Traditional weaning – How can you ensure your baby self –feeds sooner?
Read all about weaning basics first- our primer here is ALL you need to know before starting solids.
Weaning your baby to solids is a big milestone for any parent. Once you choose the type of weaning you want to follow, it is only a matter of time, before your baby is trying to get their hands on food, smearing it on their face and playing with a huge food mess. And like we have always re-iterated, mess is good. Mess helps to develop tactile sensory processing skills – your baby learns that it is normal to feel sticky, slimy, cold, and warm on their hands and face when they eat and that it is ok. Traditional weaning or baby-led weaning – both methods have the same goal – your child should be self-feeding by one.
When you choose to wean your baby in the conventional manner, also known as traditional weaning, you start off with feeding purees or hand mashed food, and move onto lumpier textures gradually. At around 8 months, the baby starts to handle finger foods with a little help and by one year it is expected that your baby will be eating family foods. However, one slippery slope that some of us, as parents who wean traditionally, tend to go down is, we do not let the baby assume control at mealtimes. Why this could be disastrous is because:
- Your baby might be averse to mess and textures, always having been fed.
- Your baby does not know how to handle food, since they are always fed by you.
- Your baby may not recognize his satiety or hunger signals as a result of not being allowed to assume control of his meals.
Hence, the ideal way to go about traditional weaning should be by not feeding your baby everything, but by assisting the baby to eat by himself gradually.
How can you traditionally wean your baby, but at the same time give him control?
Weaning a baby traditionally should be all about giving up control mainly because you want the baby to be prepared to self feed completely by the time he is one. That cannot happen if we micromanage every single meal completely without letting the baby play with or touch the food.
- While starting traditional weaning, you may start with very thick purees, but do not feed them for too long. Gradually move to lumpier, hand-mashed foods, incorporating all textures and food groups.
- Gagging is normal. Gagging is a protective reflex that helps the baby to keep bigger pieces of food near the front of the mouth while allowing very well-chewed pieces to be swallowed. At six months, the gag reflex is further forward in your baby’s mouth, while it moves farther back on your baby’s tongue as they age. When your baby gags, do not freak out! Gagging will teach them to manipulate the bigger pieces of food and bring them back to the front to chew or spit out. When your baby gags, NEVER try to help them by pushing your finger in their mouth, you could push it in further and cause choking.
- Watch out for choking, because it is always silent. Choking is when the air tube gets blocked by a piece of food, mostly round and hard. While gagging is normal, choking is dangerous. Learn CPR and First Aid so that you are prepared to deal with choking when it happens. Read our section here on choking vs gagging to know how to avoid it.
- During mealtimes, if child wants to grab the spoon, allow the child to do so. Thick purees or porridges may be pre-loaded on spoons and handed over to the child to self feed.
- At around eight months, start finger foods. This could mean rotis or idlis dipped in gravy to soften them, or similar family foods.
- The pincer grip also sets in around this stage and pincer grip practice is a fun way for kids to self feed. Pomegranate and puffed rice are great snacks to perfect the pincer grip.
- At all meals, while you may feed a part of the meal, plan one part of the meal that can be self fed. It could be veggies cut into smaller pieces which baby can pick up with pincer grip, or strips of roti or other breads softened with dal or gravy.
- Give enough opportunities to self feed and exposure to all the family food varieties regularly to increase familiarity.
- Even when it gets messy (oh, it will!), do not stop the self-feeding. Let the baby explore the food textures and get messy at mealtimes. Embrace the mess – this bridge needs to be crossed at some point, the earlier the better.
- Remember – do not use any distractions to get the baby to eat. This means, no screens, books or stories around meal times, because distractions result in the baby ignoring their satiety signals, and overeating often.
- While baby self feeds, eat along with them. Babies learn from imitation really well!
Transitioning an older child to self feeding?
If your toddler is more than one year old and yet to self feed, fear not. You aren’t really late to start self feeding. Here’s how to do it!
- Realign your expectations. Quantities will not be as much as they were when you were feeding your child. Do not fret. Let your child figure out how to handle the food and respect his hunger and satiety cue
- Start out with one meal at a time. Ideally, a snack time is an ideal meal to start self feeding. Give easy to handle, well-liked finger foods and let the child self feed.
- Slowly start incorporating self feeding components in each meal. This means you could continue feeding your child, but also keep a part of the meal that the child could self feed, much like suggested for a eight month old baby previously.
- Stop all distractions. We cannot say it enough. Do not distract your child during his mealtime in the hope that he will eat more. Let the baby focus on his food.
- Be there to help when baby needs assistance. When your child starts out self feeding, he might not immediately be open to the idea of having control of his meals; because he recognizes that it is easier being fed. Give him the space to figure out how to self feed, while at the same time letting him know that you are there to assist when it gets too overwhelming.
- Acknowledge that mess is a necessary part of the process. While it does seem easier and less messy to keep on feeding your child, we all need to acknowledge that self-feeding is a life skill for a child, and that mess is a necessary part of self-feeding. Granted, mess is very difficult to clean, but using bibs, keeping wash cloths handy and baths are great ways to tackle the mess. What mess however does help with, is encouraging the child to build their cognitive and fine motor skills while making them more open to try new foods.
- Take their help in meal prep or planning. Toddlers love to help – it helps them feel like they are adulting! When you let them plan the meal, or help in meal preparation, even if it is just shopping, it helps them to get familiar with the meal components, reducing their pickiness or fussiness. They would be more open and enthusiastic about self-feeding in that case.
Ultimately, weaning to solids should never be about forcing and coercing and instead should be about giving up control and recognizing that self-feeding is a life skill that your toddler needs. Enable them to get there! Happy weaning!