Baby Essentials That Aren't, Part 7: Baby Food

Open any pregnancy or baby book, and you’ll find that list: the baby essentials, the things you absolutely cannot live without.  While many accessories are easily recognized as frivolous, certain items are truly indispensable: the basic necessities for life with a baby.

Or are they?

In this weekly series, we’ll be looking at several baby essentials that really aren’t.  They may be useful in certain situations, but if money or space is tight, or if you’re just looking to simplify and reduce consumerism and waste, here’s how to get along just fine without these so-called “essentials.

In Part 1, we questioned the crib.   Part 2 bemoaned the bucket.  Part 3 scrutinized the stroller.  Part 4 ditched the diapers.  Part 5 scrubbed the tub.  Part 6 busted the brain boosters.  This week, we banish the baby food!

Non-Essential #7: Baby Food

By saying you don’t need baby food, I’m not merely saying that you don’t need commercial processed jarred baby foods and cereals.  I’m not just saying you can make your own healthy, organic purees and even grind your own rice.  I’m saying you don’t need it at all.

No purees, no rice, no pablum.  No mashing, no whizzing, no pulverizing.  In short, no spoonfeeding.

It’s. Just. Not. Necessary.

But wait, you say… babies need to learn to eat, right?  Of course you need to feed the baby, don’t you?

Well… no, actually.  Your baby will feed himself.  (Or herself, as the case may be.)

The Case for Baby-Led Solids

Baby-led solids is a simple, practical, logical and natural method of beginning solid foods whereby your baby simply eats real food, by himself, from the beginning.  It is also called “baby-led weaning” or BLW, a term popularized by British health visitor Gill Rapley, whose pioneering work in this area has become the manifesto for parents seeking a more sensible approach to starting solids with their babies.  Note that the term “baby-led weaning” uses the British meaning of the term ‘weaning’ — applying to the entire process of weaning from milk to solid food, instead of the North American usage which generally only applies to the very end of this process.

Rapley has recently published the ultimate guidebook, Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby To Love Good Food.  It challenges existing assumptions about spoonfeeding and guides parents to a more developmentally appropriate approach to solids.

But wait — if BLW is so simple and natural, why should we need an entire book to explain to us how and why to do it?  The fact is, we have become so conditioned to believe that the usual method of beginning our infants with runny rice cereal, gradually progressing through smooth then lumpier purees, in defined quantities and on a defined schedule, keeping flavours bland and simple — is the right and indeed the only way to do things, that we don’t even think about even questioning why this is the way we do it. It takes an entire book to clear away our mental blockages and reveal our hidden, faulty assumptions.

If you do nothing else, if you don’t have the time to read this entire article, at least read this book. And if you do read this entire article and want to learn more, read this book. If you read this article and are still not convinced, then — you guessed it — read this book. .  It will answer any questions you might have that aren’t covered within the limited scope of this article.

A Brief History of Infant Feeding

To understand the logic of completely ditching cereals and purees, we first have to realize why the current schedule and method for infant feeding is the way it is.  The reasons are manifold and complicated, but suffice it to say that current feeding practices were developed in the early twentieth century, in response to nutritional deficits in commercial infant formula, and the transfer of authority from the mother to the physician – who would prescribe rigidly scheduled feedings, compromising breastfeeding and leading to undernourished babies.

As such, it became the standard to start giving “solid” supplemental foods to babies 3 months old, or 2 months old… or even younger, as a nutritional necessity.

Babies that young are not able to “eat”.  They do not have the muscular coordination to chew, they cannot sit upright, and they have the “tongue thrust reflex”, whereby anything unexpected in their mouth is just pushed right back out again.  In order to “feed” very young babies, they must in fact be tricked. The food must be liquefied because they cannot chew.  They must be spoonfed to get past the tongue reflex, circumventing an important safety mechanism (though in most cases, you still have to push the same spoonful back in several times before it stays).  And it must be bland, tasteless, indistinguishable from their accustomed milk, or else they will reject it.

