Baby-led Weaning, also known as The Rapley Method, named after its creator Gill Rapley, is a fuss-free way to introduce your baby, from the age of six months, to solid foods. Based on the brochure, created by Gill Rapley, I would like to summarize the method below.
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is a way of introducing solid foods that allows babies to feed themselves – there’s no spoon feeding and no purées. The baby sits with the family at mealtimes and joins in when she is ready, feeding herself first with her fingers and later with cutlery.
- allows babies to explore taste, texture, colour and smell
- encourages independence and confidence
- helps to develop their hand-eye coordination and chewing skills
- makes picky eating and mealtime battles less likely.All healthy babies can begin to feed themselves from about six months. They just need to be given the opportunity.
Why baby-led weaning makes sense
Baby-led weaning is based on the way babies develop in their first year.Babies’ immune and digestive systems aren’t ready for other foods until they are about six months old – breastmilk (or formula) is all healthy babies need until then. At six months, a baby is able to sit upright, pick up pieces of food, take them to her mouth and chew them – in other words, she can feed herself.In the past, when babies were started on solid foods at three or four months, they had to be given purées because they were too young to feed themselves.
If you’ve waited until your baby is six months to introduce solid foods you’ve skipped the purée stage, so there’s no need to start that way.
Won’t she choke?
For a long time parents have been encouraged to introduce finger foods at around six months to help their baby develop chewing skills – the difference with baby-led weaning is that you don’t spoon feed as well. So, provided simple safety rules are observed, choking is no more likely than with any other method of introducing solids. In fact, allowing babies to control what goes into their mouths may actually help them learn to eat safely.
How do we get started?
- Sit your baby upright, facing the table, either on your lap or in a highchair. Make sure she is steady and can use her hands and arms freely.
- Offer your baby food, rather than give it to her – put it in front of her, or let her take it from your hand, so that the decision is hers.
- Start with foods that are easy to pick up – thick sticks or long strips are best at first. Introduce new shapes and textures gradually so that your baby can work out how to handle them.
- Include your baby in your mealtimes whenever you can. As far as possible – as long as it’s suitable – offer your baby the same food as you are eating, so that she can copy you.
- Choose times when your baby is not tired or hungry, so she can concentrate. Mealtimes at this stage are for play and learning – she will still be getting all her nourishment from her milk feeds.
- Carry on offering breast or formula feeds as before – this is still your baby’s main source of nutrition until she is a year old. When your baby needs less she will reduce feeds herself.
- Offer your baby water with her meals so she can drink if she needs to.
- Don’t hurry your baby or distract her while she is handling food -allow her to concentrate and take her time.
- Don’t put food into your baby’s mouth for her or try to persuade her to eat more than she wants.
Which foods can I offer my baby?
You can share most healthy family foods with your baby. For example, fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, well-cooked eggs, bread (or toast), rice, pasta, and most fish are suitable. Choose foods that are easy to cut into sticks or large strips when your baby is starting.
Offering your baby a variety of foods will give her the chance to discover different tastes and textures and ensure she gets all the nutrients she needs.
Foods to avoid
- Added salt and sugar (read labels carefully – many foods, such as baked beans, pies, sauces and gravy, contain a lot of salt)
- ‘Fast foods’ and ready meals
- Honey, shellfish, shark, marlin and under-cooked eggs
- Don’t expect your baby to eat much at first. Many babies eat only small amounts for the first few months of baby-led weaning. It may help to think of mealtimes as playtimes in the beginning.
- Expect some mess! Spread a clean mat under your baby’s chair to protect the floor – and so you can hand dropped pieces back to her.
- Keep it enjoyable. That way your baby will be keen to try new foods and look forward to mealtimes.
Keep your baby safe
- Make sure your baby is sitting upright to eat
- Don’t give your baby whole nuts
- Cut small fruits such as olives and cherries in half; remove any stones
- Don’t let anyone except your baby put food into her mouth
- Explain how baby-led weaning works to anyone caring for your baby
- NEVER leave your baby alone with food
Discuss the introduction of solids with your health advisers if you have a family history of food intolerance, allergies or digestive problems or any other concerns about your baby’s health or development.