Baby-Led Weaning is a method where Baby feeds themselves little snacks and foods that are appropriate for their age. It doesn't mean forcing them to drink less breastmilk. It doesn't mean reducing your breastmilk offerings. You still offer breast milk as often as you and Baby like. It's simply about putting the choice in the hands of Baby who directs when they want foods or Mama-milk. So basically, foods that are not pureed or spoon-fed.
Baby must be able to sit up unassisted and have lost the "tongue thrust reflex". I have a friend who did more of a sit-in-the-high-chair-and-get-spoon-fed method, and later on her son would get frustrated at mealtimes, so perhaps there's a correlation. But it might have just been his independent personality.
How much to feed my baby? And when do I take away the food?
I notice once the food is being played with a lot, then Baby is usually full. But use your own judgement for when to take a food away. That's why I like having a little table for Baby to "graze' at while they play. I think we're kind of going overboard if you're too worried about creating a snacking behavior that's hard to break. Once kids are big enough for Mom to be concerned about weight, they're too busy playing with friends and toys to care about snacking all the time. My six year old actually says eating takes too long and wants to rush off to play as soon as he's done. Of course, that's assuming you don't feed a lot of sugary foods. Focus on whole foods that are minimally processed and you'll never have an issue with overweight children.
How to Start Baby-Led Weaning
My twin girls are really excited about feeding themselves. They are 10 months old. It sort of happened naturally. When they turned 6 months I started feeding them with a spoon and purees. Once they were really good at swallowing food and weren't choking at all on chunky purees, then I offered a few things on a little table for them to pick up. This was at the stage when they were very excited about picking up things with their thumb and forefinger, so they loved the activity. Banana was first, then small blueberries and cut up grapes. It kept them busy while I could get some stuff done in the kitchen. Yes, it made a mess on the floor sometimes, but it was worth their toothy grins when they felt happy about feeding themselves and got excited about a favorite food.
A lot of times it works best to model how delicious a new food is, so Mama, you sit with Baby and make "yum, yum" noises and eat the chunks of food along with your baby. You don't want to leave Baby alone while eating, but more so be nearby assisting if needed and encouraging (and checking for safety, is baby having trouble chewing or swallowing the foods?).
Get the Right Balance of Nutrients
Baby's digestive system is used to having 50% fat in breastmilk. So make sure you are offering a fat with every meal. That could be butter, coconut oil, avocado, cheese (high MF content), fatty meat (not lean cuts) or full-fat dairy products. I would stay away from nuts until 12-24 months, but check with your doctor. Breastmilk is only deficient in iron (and sometimes Omega fatty acids as well depending on how much Mama consumes), so feeding your baby a small amount of ground beef is very beneficial since it has lots of iron in it that the body can easily absorb.
You must thoroughly discuss introducing any family-specific allergenic food with your Pediatrician. There may be reasons why you should or should not wait to introduce certain foods. For example, if any of your other children or family members are allergic to a certain food, wait until your Pediatrician says it's okay to introduce that food. These foods could include: Nuts, eggs, wheat, dairy, certain fish, certain fruits, etc.
Don't go overboard on fruits and veggies. You'll have a baby that's pooping very liquid poops and is uncomfortable. The best way to get a balance of nutrients of always pair a fat in their meal, offer meat at least once per day, and offer dairy at least 2-3 times per day. I prefer only giving my babies fermented dairy products versus just simply milk. That means yogurt, kefir, cheese, cream cheese, or sour cream (check for carageenan and find a brand that doesn't use that chemical thickener).
You should ensure that foods are offered in a manner so as not to pose a choking hazard. Please keep in mind that all babies are different and will eat textures, bits and chunks of foods at their own pace.
Finger food ideas for baby:
steamed apples cut into small chunks SEE RECIPE BELOW
steamed broccoli (monitor poops for irritation broccoli can cause really loose poops and indigestion, not for under 10 months old)
cheese (organic cheddar - you want high fat cheeses, not skim mozzarella)
preferably homemade bread chunks but store-bought organic is good too
mixed coconut oil with coconut meat rolled into little balls
ground meat with spices in little chunks
scrambled eggs (include ground meat for extra protein and or cheese) SEE RECIPE BELOW
strawberries (monitor poops, some people are allergic)
cut up grapes, apricots, peaches, plums, pears
frozen peas defrosted
bananas in little chunks (size of a very small blueberry to start with)
rice crackers (don't rely on these too much, too much fiber for baby) or homemade crackers - make sure to get rice crackers or others that have VERY simple ingredients. Anything you can't pronounce should be avoided.
homemade from-scratch sourdough pancakes - these have protein from eggs and protein from wheat, plus you can use spelt flour. Skip the maple syrup, offer with steamed apple chunks
yogurt mixed with 10% water in a bottle
dehydrated apple slices (no additives, just simple apples) - offer bottle of buttermilk or yogurt and water with it so it doesn't dry out poops
little bits of your food! Chunks from stews, sandwiches, anything that's healthy!
Recipes: All recipes are designed for babies who are between 8-10 months or older, who can confidently chew and swallow chunks of food without choking. Please start with very soft mushy foods and work your way up to harder stuff.
All-Natural Sweet Steamed Apples
Servings: about 4
1 organic apple 1/2 cup organic apple juice (no additives, just simple 100% juice)
Cut (and peel if you prefer...Baby can eat the peel but only older ones) 1 apple into chunks about 1" by 1", then put in a small pot with 1/2 cup of unsweetened apple juice. Bring to a boil, then immediately turn off the heat but leave the pot on the burner. Wait 10 minutes, then check for softness. You want it to be soft, but not mushy and falling apart. Then break into chunks the size of a small blueberry and serve on Baby's table or highchair!
Optional: 1/8 tsp of cinnamon or ground ginger or fresh ginger (the size of your pinky nail and take it out at the end of cooking & discard).
Notes: if you're out of apple juice, try orange juice, it's more tangy but my girls LOVED it!
Scrambled Eggs and Meat Servings: Enough for Baby & you!
2 free-range organic eggs 2 TB of cooked, organic grass-fed ground meat of your choice 1 TB organic butter sprinkle of salt & dash of freshly cracked pepper Optional: chopped chives/green onions/kale/chard/fresh garlic minced
Melt the butter in a small frying pan on medium heat. Crack the eggs in a separate bowl & wisk until well-mixed. Toss the ground meat into the frying pan & cook for 2 minutes on low. Then add the eggs (and optional veggies). Stir with a rubber spatula and as it cooks on the sides, pull the eggs away from the sides of the pan and stir. Once eggs are fully cooked, put them on a plate and add your salt & pepper. If you like, you can top with shredded cheddar. Once it is thoroughly cooled, break it up into small bits for Baby and put in her highchair tray or table. Watch for a toothy grin!
Quick Mix Pumpkin Baby Food (Puree-Style)
I used this mix when I was short on time back when my girls were 6 months old. It's sweet and also has some full-fat dairy to balance out the sweet flavor.
1 Spoonful of pumpkin puree (from the can) 6 spoonfuls of plain, unsweetened applesauce (learn to make your own here) 1 Spoonful of organic cream cheese or sour cream (or whipping cream)
Mix it up, put it in a Tupperware and it's ready for spoon-feeding baby on a trip to the store or on an airplane ride. This recipe tastes very similar to the pouch-style purees but is a fraction of the cost! Adjust the mixture if Baby likes it sweeter.