It was also expected that babies would be completely weaned onto solid foods by their first birthday, at the latest.  And so a strict schedule of how many meals per day was implemented, gradually, deliberately replacing milk feedings, and changing in texture and consistency as the baby grew older.

What We Now Know About Infant Nutrition

Of course, we now know that breastfeeding on demand provides all the nutrition that a baby needs for at least the first 6 months or even the first full year.  Modern formulas, while not nearly as complete as breastmilk, are still quite adequate for nourishing the baby whose mother is unable to breastfeed and no additional supplements are necessary.  In fact, not only do babies not need any supplemental nutrition for the first 6 months, it is in fact potentially harmful for them to ingest anything other than milk, as their digestive systems are not yet mature enough to handle anything else.  Too-early introduction of solid foods has been associated with increased allergies, digestive problems in later life, and possibly even obesity.

The 6-month-old baby is a very different creature from the 3-month-old.  At 6 months of age, most babies:

  • are keen to imitate everything they see their parents doing, including eating
  • are curious about new experiences, including tastes and textures
  • can hold objects and manipulate them, including finger foods
  • can sit upright
  • have lost the tongue thrust reflex
  • can chew

So all of the reasons that spoonfeeding is necessary for the 3-month-old simply do not apply to the older baby.  It fact, it was not uncommon under the old guidelines to begin finger foods and some self-feeding at around 6 months old.  Our babies have not changed, only the age at which we begin solid foods has changed.  But paradoxically, we have not changed our method and schedule of introducing solids to match the vastly different developmental stage of the older baby!

As Rapley says in her book (pp. 33-34):

Of course, spoon-feeding seemed to be unavoidable when it was believed that babies of three or four months needed ‘solids’ since, at that age, they couldn’t chew or get food to their mouths themselves.  This led to an assumption that spoon-feeding and purees were an essential part of introducing solids, no matter what the age of the baby.

So, although research now tells us that those babies who started solids at three or four months old (or even younger) shouldn’t have been having them at all, most people still assume that a baby’s first solid foods should be given by spoon.  But there doesn’t appear to be any research to back this up.

How It Works

Baby-led solids is simply about trusting your baby to feed herself, the way she has ever since birth (feeding on demand).  It involves realizing that we do not need to trick or coerce our babies into eating, nor do we need to ‘teach’ them how to eat, nor is there any ‘window’ whereby if we do not make them eat by a certain age, then they never will.  Eating is an essential survival mechanism, it only makes sense that a human child will instinctively begin eating when she is developmentally ready to do so, just as she will begin to sit up, walk, and communicate, all on her own with no specialized instruction or coercion from her parents. So long as they are given the opportunity, all healthy babies will do all these things by themselves, in their own time.

For many families, their first experience with baby-led solid begins when their baby swipes a bit of food off mom’s plate and starts gnawing away at it.  At first, this is simple curiosity on the baby’s part.  He does not yet understand that this will fill his tummy, he just wants to check it out, and do what mom is doing.  BLW as a method is simply allowing your baby to continue this exploration of food on his own terms.  Over the course of a few months, your baby progresses from exploration (with limited ingestion), to deliberate eating for hunger, until he is eating complete meals and beginning to reduce his milk feeds.  And this all happens with no pressure or interference from the parent, who has simply allowed natural development to take place.

