Learn About Baby-Led Weaning in Live Chat with The Baby Steps Dietitian

Learn all about the benefits of baby-led weaning, in addition to how to practice it in your own home, with this expert live interview with nutrition experts Diana Rice and Sharon Palmer.

Baby-led weaning—the concept of skipping out on spoon-feeding infants commercial baby foods in lieu of letting them feed themselves finger foods—has become a hot topic in the world of child nutrition and feeding. While this is a practice that’s been around for centuries in many cultures, it’s gained new appreciation among passionate parents, health care professionals, and nutritionists. In fact, recent studies have shown that baby-led weaning helps babies learn to enjoy a variety of different foods at an early age, which can help prevent picky eating later in life, reduce the risk of childhood obesity, and help parents save money. It’s a win-win for both babies and parents! Yet, many questions abound on baby-led weaning. What is baby-led weaning really? Is baby-led weaning safe? What are the risks? How do you ensure babies meet their nutrient needs with baby-led weaning? How do you do baby-led weaning?

That’s why I was so excited to sit down in my live chat with friend and leading child nutrition expert, known as “The Baby Steps Dietitian”, Diana K. Rice, MS, RD to talk all about baby-led weaning and share her latest project, The Messy Intersection, a podcast that focuses on real life stories and insights from guests about pregnancy, body image, feeding kids, and much more!

Things You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What baby-led weaning is.
  • When to introduce your baby to the baby-led weaning concept.
  • Why parents are drawn to this style of feeding.
  • What a plant-based baby-led weaning plan may look like.
  • How to meet nutrient needs during baby-led weaning.
  • Benefits of baby-led weaning.

Diana’s Favorite Baby-Led Weaning Resources:

  • Baby Led-Weaning: Gill Rapley’s essential guide to introducing solid foods and help your baby grow up to become a happy and confident eater.
  • Born to Eat: A practical guide that provides simple and actionable steps for each stage in the “starting solids” process.
  • Diana K. Rice website.

Learn All About Baby-Led Weaning with The Baby Steps Dietitian, Diana K. Rice, MS, RD

Watch my live chat with Diana on Baby-Led Weaning here.

Read the full interview about baby-led weaning with Diana and Sharon.

Sharon: What was the inspiration behind your new podcast The Messy Intersection?

Diana: I am a young mom myself and most of my peers are young moms, and I found that this particular time in life where your life changes so much, your body changes because of pregnancy, you suddenly have to figure out how to feed your kids and you’re just starting all over again… and it can get messy! There’s a-lot of resources for the kids, such as what’s best for kid’s nutrition, but I really wanted to create a resource where it brought them both together and celebrated the fact that moms are in this too. Her life, body and eating habits are changing too, so I wanted to give moms as much support as the little kiddos have.

Sharon: What is the nitty-gritty of baby-led weaning?

Diana: The phrase baby-led weaning was coined by a British author named Joe Rapley in a book published in 2008. It explored an alternative method of feeding babies that parents have probably been using for decades if not centuries. Rapley really put a name to it and explored some of the research that explains its safety and benefits. Baby-led weaning is the idea that instead of the spoon coming towards your baby’s mouth with the baby oatmeal or pureed food, it’s putting your infant in their high chair, and offering the baby some of the very same food that you’re having on your plate yourself. There’s a-lot to learn about how to modify the foods that are safe for the baby, but it’s basically skipping baby food purees and going right to solid foods from the very start.

Sharon: If you’re a parent interested in baby-led weaning, and you’ve been using formula or breastfeeding, when would you start to introduce your baby to this concept?

Diana: All the leading health organizations such as the World Health Organization and the Academy of Pediatrics, say to start babies on complementary foods at 6 months, so the food is a complement to the formula or breast milk. Six months is also the time where we see babies start to develop the motor skills they need, so sitting upright in the high chair, being able to grasp things with their hands, and being able to make chewing motion. Babies have something called the “tongue thrust” which is helpful if the breast or formula bottle is coming towards their mouth, it helps them latch on properly. At 6 months, babies gut health is in check and their digestive system is also ready for solid foods. At this age, it’s definitely the right time to start on solids whether you’re doing baby-led weaning or purees. I did mention the flavor window that starts at 4-7 months old, so what parents can do is add a smidge on the lips of a new flavor at this age.

Berry Yummy Oat Baby Muffins

Sharon: Why are parents drawn to this style of feeding their infants?

Diana: One thing is that it’s definitely one of the latest trendy new things like the keto diet. I’m a big proponent of intuitive eating, a trend that’s getting a lot of attraction, and I believe baby-led weaning is a great way to help our babies maintain their sense of intuitive eating right from the start. Baby-led weaning is trendy but it’s also convenient, especially if you want your baby to have homemade foods because you’re not blending everything into a blender or stocking your freezer with all these things just for the baby, you’re just taking some of the food right from your own plate and testing it on to the baby in a safe and modify way. Pureed baby food often doesn’t taste like the food the baby is going to be eating later in life, so it’s a great way to introduce nutritious fresh foods to the baby and there’s some research that shows that it can help infants who then become toddlers, widen their flavor pallets and basically become less picky eaters.

Sharon: There’s so much interest in childhood obesity, is there any research on weight?

