top of page

The Basics of Baby-Led Weaning

Updated: Mar 7



Affiliate Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, we may earn commissions from qualifying purchases.


Baby-led weaning is becoming increasingly popular as a way to introduce solid foods to babies by giving them the freedom to take charge of their feeding. This approach differs from traditional spoon-feeding methods and highlights the importance of self-feeding from the beginning.


This article will explore the principles, advantages, and challenges of baby-led weaning and provide practical advice for successfully introducing solid foods to your baby, no matter what method you choose.


In this article:


Understanding baby-led weaning

What is baby-led weaning?

"Weaning" is the process of gradually transitioning a baby from receiving all their nutrition from breastmilk or formula to eating solid foods. This process can take several months, as a baby adjusts to new foods and feeding routines.

Baby-led weaning (also known as baby-led feeding or BLW) is an approach to introducing solid foods to infants that focuses on allowing them to feed themselves instead of being spoon-fed by adults.

The concept of baby-led weaning revolves around empowering babies to independently discover and enjoy a diverse range of foods at their own pace, fostering their independence and enhancing their fine motor skills.


A baby puts a piece of finger food in his mouth

However, although some BLW proponents may argue against spoon-feeding purees, it is not necessary to be so strict. Combining baby-led weaning with other feeding methods is entirely possible—and beneficial. 


The benefits of the baby-led weaning approach

1. Developing fine motor skills

Baby-led weaning is a great way to boost your baby's fine motor development, including the muscles in their hands and fingers and those in their mouth, tongue, and jaw.


When you allow your baby to feed themselves finger food, they can practice using their fingers and develop hand-eye coordination from an early age. Picking up small pieces of food and bringing them to their mouth strengthens their pincer grip and improves their dexterity.


A baby's hand grabs pieces of broccoli

Self-feeding can also help babies develop chewing and swallowing skills. Babies who eat solid foods can practice using their tongue, jaw, and facial muscles to manipulate the food in their mouths.


This process leads to the development of stronger chewing and swallowing muscles, which can be beneficial for the transition to more complex textures later on. As a result, baby-led weaning can be a great way to help babies develop important oral motor skills for a lifetime of healthy eating habits.


2. Fostering independence and confidence

Encouraging babies to feed themselves right from the start promotes a sense of independence and autonomy. It gives them the chance to independently explore various foods and textures at their own pace.


In this way, baby-led weaning dovetails well with the concept of responsive feeding, in which a parent observes the child's hunger and fullness cues and provides appropriate portions of healthy food at the right time. Under both methods, parents help with communication cues and provide developmentally appropriate assistance, while giving the child autonomy in determining how much to eat.  


3. Establishing healthy eating habits

Awareness of hunger and fullness

Rather than a parent spoon-feeding a baby and determining when they are "done," baby-led weaning encourages self-feeding and allows the baby to listen to their own body's cues.

The baby is free to decide when they are full and ready to stop eating.

Giving your baby the control to choose the amount of food they need can help them develop a natural awareness of hunger and fullness, which is important in developing healthy eating habits as they grow older.


Reduced Risk of Picky Eating

When done correctly, baby-led weaning introduces infants to a range of nutritious whole foods, which can help them develop a diverse palate and appreciate different tastes and textures.


Introducing babies to different food textures and flavors from an early age may help reduce the chances that they will develop picky as they age.


Building a positive relationship with food

Baby-led weaning can be a great way to help your child create a positive, healthy, and enjoyable relationship with food.


By letting your baby choose what and how much to eat without pressure, bribery, or distraction, you can avoid negative associations with food and mealtimes that may contribute to negative relationships with food and eating later in life.


4. Family meals

Parent-child bonding

Baby-led weaning involves your little one in family meals, which fosters togetherness; enables them to observe and learn from parents, older siblings, and other family members; and may encourage positive social interactions during mealtimes. 


Parents and two children eat together

Simpler meal preparation

As little ones get used to joining family meals, they can eventually transition to eating the same food as the rest of the family. This makes food preparation simpler for parents because they can prepare the same meal for everyone.





How to start baby-led weaning

Knowing when to start

Age guidelines

Whether you plan to practice baby-led weaning, spoon-feeding, or a combination, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting until your baby is at least 6 months old before introducing any solid food.


Before 6 months, your baby's digestive system isn't developed enough to handle anything other than breast milk or formula. Both of these provide all of the nutrients that your baby needs during the early months.


Signs of Readiness

Your experience (and your child's!) is more likely to be successful and positive if you start baby-led weaning when your child is developmentally ready.


You should consider the following signs after your baby turns 6 months old. Babies develop at their own pace and may achieve certain milestones earlier. Just because a 5 month old has doubled their birth weight and can sit up does not mean that their digestive system is ready for solid food.