The Problem With Spoonfeeding

  • Replaces healthier milk. Solid foods are less nutritionally dense than breastmilk or even formula.  An infant’s primary source of nutrition should be milk for at least their first year, with solid foods being only a supplement and not a main source.  Spoonfeeding tends to put more food in a baby’s tummy than they actually need, leaving less room for the essential, healthier milk.
  • Interferes with long-term breastfeeding. Since the typical schedule for solid foods is designed with complete weaning from the breast by age one in mind, completely filling up baby’s tummy with solid foods, there is a risk that your baby will nurse less, depleting your milk supply, and leading to complete weaning much earlier than would have happened naturally.
  • Power struggles over food. Since your baby has no control over what or how much she eats, she is more likely to resist, seeking to gain some power over her own body.  The “airplane game” is really a manipulative attempt to win this power struggle, based on a faulty (and nonsensical, when you think about it) assumption that babies will resist eating solids and our job is to overcome this resistance and make them eat.
  • Suppression of instinctive appetite control. When you are spoonfeeding according to a schedule, you are more likely to try to get baby to “finish the jar,” even if she is clearly communicating that she is finished.  This overrides the natural connection between hunger, appetite, and portion control, leading to potential problems with overeating in the future.
  • Bland food leads to a bland palate. Most children prefer white bread, basic pastas, hot dogs, and other simple “kids’ foods,” rather than a rich and healthy variety of ‘real’ or ‘grownup’ food.
  • Cereal is not a healthy first food. Cereal only became the standard first food because it was easy to mix into a very young infant’s bottle.  There are no nutritional advantages to it whatsoever.  In fact, cereal is heavy in starch and carbohydrates, which are difficult for an infant to digest, and a diet heavy in carbs is not a balanced diet.
  • It’s complicated! Measuring, pureeing, organizing, freezing, cleaning, scooping.  Food mills, food processors, jars, spoons, ice cube trays and specialized storage kits.  Recipe books just for babies.  Counting, planning, fretting that they’re not ‘eating enough,’ scheduling, worrying when to progress to ‘stage two’…

Advantages of Baby-led Solids

  • Optimum balance of milk and solids.  By letting your baby control his portions, according to his own instincts, you will not unintentionally fill him up with the less-nutritious solid foods.  He will gradually nurse less frequently, according to his own ideal balance of milk and solid foods, and wean on his own natural schedule.
  • Confidence and independence. Since your baby is in complete control of their feeding, deciding what to eat and how much of it, there are no power struggles.  Rather than being a passive recipient of food, she is a confident explorer, and as she matures she will be keen to try new things rather than suspicious of foods she hasn’t eaten before.
  • Self-regulation of portions. Your baby maintains his connection with his appetite, leading to a healthy attitude to portion control.  He simply stops eating when he is full.
  • Your baby is part of the dinner table. Rather than needing to be fed a separate dinner on a separate schedule, she joins you at dinner.  Your food doesn’t grow cold while you feed your baby first, and she isn’t bored while everyone else eats.  She can participate in dinner conversation and learn table manners by observation and imitation.  She learns about using cutlery and how different foods are eaten by example… and by eating the same foods as everyone else.
  • Enjoyment of wide variety of flavours. ‘Grown-up foods’ are not something children need to ‘graduate’ or grow into.  When they eat real foods from the beginning, with rich flavours and spices and a variety of textures, they will continue to eat real foods and not become dependent solely on “kid’s food”.
  • The right balance at the right time. You can relax knowing that she is eating exactly what she needs to be healthy.  A growing toddler is more likely to ‘binge’ on carbs at times, an older infant might focus on healthy fats or proteins, or go through periods of hardly eating at all but only breastfeeding, all according to what her body needs at this particular stage of growth.  Studies have shown that when offered a variety of healthy foods, without adult influence or interference, babies will instinctively choose a balanced menu providing all the nutrients they require.  So there’s no guesswork on your part.
  • It’s so easy! Make a healthy meal for your family, put some on your baby’s plate.  That’s about all there is to it.  Really.

But What About Choking?