Diana: The most recent research that I’ve seen shows there isn’t enough information to tell right now. If your child is less likely to be a picky eater, they are more likely to enjoy the fruit and veggies and other nutritious foods they need all throughout their childhood, regardless of what their body size is.

Baby led weaning, Diana Rice

Sharon: How does baby-led weaning help prevent allergens?

Diana: In 2017, new guidelines came out on introducing babies to allergens. In the 90s and early 2000s, we used to think that if your baby might be at risk for a food allergy, keep the allergen away until about 3 years old or more, but there wasn’t actually any research to support that. We recently learned that according to the latest peer reviewed research, it is that the earlier the babies are exposed to potential allergens, the better. To whatever degree your lifestyle allows, for example if you don’t have fish or shellfish in your home, not going to pressure you into doing this, but introduce those foods early and often between the 6-8-month mark, once a week. Once you have checked off that you’ve introduced each of those allergens and the baby doesn’t have a reaction, then you can feel more confident in offering the baby other foods.

Sharon: What does a plant-based baby-led meal look like?

Diana: Baby-led weaning helps the baby be in charge of the pace of the food coming into their mouth. Say the family is having a salad with tomatoes and avocado and a plant-based protein such as a bean patty or tofu. Most of those things you can actually just put on the baby’s plate but modified for safety, for example with the salad, the leafy greens are going to be a choking hazard but a slice of avocado is fantastic. You can roll it in a flax meal to make it easier for the baby to grasp. I love doing bean burgers with babies because a bean is tiny and can be a choking hazard, but a patty, where it’s all mashed up, is easier to chew. Marinated tofu is fantastic because you can get so many flavors in there. The food just needs to pass that squish test and not have anything hard like a whole nut, grape or cherry tomato. Remember it’s going to be messy, but that is important for kids as they’re learning to eat, it’s important to embrace that mess to have that full sensory experience and learn how to eat.

Sharon: Do you have recommendations for the appropriate size of food?

Diana: It’s really more about texture, size helps them grasp the food so I wouldn’t do crispy fried tofu right away because it might not be as squishy. If they take a bite from the tofu or avocado, it’s going to turn into a smaller piece even if they don’t have teeth. What the baby is learning to do is maneuver food in their mouth and get it to the back of their mouth. If the food is in its whole form, it’s very likely they will gag. It’s important for parents to know that gagging is different from choking, and it’s very normal and beneficial because this is a learning experience for babies. We want them to gag so the baby has the experience and learns they need to chew their food. Choking is something we do want to be concerned about. There is no evidence to show that baby-led weaning leads to choking than traditional spoon feeding. If you have a baby that is getting ready to eat solid foods, it’s beneficial to take an infant CPR class because choking signs are silent and they’re going to need that adult assistance.

Baby led weaning, Diana Rice

Sharon: Are there any other types of benefits of baby-led weaning?

Diana: For me, a huge one is starting the habit of having family meals right from the start. I mentioned it’s not impossible to have a pureed fed baby participate in your family meals, in fact that can be great. I’ve had couples where the two parents weren’t eating together necessarily but the fact they have a child now makes them want to come together, so they’re starting that habit of sitting around the family table and enjoying the same foods early on. I believe the benefits for the parents are greater than the benefits for the child because you’re going to be practicing the best principles of child feeding which are the division’s responsibility, i.e., the parents are responsible for what the food is, when and where it is served. The child is responsible whether to eat that food at all and if so, how much.

Sharon: Are there any other resources you would want to share with us that you are working on?

Diana: Well for a while it’s just been podcast, podcast, podcast! It’s not as easy as just recording something and throwing it out there. My podcast can be found on iTunes, Spotify, and Google podcast, just search for The Messy Intersection. I’ve also been really busy with my private practice, I see both adults for intuitive eating as well as kids with feeding difficulties, picky eating, and any nutrition needs. My work with my private clients has inspired me to create a new resource that is all about family meal planning and taming the kitchen chaos. I’ve been able to find the secret sauce and figure out how to get dinner on the table less chaotic and help your kids enjoy more healthy foods on a regular basis – it all goes back to repeated exposure. The best way to learn more about that is to listen to my podcast.

Sharon: Do you have a favorite recipe you would like to share with us?

Diana: I call it my self-care soup (see below). It’s a white bean and vegetable soup with sweet potatoes and tomatoes. This soup is also a really great food for baby-led weaning!

Diana’s Self-Care Soup (White Bean and Veggie)

About Diana Rice

Diana K. Rice, RD, LD, CLEC is known as The Baby Steps Dietitian and is the founder of Diana K. Rice Nutrition, LLC. Through her virtual private practice and consulting work, she helps families navigate the chaos and pressures of modern life to learn how to eat well and stress less about food. She is a passionate advocate for weight-neutral healthcare and helping families raise body-confident children with the resilience to resist dieting and enjoy healthy relationships with food. Her expertise has been featured in Fit Pregnancy, Parents, U.S. News and World Report, Today’s Dietitian, and many other publications. She blogs about everything from preconception nutrition through feeding kids at dianakrice.com and hosts a new podcast, The Messy Intersection, which speaks to moms during the crazy time in new motherhood where learning how to feed our kids intersects with learning how to feed ourselves.

For more live chats with experts, check out the following: 

Fight Cancer with Your Fork
Eating for IBS on a Plant-Based Diet
Get the Scoop on CBD and Cannabis in Foods

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