It's time to pack up the pea purée and toss the baby rice. No more blending beans, mashing bananas or whipping sweet potatoes.
Fed up with rigid timetables for the introduction of first foods, a growing number of parents are giving up on spoon feeding and letting the kids set the pace.
The "baby-led weaning" movement, a term coined by a British former health visitor and midwife Gill Rapley, is mushrooming over the Internet. In the new book she has co-authored, Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food, Ms. Rapley argues that once a baby is six months old, parents should just cook up some vegetables, cut up some fruits and let the kid go crazy.
"Now that feeding guidelines are to start solids at six months, there is no reason to use purées or cereals," Ms. Rapley explains by phone from Britain. "A developmental milestone at that age is for the baby to pick up an object and bring it to his mouth, so it's a natural time for him to start feeding."
There is no need to introduce foods in a particular order, or individually, she says. "Those guidelines were created because a four-month-old baby's stomach is not ready to cope with food, and care needed to be taken." Soft foods had previously been recommended for four- to six-month-olds to bridge the gap.
Her theory is that children will regulate their own intake, setting them up for future portion control and taking the pressure out of family mealtimes. In the process, children are less likely to use food as a control mechanism or become fussy eaters, Ms. Rapley says.
Common sense is advised: Don't let your child eat unattended (though a baby's natural gag reflex may be enough to prevent choking, you need to watch them) and be aware of family allergy issues.
"I don't think this is revolutionary," says Ms. Rapley, who adds that many hundreds of parents have been using baby-led weaning without realizing it. "It's just never been written about before."
Nevertheless, the movement is turning into an industry. Though part of its appeal has been the rejection of rules, the new feeding regimen is developing its own guidelines: In addition to Ms. Rapley's book, a recipe database has sprung up on the Internet, and moms try to outdo each other in chat rooms with fancy recipes to tempt their little ones.
On Vancouver Island, Lindsay Wilson started looking into baby-led weaning when she saw her sister-in-law lose patience with baby food. "Her baby refused to eat it, so she just started with regular food."
Ms. Wilson was preparing to introduce solids to her daughter, Meredith, when she turned six months. "I read all about baby-led weaning on the Internet and decided to try it."
In the beginning, Meredith simply played with the food. "By 10 months, Meredith was fully feeding herself with finger foods and with a spoon."
Now 15 months, Meredith eats a wide range of foods without fuss - while still nursing. "It makes it very easy to trust her and let her make her own decisions about what to eat and when, because any nutrients she's not getting in solids are made up for in breast milk," Ms. Wilson explains.
A Health Canada spokesman said that parents should refer to the guidelines for weaning and child nutrition posted on the department's website.
Danielle Donders turned to baby-led weaning with her third son, Lucas, after having been through two different sets of guidelines with sons Tristan and Simon, now 6 and 4.
"With Tristan, it was cereals at four months, then vegetable purées introduced one at a time, wait a week, then try a new one," she says. "With Simon, the guidelines had changed to starting solids at six months - and nothing but rice cereal for a while."
By the time Lucas came along, Ms. Donders, an Ottawa-based communications officer, says she was just more relaxed about everything. "At 5½ months he was starving," she says. "My mom was nagging me to feed him - so I put some Cheerios in front of him, not really thinking about what you're supposed to do."
Then someone posted about baby-led weaning on her blog, Postcards from the Mothership. "And I found out I was part of a whole movement."
For Ms. Donders, though, letting Lucas, now 10 months old, feed himself was more about the demands of a large family and less about a new orthodoxy. "I realized that it just isn't that easy to break him," she laughs. "Although it is great to be able to feed him without feeling guilty that I'm not doing it the right way."
Gill Rapley advises:
Make sure your child is sitting upright.
Start with foods that are baby-fist sized and cut into easily held strips.
Offer a variety of foods.
Don't put food in your baby's mouth.
Don't leave your baby alone with food.
Don't offer foods with potential dangers, such as peanuts.
Don't offer foods high in salt and sugar.
Offer your baby food at family mealtimes.
Be prepared for a mess.