This is the inevitable question when people first learn about BLW.  In fact, there is no greater concern about choking than with spoonfeeding, and it may even help protect against choking.  Humans have an innate gag reflex, whereby anything that gets to the back of the mouth unexpectedly (or is too large to swallow) will be regurgitated with a retching action.  In babies, this reflex is further forward in the mouth, and so gagging is fairly common while they are learning to handle food.  Although this is commonly confused with choking, it is actually the normal protective mechanism, preventing choking while a baby learns to manipulate food in his mouth with his tongue, to chew and swallow.  Spoonfeeding denies a baby the chance to practice this manipulation while the gag reflex is still extra-active. By the time a traditionally spoonfed baby is allowed to practice with finger foods, the gag reflex has receded somewhat, closer to the airway, and is thus less effective as a protective mechanism.  Gill Rapley again (p. 63):

So babies who haven’t been allowed to explore food from the beginning may miss the opportunity to use it to help them learn how to keep food away from their airway.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that babies who have been spoon-fed have more problems with gagging and ‘choking’ when they start to handle food… than those who have been allowed to experiment much earlier.

Final Food For Thought

Of course, many readers will now be saying “but I raised my babies by spoonfeeding purees and they loved it and turned out just fine.”  And it’s true that many babies will develop into healthy eaters no matter how we approach their first foods.  But this won’t be true for all babies.  BLW decreases the risks of many eating problems and is just plain easier and more enjoyable for both parent and baby.  While problems stemming from spoonfeeding may not always be extreme or applicable to all babies, the fact remains that it is completely unnecessary… so why go through the bother?

Let’s leave the last words to Gill Rapley (pp. 240-241):

Baby-led weaning can help to prevent the sorts of battles over food that are an all-too-common story amongst the parents of toddlers and young children and it can contribute to making family mealtimes fun for everyone.  in a nutshell, it makes eating the pleasure it should be.

… There is a growing amount of evidence that the way children are fed when they are very young establishes the way they will feel about food throughout their childhood, and maybe even into adulthood.  Obesity and eating disorders are in the news almost every week … Many of these problems have their roots in one (or both) of two key issues: appetite recognition and control.  The healthy development of both of these things is at the heart of BLW.

So much of the advice parents are given about infant feeding is still based on the abilities of three- or four-month-old babies and the assumption that babies need to be spoon-fed.  It rarely takes into account the natural abilities of six-month-old babies to take the lead with solids and feed themselves.  Baby-led weaning brings together what we not know about when a baby should start solids with what we can see babies are able to do at this age.

For more information, of course read this book. , and check out Gill Rapley’s website.

[This post was written by Heather Dunham]

Photo: roxeteer under creative commons.

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  1. Pingback: Baby Essentials That Aren’t, Part 7: Baby Food : Eco Child’s Play | KinderFeed.Com

  2. this is a great article. I think the desire to spoon feed our babies may just be because we want them to grow up fast. We worry about talking, walking, eating, etc.
    I wrote a website about cooking for yourself and feeding some to your baby that might be helpful to other readers as they make the transition to “baby led weaning”.

  3. I love this article, this is wonderful and will come in handy when I have to start introducing food to my youngest daughter. I remember what a nightmare it was trying to get my first daughter to eat according to how the pediatricians wanted. I wonder if they have ever heard of this method, I think it is something I will bring up at the next visit.

  4. One thing that moms need to do if they exclusively breastfeed and delay solids until the baby can feed himself/herself is to have the pediatrician check the baby’s iron level at the 6 mos checkup. The baby does not need to start on a fortified cereal if he/she is anemic, but a supplemental source of iron like Ferinsol drops would be needed.

  5. Checking for iron is not a bad idea, but the vast majority of infants have sufficient iron stores to last them until they start getting it from their own food. If you think about it, it just biologically makes sense… what doesn’t make sense is that they would *need* artificial supplements (which don’t exist in ‘nature’, or primitive societies, for example) — whether in drops or in cereal.

    Breastmilk does contain iron. It is less in quantity, but highly absorbable, unlike iron in formula or fortified cereals, or supplements.

    So it is in fact highly rare for breastfed babies to run low on iron. However if you are concerned, by all means get it checked — but do get it checked before simply deciding to start supplements “just in case” since too much iron can be hard on an infant’s system.

