Top 5 Foods To Kick Start Baby Led Weaning
The term Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is popping up all over the place these days. It is met with skepticism by some health professionals to total cult movements in some parenting groups. BLW is essentially a way of feeding your baby that completely by-passes the spoon feeding/puree stage when they are ready for solids and goes directly to the solid foods stage. Now I’m not saying give your Six month old a raw carrot and let them go at it! Foods need to be cooked and there are still foods that are off limits. For more information on BLW you can check out an earlier blog I wrote on just that here. Today’s blog is about a more important topic WITHIN BLW.
I am part of a lot of parenting groups on Facebook, including a BLW group. I also offer BLW workshops bi-monthly so it’s a passion of mine. I have to say though, due to the fact that some health professionals are so against BLW (due to iron supplementation, potentially higher risk of choking? and energy intake) there is a lot of confusion about foods, implementation, supplementation and how to deal with aspects such as choking. My experience is that parents are going to do what they want with their children anyways so give them the tools they need. Educate yourselves because lack of education is what leads to confusion, mistakes and accidents. This is what concerns me. Many parents are not starting with the right foods…just the easiest foods and they are depending on support groups with no health professional present and articles on the internet with no scientific backing.
Health Canada and The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding up until 6 months of age, the same goes for formula feeding. Babies are ready to start solids at around 6 months of age. Where does this number come from? The main concern is iron stores. At this age, baby’s iron stores from birth start to diminish so there is a big push to include iron in a baby’s diet. That is why you will find that Doctors, Nurses and Dietitians recommend starting your baby on an iron supplemented cereal. As a Dietitian and a Mommy I can’t imagine my baby’s first food being something as highly processed as baby cereal after consuming only breast milk for the first 6 months of life! So, what is the alternative? Iron rich foods of course!
Why is iron so important? First of all, it’s one of the most common deficiencies in infants and children, secondly, rapid growth and development in children makes it a priority nutrient and thirdly, deficiency can cause major developmental delays. But consuming iron isn’t the only thing you need to be aware of. There are nutrients that help our bodies absorb iron better and some nutrients that block iron absorption. Vitamin C is a big one. Consuming Vitamin C increases iron absorption, particularly in foods that are plant based. Calcium/Cow’s milk can block iron absorption.
So bringing all this information together I want to recommend FIVE great starting foods for BLW that focus on Iron, Vitamin C and Calcium/Cow’s milk.
- Eggs! Omelettes are super fluffy so a baby will have no trouble gumming and sucking on them. Personally I think that eggs are the best starting foods. We no longer have to wait to introduce allergen foods to our babies so why not start with this one. Not only does it contain iron but it’s also a component of so many other foods like baked goods and homemade burgers.
- point to consider: Although introducing allergen foods is no longer a concern at a particular age it is still extremely important to pay extra attention when introducing one of the highly allergenic foods. Check the Government of Canada’s site here for more information. Insure that you introduce these foods one at a time and watch for a reaction. Introducing more than one allergenic food can lead to confusion if there is a reaction. This is why I suggest starting eggs first. You can then safely add them to anything without worry if no reaction occurs during introduction, plus they are great on their own.
- Homemade Meat sticks. Ground beef, chicken and turkey are high in iron and can be made in any form. Not only this, but they are tender and crumbly and easy to suck on.
- point to consider: roll into a stick form rather than a ball form to start because baby’s control is not 100% yet and sticks are easier to hold and maneuver than balls which is why I say meat sticks instead of meatballs.
- Homemade Fish Sticks. Fish is high in iron and omega-3 fats, which are important for baby’s developing brain. Salmon and Tuna are particularly high in these fats.
- Oranges, strawberries, peppers and broccoli. These are all high in Vitamin C. Once baby has mastered the iron rich foods, start incorporating a food high in Vitamin C along with it to ensure they are absorbing as much as possible. Veggies should be steamed for approximately 6 minutes or until al dante so that they aren’t too hard or too mushy for baby to handle. Most fruits are fine raw but I would suggest avoiding apple since it could pose a choking risk is small babies just starting out.
- Avocado and Nut or Seed butters are a great way to get healthy fats into a baby’s diet. Baby’s brain and body cells require fat for growing. Make sure they get a variety of fat sources. Babies should never get anything fat free (with the exception of meat which should be a lean source). Avocado can be cut in slices or mashed and put on toast. Nut and seed butters should be spread thinly over toast.
- points to consider 1. Nut butters are a high allergen food. Make sure you watch for a reaction upon first and second introduction 2. Nut and seed butters should not be spread thickly as they can pose a choking hazard 3. Actual nuts and seeds should be completely avoided until at least the age of 4 as children tend to have all of their teeth by this time and are better equipped for chewing.
One last note or two: Cow’s milk should not be offered until 9 months of age and should be offered in between meals so that it does not interfere with iron absorption. Lastly, continue breastfeeding or formula feeding your baby as normal and do not decrease the amount of feeds until you feel your baby is eating enough food. They should wean themselves off of some of their feeds naturally once they start consuming more calories.
Have fun with it! If Baby led weaning doesn’t work for you and your baby then stick with the traditional ways. Feeding your baby is supposed to be an enjoyable, fun and positive experience so make sure you choose something that works for you both.
Good luck and have fun!
Nutrition expert and Registered Dietitian