even baked with honey), nothing with too much salt, and no whole nuts (because of size, not allergies). Things like blueberries should be smashed, and anything shaped like it could get stuck in the esophagus should be quartered (grapes, hot dogs, etc.). But other than that, anything goes.
How Does It Work?
Once my kids met all the signs of readiness (being at least 6 months old, able to sit unassisted, lost the tongue thrust reflex, etc.), they were eating pasta with shrimp, waffles with peanut butter, chicken kabobs, cucumber spears, whole peaches and pears — the list goes on. The benefits of introducing solids this way seemed endless to me, so we dove right in and never looked back. While it doesn't guarantee you'll have a more adventurous eater, it is more likely to not have a picky one, and that's enough for me!
When a baby is offered pureed food the traditional way, it's usually one food at a time, with a parent or caregiver feeding them with a spoon. Not only does this offer zero variety in textures and flavor, but it also doesn't allow the baby to self-regulate when he or she feels full. With BLW, babies discover new smells, tastes, sights, and sounds, which helps stimulate their hardworking, developing brains. They'll try to grasp slippery foods, pick up different sized pieces, and work on their hand-eye coordination to get the food into their mouth. Chewing food also strengthens the muscles needed for speech development.
What About Teeth?
If you're thinking, "But babies don't have teeth," they actually aren't needed for biting or chewing (just stick your finger into a 6-month-old's mouth and see how hard they can bite). My daughter chomped on a piece of steak at 6 months old and managed to get off actual bites, while also fervently sucking out the juices. And if you're worried about choking, a baby's gag reflex is much farther forward in their throat/mouth than that of an adult. Yes, you might see a baby gag on the food they shove into their mouth, but this is perfectly normal. Gagging is their way of getting the food back to a part of their mouth where they can chew and then safely swallow. It's actually fairly uncommon that a baby truly chokes, and experts say there's no more risk of choking with BLW done properly than a baby who is fed purees. If you want to try BLW but are still a little nervous, take a CPR certification class just in case.
It was once thought that introducing one food at a time and waiting a few days before introducing something else would allow a parent to know which food a child is having a reaction to if that happens to occur. However, if you have no family history of allergies, it's unlikely your child will experience any. Studies have found that earlier introduction of common allergens actually decreases a child's risk of being allergic.
Babies under the age of 1 don't actually need nutrition from food and are getting what they do need from breast milk or formula. "Food before 1 is just for fun" is a common mantra among parents who choose BLW, so if you think this could work for your family, you're in for an entertaining, adorable, fun, and super messy ride!
Editor's Note: This piece was written by a POPSUGAR contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of POPSUGAR Inc. Interested in joining our POPSUGAR Voices network of contributors from around the globe? Click here.