    Also, you can feed babies iron-rich foods. Iron doesn’t ONLY come in artificially-fortified cereals, after all! Infants can suck on iron-rich meats, for instance — even before they can chew and swallow tougher meats they can still get the rich juices.

    Gill Rapley does address the iron issue in her book. Feel free to read it for more information!

  6. My 2nd baby was actually found to be anemic at 4 mos, that’s how I know about the drops. He was full-term but on the small side so his pediatrician tested him early. I was actually advised to stop nursing and switch to preemie formula believe it or not (needless to say I ignored that!)

  7. thanks for a great article. guess i’ll just give up on the cereals and purees – my 10month old swats them away anyway. splat. at months she will only eat what she can pick up and feed herself. peas, carrots, sweet potato, prunes, blueberries etc. thanks again for a great article – i love this blog.

  8. thanks for a great article. guess i’ll just give up on the cereals and purees – my 10month old swats them away anyway. splat. at months she will only eat what she can pick up and feed herself. peas, carrots, sweet potato, prunes, blueberries etc. thanks again for a great article – i love this blog.
    Oops…forgot to say great post! Looking forward to your next one.

  9. That’s great, amy! I know that many parents come to BLW by ‘accident’ without being aware of it as a ‘method’, simply because their babies won’t have anything to do with mush. Smart babies!

    And crimsonwife, thanks for the reminder… I meant to include that in my first note, that the iron issue is completely different for preemie babies. They have not had sufficient time in the womb to build up the necessary iron stores. So yes indeed, if your baby is preemie or has similar concerns, definitely keep an eye out for that. Rapley does discuss this in her book as well (she’s very thorough!)

  10. According to the American Association of Pediatricians, recent research suggests that delaying solid foods until after 6 months doesn’t provide any food allergy benefits and may actually increase the risk of food allergies. I think that, as you suggest, parents should follow the baby’s lead. Our little girl was grabbing at our plates and clearly interested in our food by 5 months. We started with purees, but since about 7 months she really only eats finger foods. Starting solids at any age doesn’t mean that you give up on breastfeeding; it just adds variety.

  11. Pingback: Study Finds Cheeseburgers More Nutritious Than Baby Food : Eco Child’s Play

  12. Weaning in my family had nothing to do with eating. Nursing isn’t just for nutrition, IMHO, so the successful transition from mother’s milk to meals along side the rest of the family shouldn’t preclude the continuance of nursing. Just wanted to show the difference between mom and a cow.

  13. I completely agree, hannah j, and was surprised at your comment until I re-read my article just now. I guess it isn’t 100% clear that I’m in no way advocating that we stop breastfeeding just because baby is eating solids now.

    Using the term “weaning” in the British sense, where it refers to the entire process, it can said to be occurring continuously from around 6mo to 2 years, 3 years, or 6 years, whenever the end of the process happens naturally for any particular nursing pair.

    Here in the west we use the term “weaning” to mean “stopping breastfeeding”, such that a mom that breastfed for 3 months then switched to formula might say that she weaned her baby at 3 months (even though they’re not having solids yet). We also use it to say “weaned from the bottle” when they transition to a cup.

    I much prefer the British usage, which is more consistent with the word’s original usage as far as I’m aware. It’s our usage that’s gone a little loopy.

    So I can confidently say that I used “baby-led weaning” with my daughter, in that we used Gill Rapley’s ideas on solid foods, and in fact we’re “done” that part of things. At 2.5 years old, she eats just like the rest of us, including all utensils (yes, even her knife), though she still takes the buns off her hot dogs and hamburgers. 😉

    But we’re also doing “child-led weaning”, as she is still nursing a few times a day/night even alongside her full-on family meals. It’s good nutritionally (I can relax about any ‘holes’ in her nutrition, which is a common worry among parents of toddlers who will eat like birds one day and like pigs the next) as well as comfort/security/etc.

    The terminology can be confusing, so thanks for bringing up that point. My references to nursing at 6mo, 1yr, etc in the article were intended as minimums, not maximums!

