Your child is about to turn six months old and you are wondering how to get him or her to solid food. What if, right from the start, he discovered the true texture and taste of vegetables and fruit, instead of the traditional mash, porridge or compote? Many parents like this method called DME (Child-Led Diversification). What is DME? How to practice it safely? Here is everything you need to know about this practice to implement it with your child:
What is DME?
Child-Driven Diversification (DME) is a new approach to introductory food in toddlers that involves make the child fully involved in his meals. The principle is quite simple: let the baby discover and eat food alone with his fingers instead of feeding him with a spoon. With this method, no more traditional purees and compotes, make way for solid cooked or raw foods (fruits, vegetables, meats… The textures depend on age). Thus, the baby is offered large pieces of food, which he will try to grasp with his little clumsy hands, in order to suck or chop them. In this way, he will be brought to try different textures and discover intact flavors, while learning to be independent in his diet. This method of diversification, common in so-called “traditional” cultures, places the adult in the position of observer and not of feeder. It’s up to the baby, and he alone, to take the food and put it in his mouth. It therefore evolves at its own pace.
Why adopt the EMR for your child?
Since child-led dietary diversification is a relatively recent approach, very few studies relate to it. Yet this way of introducing babies to unprocessed food has already been proven, with multiple benefits. Among these is the early awakening to the texture and smell of food, which stimulates in children a taste curiosity.
In addition, independent feeding allows the baby to develop fine motor skills. In the first 15 days, the baby will have a tendency to grip the pieces with both hands, but very quickly, he will be able to take the food with the 3-finger gripper. In addition, the EMR allows the toddler to develop its coordination along two axes:
- Eye-hand, by dint of trying to take food;
- Hand-to-mouth, bringing food to his lips.
In addition to all this, the EMR would also have the merit of helping the child to recognize and respect more naturally his rhythm of hunger.
When can a baby be introduced to independent feeding?
Unlike the classic diversification that begins around 4 months, independent feeding requires waiting for the newborn to be physically ready. To feed on their own, your child must be able to:
- Sit in a high chain without your help;
- Bring food to his mouth;
- Move your head sideways and up and down.
EMR, what foods should you give your baby?
Eating alone doesn’t mean eating like everyone else. Your baby is taking their first steps towards independent feeding. It is therefore necessary to offer it a specific format and texture. What I very often advise is to follow the same precepts as for classic diversification. To do this, avoid offering vegetables that are difficult to digest and fatty foods (too slippery) or cooked (too hot) in the first weeks.
It is best to give it pieces that protrude a little more than its small hand, in order to facilitate the grip. To start, you can offer him, for example:
- Tender and well-cooked vegetables in strips or in bunch (broccoli, cauliflower, sweet potato, carrot, asparagus…);
- Strips of meat with a little juice
- Small cakes or meatballs made with eggs
- Large cube (at least 3 cm) or grated tofu;
- Cheese cut into strips or large cubes;
- Tender meat (beef rib eye in 2 cm strips, pork on the bone);
- Flower bread with fruit puree on it
- Cooked, soft or ripe fruits: banana, pear, apricot, peach, plum …
As teething progresses and your child grows, the size of the pieces will get smaller and smaller, and new textures (firing) may be offered. Gradually, portions larger than his closed fist will be about the golf ball size at 8 months and that of a die at 12 months; it will all depend on the abilities and skill of the baby, since every child is different.
Autonomous food, how to manage the quantities?
The question of quantity is one of the objections that come up very often when talking about independent feeding in babies. However, it is not difficult to manage the quantities of foods ingested in DME. What I advise you is to trust the baby. According to Christine Zalejski, author of the first book in France on EMR and doctor of science, children know how to listen to their satiety (like us, adults). It is difficult and inconsistent to force a child to finish his plate when he is no longer hungry, when we ourselves cannot do so if our satiety arrives.
However, be aware that conscious diversification is the continuity of breastfeeding. Moreover, milk, whether artificial or breast, will remain the baby’s staple food for up to 12 months. The amount of food is likely to be low in the first few weeks in EMR, as the child needs discovery and the first few weeks food is primarily a discovery. On the other hand, it is essential to provide iron in the baby when it is breastfeeding, because breast milk does not contain enough iron after 6 months. According to the recommendations of the WHO (World Health Organization), the nutritional intake of solid foods should beabout 20% of the diet between 6 and 9 months and 50% between 9 and 11 months.
EMR: preventing the risk of suffocation for success
If autonomous diversification brings many benefits for children and parents (babies can eat what we eat, it is enough only to adapt the cooking and not to salt), it is not without risk -SI- the cooking food and the size given to the child does not correspond to his age. What parents often fear with this method is the risk of suffocation. However, you can easily minimize it by following some safety guidelines:
- Sit your baby in his high chair so that he is upright;
- Make sure the baby is wide awake before feeding her food;
- Never let your child eat without adult supervision;
- Eliminate sources of distraction (toys, television, telephone or other objects);
- Feed him only safe foods and avoid foods that pose a choking hazard.
The reflex gag
The Gag reflex is a gag reflex that babies develop from 6 months old. Yes the baby swallows food that is not suitable for his age / development : food too dry, too big … The latter is rejected towards the front of the mouth: the reflex gag. This reflex is very impressive for parents when they have never seen it, but it is a natural process in children. When the gag reflex occurs, avoid showing signs of panic to the baby, and trying to insert your fingers in his mouth, as this can compromise his natural and protective reflex.
ATlearn to recognize the -real- signs of suffocation: weak and ineffective cough, wheezing, inability to cry or cry… If the baby is in this situation, EMR or not, call 15.
EMR, in summary
In summary, the DME is very beneficial for both babies and parents, even if it requires a little extra cleaning at the end of the meal. With this approach, your child will easily develop fine motor skills as well as eye-hand and hand-mouth coordination. Children discover the real textures of foods and their tastes, unprocessed, through the DME. In addition, around one year of age, babies can generally feed themselves independently, because the EMR will have allowed children to move forward step by step.
DME: recommended reading
Do not hesitate to document yourself in more detail on the subject, thanks to Aurélie Mantault’s book, which I often recommend to parents:
” Like Grown Ups: Child-Led Diversification“, In which the DME is fully explained in detail: description of diversification; advice; food sizes and textures in detail, age by age, etc.