As we all know, babies are mainly fed on milk until 6 to 8 months of age, but from 9 to 11 months of age, half of their calorie intake should come from complementary feeding. In most cases, complementary feeding starts with traditional formula, but more and more parents are becoming interested in Baby-Led. A feeding method that involves the process of moving directly from breastfeeding to solid food.
Such a method has many advantages:
- Improves baby's motor skills, especially hand-eye coordination and chewing.
- Encourages their own independence.
- It allows them to discover new textures, smells, colours and tastes for themselves. This enables them to distinguish tastes better and to reject less food.
- It allows the whole family to eat at the same time, saving time in meal preparation.
- The baby regulates its food and will only eat as much as is necessary to satisfy its appetite, and this will educate a person who will be less likely to become overweight in adulthood.
- It promotes proper development of the bones of the face and mouth which will prevent orthodontic crowding problems in the future.
Sometimes we think that babies will not be able to chew without all their teeth, but this is not true. Children chew even if they don't have teeth: they use their gums, tongue and palate to chew. Moreover, after 7 or 8 months they have sufficiently developed chewing muscles to chew. Little by little we have to give them foods in small quantities that can be chewed/crushed.
Choking is one of the risks when parents opt for Baby-Led, which is why we must inform ourselves beforehand about which foods should not be given. In addition, to practice Baby-Led it is recommended to have some basic notions of first aid, so we will be calmer when dealing with a choking situation produced or not by Baby-Led.
I recommend some foods that should be avoided until 4 or 5 years of age, depending on maturity:
- Raw vegetables (carrot, celery, salad).
- Sliced frankfurter sausage.
- Crisps, rice or corn crackers.
- Raw apple, cherries and whole grapes or similar.
- Nuts (peanuts) or dried fruit (sultanas, cranberries) whole or in pieces.
- Sweets, popcorn, candy.
- Any hard food that they cannot crush with their tongue and palate.
Baby-Led is a safe feeding method but we must follow the right conditions:
- Have a real appetite for food: by leaving the "control" in the hands of the child, there is a risk that their diet does not cover all their energy needs or that there are nutritional imbalances. This is why it is important to know the Harvard plate with the proportions of each food group.
- Has lost the extrusion reflex: lhe only food that babies have until they are 6 months old is liquid, no solid element really comes into contact with their tongue. As a defence mechanism, when we put something on the tip of their tongue, they immediately push it out, typical of when we give them a soother for the first time or when we give them something with a spoon. This is mistakenly interpreted as a gag reflex or that they don't like it. What really happens is the so-called extrusion effect, and it is from the age of 6 months that it starts to disappear naturally because the baby's body is now ready to swallow. Therefore, we must expose the baby to small quantities of semi-solid food so that little by little this reflex is eliminated.
- Maintain an upright posture: must be able to stay in the highchair without falling sideways or forwards.
- Handle their hands well: Babies under 9 months do not know how to clamp with their thumb and forefinger, so they use their whole hand to hold food. To start with the Baby-Led it is necessary that they have enough manual autonomy to be able to feed themselves.
The options for complementary feeding of your child are very varied. The decision is up to you. Observe how they act when eating, respect their tastes, be attentive and, above all, don't be in a hurry and enjoy watching how they progress and learn. If you have any doubts, your paediatrician will help you.