  14. BLW is great!

    As for iron, our pediatrician doesn’t even check breastfed babies for iron levels until 12 months because she’s never seen an anemic breastfed baby.

  15. Pingback: Combining BLW with purees - Netmums Coffeehouse

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  17. I just came across your site via a Google alert. What can I say?? The enthusiasm of you, Heather, and the other contributors says it all – thank you for reinforcing the message that babies have always known the answers and can be trusted to do what’s best. I’d just like to acknowledge my co-author, Tracey Murkett; the book was very much a combined effort and would never have been written if she hadn’t come on board.
    Best wishes to all, Gill

  18. Oh, I feel so honoured to have earned a comment from Gill herself! Thank you for stopping by. :) And yes, kudos to Tracey as well. It’s truly an excellent and eye-opening book.

    My daughter has a “photo gallery” posted at your baby-led website: (and click on “Caileigh”). I’ve already posted in a previous comment, a link to my flickr account with many more pictures too.

    She’s now well over 2.5 and eats like the rest of us, uses all cutlery including a knife — she can cut her own soft things, like pancakes, but still needs help with “tough stuff” — and can serve herself from the platter as well.

    We’re happy to keep spreading the word. Thanks for the inspiration!

  19. This is really interesting…I have been spoon-feeding my nine-month old sometimes recently to avoid messes (now that I actually type that out I realize how selfish that sounds). She seems to like it, but I am definitely going to let her feed herself all of the time now. My only question now is giving her some of what I’m having for dinner…I usually do this anyway, but I don’t feed her exactly what I’m having (e.g., if I’m having vegetable soup I might give her some steamed carrots). Should I be giving her more a small portion of the vegetable soup (or whatever) itself? I’m worried because I usually cook with salt, spices, oil, dairy etc, and I’m always hearing how baby’s don’t need their food to have seasonings and whatnot. Oh, and also, I’ve been trying to encourage her to eat solids because she will be starting daycare in a few weeks and I’m having a tough time storing up milk.

  20. Hi Tess!

    We do have to be careful about salt. Babies’ kidneys are not yet able to handle lots of salt, and it’s also one of the later tastes to develop so they don’t even notice if they’re eating too much of it. It’s easy enough to prepare the regular meal with no or minimal salt (a little bit is fine), then add to taste for each individual after it’s prepared. Most of us could do with less salt in our diets anyway.

    The other things you mentioned are not to worry about. Avoiding spices for babies is a myth. They WANT interesting flavours, and the avoidance of spices in infancy is believed to be partly responsible for our dependence on bland ‘kid food’ for older kids — they only want white bread, etc. Besides, our babies are already used to flavours of spices we eat in our breastmilk, and in fact all the way back to our amniotic fluid!

    Oils and fats are actually necessary for healthy brain development. There’s more risk in getting too little fat than not enough. Just avoid the nasties like trans fats and go for good oils like virgin olive oil, coconut oil, fresh butter, etc.

    Dairy can depend on the child, some are sensitive to it while most are not. Most babies are fine with things like cheese and yogurt, and butter of course. Milk as a drink is unnecessary anyway. A possible concern would be milk as a cooking ingredient. You would just have to try it and see if your own child tolerates it.

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  22. wow what a great article! we have a 4-1/2 month old and we’ve been slowly introducing the baby solids to him since he demanded more and more formula (which has been for about 2 months now) everyone told me to start him on rice cereal, we tried it and to this day it still messes his little tummy up for a few days (even though i’monly feeding him a tsp full of it with his applesauce) as far as the baby purees go he only eats applesauce, so i decided to skip the baby applesauce and just buy the regular natural applesauce (much more – 75% less cost wise) he loves it… i think he likes it better than the baby stuff! we also bought him some of the “graduate” cheese puffs and teething cookies for him since he likes to try to feed himself. he’s starting to learn how to chew (well.. for now, gum) food because of the puffs. i’m planning on continuing the puffs, moving onto the fruit flavored ones after reading this article. we tend to feed our boy when we go out, bits and pieces of what we’re having and found out he loves queso dip & hamburger meat. he also likes mashed potatoes and who knows what else. we have a ton of baby food in our pantry that i’ve been hesitant to try… i may just end up giving it away to my sister inlaw for her baby.. we’ll see :) he loves the finger foods though.. thank you for your article though it just gives me piece of mind knowing that by going off the beaten path of cereal and such isn’t making me a bad mother, sometimes the pediatricians really can make you feel that you are but we see it like this – as long as our baby is happy and healthy then we know we’re doing just fine!

