Where and how should I feed my baby?
Make sure your baby is upright and safe in a high chair or on your lap. This is very important to prevent choking. Personally, I would recommend a high chair, as BLW can be quite messy! We have the Stokke Tripp Trapp chair, baby set and tray, which has been awesome. Additionally, a bib with a sizable pouch to catch falling food is extremely useful! We use the Baby Bjorn bibs. Check out my Feeding Gear Guide for more information about all of this.
Introduce water in a straw cup at meals. Initially, you will have to squeeze the water (slowly) up through the straw into your baby’s mouth, and most of it will dribble out. Rather quickly, however, your baby will learn how to suck out of the straw. In no time, he will do it himself. My son actually takes his cup, tucks it into the pocket in his bib (in his lap, more or less) and drinks away with joy and pride.
Keep the focus on playing and experimenting, especially in the first few months. Mealtimes are for learning and experimenting—not necessarily eating. Your baby will still be getting all of his nourishment from breast milk or formula, so you don’t need to worry about how much he is (or isn’t) eating.
In the first few months, offer pieces of food that are stick- or wedge-shaped and at least two inches long—half to hold and half to munch. Teeth are not required, as babies can use their very strong gums to mash foods in their mouth. In fact, my son didn’t have his first two teeth until after he was 7 months old, but he never had any issues eating from six months on!
Check that the food is not too hot; testing a mouthful yourself is more reliable than using your finger. Make sure your baby is the one who decides what goes into his mouth. Put food within easy reach (on his high chair tray or the tabletop) and let him explore.
Offer your baby a small selection of foods to start with. I like to do 3-4 pieces or kinds of food at a time. Overloading him could overwhelm him. Nonetheless, have more food ready in case he wants it. (My son almost always does!) Talk to him about the different foods, naming them and describing their colors and textures, so that he learns new words while developing new skills.
Don’t guide your baby's hands, help or rush him. Some babies can be discouraged from trying foods if they are made to feel self-conscious or under pressure by their parents (or others) watching every mouthful they eat or interfering with their experience. Try not to pay too much attention to your baby while he’s eating; you may be fascinated to watch, but he won’t feel comfortable being stared at. In sum, treat him like any other meal companion. Do not rush him, wipe his face mid-meal, start cleaning up mid-meal, praise or scold attempts at eating, or help him get food in his mouth. Let him do his thing! (Don’t interfere unless he is choking – not gagging.)
Mealtimes should be a normal, enjoyable, everyday activity. Your quiet support and the rewards of handling and eating food are all your baby needs to grow in skill and confidence. Try to eat with him and include him in your meals whenever possible, so that he has plenty of opportunities to copy you and practice his new skills.
Remember that your baby is learning and having fun. “A clean plate” is not the goal (and never should be). It’s important for your baby to eat only as much as he wants and needs. Babies are self-regulators and can be trusted to manage their intake. Accordingly, don’t expect your baby to eat much food at first. He doesn’t suddenly need extra food just because he is six months old.
As your baby discovers that food tastes good, he will begin to chew, and later to swallow. Many babies eat very little for the first few months, as they are just exploring food with their lips and tongue; they won’t chew or swallow much. They are still learning how to do it. (For my son, this was true for the first month or so, and then his intake really ramped up!)
Expect some (a lot of) mess! Think about how to dress your baby (we strip my son down to his diaper when we’re at home) and how to protect the area around him so that dealing with the mess isn’t stressful and dropped food can be safely handed back. If you have a dog, he/she can be very helpful with cleaning up the floor ;)
Rapley, Gill, and Murkett, Tracey. Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater. The Experiment, New York: 2008, 2010.