Baby-led weaning for introduction to complementary foods – Part 2

Recommended age when infants should be introduced to complementary foods.

In 2002, the World Health Organization changed their guidelines for the recommended age for when infants should be introduced to complementary foods (solids and liquids other than breast milk or formula). The recommendation was changed from 4-6 months of age to waiting until the infant was six months old.

Michigan State University Extension’s infant feeding programs also support waiting until an infant is six months old before introducing foods other than breast milk or formula. This change affected the practical aspects of how to introduce foods since six month old infants are more developmentally advanced than four month old infants.

While four month olds cannot feed themselves and require spoon feeding with purees, six month old infants can grasp objects, are able to sit up with little or no help and are usually able to feed themselves. Infants who are six months of age also have developed more oral motor activity and have the ability to break up soft foods, move them around in their mouths and swallow them.

Prior research has demonstrated that exposing infants to a range of food textures (as opposed to simply pureed foods) before nine months of age may decrease the risk of a child being a fussy eater later on in life.

With baby-led weaning (BLW), infants are offered only “graspable” pieces of food (finger foods) to feed themselves and purees are not used. “Graspable” pieces of food include foods that the infant can pick up and hold themselves, typically in a “stick shape.” These can include a wide variety of foods such as fruits, vegetables, meats, cheeses, breads and pastas.

 In BLW, the parent offers these foods to the infant and the infant chooses what to eat and how much from the choices offered. This method may help the infant self-regulate food intake and accept a wider variety of whole foods. While the child is young, it is advised that parents avoid hard foods such as raw apples or nuts, and coin shaped foods, such as sliced hot dogs, to avoid choking hazards. It is also important that an adult is always present while the child is feeding themself. Common first foods include cooked potato, broccoli and carrots as well as avocado or banana.

MSU Extension health and nutrition programs offer lessons on how to feed your infant from 6-12 months. Contact your local extension office for additional information.

This article is Part 2 in a series. You can find Part 1 here.

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