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  25. I will agree with a lot of what you said, but there are many reasons for the spoon feeding and the ‘liquid’ foods. Children (as rare as they may be) like my daughter, are on a very very strict diet. She was born with PKU, only about 1 10,000 are… But for mothers like me, we have to remember to count every gram, and that the ‘normal’ diet will make our kids very very sick.

  26. Love this article, and all the Baby Essentials That Aren’t… so very true!

    As I was reading, I was thinking that spoon-feeding is just one more modern-day invention that is so child-centered. I find it humorous that so many people will say that breastfeeding (especially into toddlerhood), co-sleeping, etc. will spoil a baby and that it is so baby-centered, but really, the opposite is true. Think of how child-centered it is that a baby would have to have his own bed, in his own room, and eat his own different food, with total undivided attention by the adult who is occupied with feeding him rather than feeding herself alongside him…

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  31. This is interesting. I’d heard of ECing, co-sleeping, baby-wearing, etc., but I’ve never heard much discussion regarding BLW. I think it’s something I’ll definitely be trying in the future. Am I the only single, childless person who’s already researching this sort of thing? :)

    • I’ve been researching this sort of thing since I was about 25, well before I found my husband. We’re pregnant with our first now, and I’m glad I already know so much! :)

  32. While I agree with some of the principles advocated here, there’s a big problem with taking this approach too far. What about chewing?

    The digestive system can only access the exterior surface of a food particle. The chemicals down there are only so strong, and they aren’t going to just dissolve a food particle if it’s too big. If a baby doesn’t have molars yet and isn’t thoroughly chewing food (my 3 year old still doesn’t chew much before swallowing, as obviously evidenced when he throws up barely chewed food!), then much of what may still fit down the pipe will eventually just come out the other end without benefiting the body much along the way. This is very obvious from a cursory examination of diaper contents.

    If you’re just feeding the baby certain solids for fun, then you may not care. But if you actually want the baby to extract significant nutritional benefit from what you’re feeding it, then I think it’s still a good idea to throwing it in the pureeing device of your choice to chop it up into as small particles as possible to compensate for the lack of chewing. I just don’t see how gums are capable of breaking down a lot of food types the way the body needs it broken down.

    Other than that, the other biggest danger of this approach I see is using it in an environment where the rest of the family isn’t really eating as healthy as they should be. I would cringe in horror if I saw parents feeding their babies the kind of stuff most adults often eat. Their bodies are just not as capable of “tolerating” the kind of stuff that adults eat regularly. Obviously, however, the solution to that problem is not to prepare special healthier food for the baby but to change the whole family’s menu! :)

    • Hi John,

      As for the nutritional issue, in fact babies under age one should not be getting any significant nutrition from their solid foods. Breastfed babies get everything they need from mother’s milk. In fact, mother’s milk is MORE nutritious than any solid food (and even formula is “good enough”).

      It should also be stated that saliva plays a significant role in breaking down food in the mouth, not just teeth or gums, and that a baby’s gums are actually quite hard (since the teeth are right underneath) and do a more efficient job mashing up soft foods than you might expect.

      That being said, you are correct that young babies will not be getting much nutrition from what they’re eating and yes, you do see the evidence for that in their poo! However: it doesn’t matter. That’s how the system is designed.

      As they become better at chewing, and as their digestive system ramps up to fully utilize what they are eating, they will naturally begin to reduce their milk intake. Part of the reason for this being “baby-led” is that it allows their own bodies to self-regulate this transition, since it is impossible for us to see inside their stomachs and gauge exactly the proper balance of mother’s milk vs solid foods they should be getting at any particular time. Many babies do not take any solid foods at all until well after their first birthday, and are perfectly healthy on mother’s milk alone. So yes, ‘food before one is just for fun’ and first solid foods are indeed ‘supplementary’ to their milk diet – any nutrition gained from them is a bonus, not the raison d’etre.

      As for the family’s healthy eating – this is absolutely true! Which is why I did say in the article to “make a healthy meal” and let the baby eat from it with the rest of the family. That being said, however, the alternative typical baby food route of processed cereals and jars of mush (which frequently have lots of added sugar or other questionable ingredients) is really not that much better from “the kind of stuff most adults often eat” – it’s nutritionally empty, carries significant digestive/allergy risks, is heavily processed, etc!

  33. I wanted to say that with my first I was young and did whatever people told me to do, which included introducing cereal around 5 months, etc. the only thing I did with him that I still do was co-sleep but that was accidental. I want to breast feed him but his father wouldn’t let me. I ended up marrying someone else and have had 2 more babies. With each of them I started doing more things I wish I had done the first time. They were both both breasted until almost 2 and they didn’t start eating solids until between 9 and 12 months. Now my oldest is such a picky eater. Bread and peanut butter, spaghetti, hot dogs, pizza, etc. It is hard when the rest of us are eating much healthier. I have learned, and even now there are more things I will be doing differently with the next one like ditching the stroller for a wrap, no more disposable diapers/wipes. We already ditched paper towels for cloth so why not? I am going to try and nurse ok get and always baby will sleep next to me. Oh and definitely no baby bathtub lol. Excellent series, thank you.

  34. Sorry for all the typos, I typed this on my phone! I also meant I started cereal around 4 months with my first, not 5.

  35. Wow, that was horrible. I wish I could edit lol. I also meant I am going to try and nurse even longer next time, not sure what happened there!

  36. I have tried this approach – my baby breaks off a peice of food tht is too big for her to manage and she gags and throws up. Not just the peice of food she has gagged on but the entire contents of her stomach. After a few attempts this left my baby totally traumatised and screaming whenever she was taken near her high chair. She is 7 and a half months old so by your standards not too young. My baby now refuses all purees aswell as i believe she is terrified of what is on the spoon. Thanks baby led weaning but NO THANKS!!

  37. Wow, your posts about Baby Essentials That Aren’t have opened my eyes to all of the “stuff” I thought my husband and I needed to fill our already cramped 1 bedroom apartment. We are thinking about trying for a baby this year and now I feel much more confident about not buying a crib, a tub or baby food! And I’m going to breast-feed and do cloth diapers (eek!) so we will see how it goes. Thanks for all of the info!

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  41. Interesting article series… We are (very UNexpectedly) expecting our 4th little one in a couple of months. We recently had to downsize into an apartment in my -in-law’s basement, and while our oldest 3 children (ages 5, 8, & 10) have their “nooks” for sleep & play, there certainly isn’t room for a fully furnished “nursery” (we are planning to have Baby with us in our room.) Since we had donated all of our baby things, we are starting from practically nothing again, but I am more confident about not needing ALL of what we once thought were essential. No crib, no bath tub, no swing, no highchair (booster seat with belt, perhaps) – you get the idea… My MIL is a little worried! :) But I know that Baby will be perfectly fine. With my others, I breastfed exclusively until after their first birthday & started solids at 6 mos. We eat a mostly plant-based diet & my kids have never had allergies or been extremely picky. I always figured “simple” was “better” – glad to know I’m not alone.

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  43. Pingback: KIOS: Parenting, Part 8: Baby-Led Eating and Weaning | Salmon and Souvlaki