Signs that your baby might be ready to self-feed solid food include:


1. Sitting up without support: It's very important for your baby to be able to sit up unassisted before they begin eating solids, including purees. Babies must be able to hold themselves upright to be able to swallow well and not choke on their food.


2. Head and neck control: Relatedly, your baby should be able to sit up and hold their head steady at their eye level.


3. Interest in food: Your baby might be ready to start self feeding if they seem curious about the foods that you and other family members are eating. They might watch you eat or even try to grab your food! 


4. Hand-eye coordination: In order to self feed, your baby must have developed sufficient hand-eye coordination to grasp and bring food to their mouth. For example, you might see them bringing safe toys to their mouth while seated upright.


5. Sufficient weight gain: Be sure that your baby is nursing or bottle-feeding well and getting the necessary nutrients from breastmilk or formula before you introduce solid foods. A good way to tell is if your baby has doubled their birth weight and is continuing to grow steadily.


A baby sits with a plate of finger foods

Keep in mind that each baby is unique, and these signs are meant to serve as general guidelines.

It's crucial to consult with your pediatrician before you start offering solid foods using any method to ensure your baby is developmentally ready and receiving proper nutrition. 

A note on teeth: Your baby does not need teeth to begin eating solid food! Gums are extremely strong and more than capable of biting and chewing the soft foods that should be a baby's first foods.


Selecting baby-led weaning foods

Nutrients

While breastmilk and formula are the only sources of nutrition needed during a baby's first 6 months, after that time they no longer provide sufficient amounts of certain nutrients.


Complementary foods are those that are introduced to an infant's diet, alongside breast milk or formula, between 6-12 months of age. These foods help to provide essential nutrients that are no longer fully provided by breast milk or formula alone.


Iron, for example, is vital to brain development and is typically not found in sufficient amounts in breast milk or formula beyond 6 months. Iron-rich foods that can supplement your baby's diet include:


  • Bits of cooked ground or shredded meat or fish

  • Whole grain toast with thinly spread nut butter

  • Small pieces of tofu

  • Lightly smashed beans (to prevent choking)

  • Iron-fortified cereal

Vitamin D is another nutrient that may be lacking in breast milk or formula. Solid foods that are rich in vitamin D include:


  • Scrambled eggs

  • Yogurt

  • Fortified baby cereals

  • Salmon


You should also ensure that your baby is exposed to various fruits and vegetables. Good options for finger foods include:


  • Steamed or roasted broccoli or cauliflower florets

  • Roasted apple wedges

  • Roasted sweet potato wedges

  • Strips of avocado

  • Banana 

  • Steamed green beans

For all categories, make sure to follow the texture and size guidelines discussed below to choose foods appropriate to your baby's development.


Food texture and size considerations

Every baby is different in their eating capabilities. However, these general size and texture guidelines will help you select appropriate foods for different stages of the baby-led weaning process.


6-7 months

During this first phase of baby-led weaning, you should only give your baby foods that are very soft and can be gripped easily.


The food should be able to be easily mashed by baby gums and soft enough that they will not choke if they swallow some without chewing.


Cut foods into long, thin strips the width of an adult’s pinky finger or big chunks that are easy for little fists to grip.


A list of great first foods for baby-led weaning

8-9 months

Your baby is developing a pincer grip (using their pointer finger and thumb to grasp an object) and is better able to pick up pieces of food and bring them to their mouth without dropping them. This means you can begin cutting their food into bite-sized pieces and/or offer smaller items.


Texturally, their food should still be soft, but you can begin introducing slightly firmer options.


A list of baby-led weaning foods for 8-9 months

10-12 months

By this age, your baby has likely been feeding themselves finger foods for several months and is used to eating solid food meals. You should continue to offer food in bite-sized pieces but can begin to introduce more variety in textures.


Your baby may have developed the fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination needed to use a spoon to feed themselves. If so, you can also offer soft, easy-to-manage foods for them to eat with a spoon. Consider offering a preloaded spoon (a spoon with food already on it) at first.


A list of baby-led weaning foods for 10+ months

One year old and beyond

After they turn one, your little one will likely be ready for a range of textures and can start enjoying smaller portions of most of the same foods that the whole family eats.


Make mealtime more exciting by including a range of soft and chewy textures (continue to avoid very hard foods). You can gradually introduce more challenging textures as your child develops their chewing abilities.

Expose your baby to as wide a variety of foods as possible, in appropriate sizes.

Foods to avoid

Although baby-led weaning is intended to introduce babies to a wide variety of flavors and textures, there are some foods that you should avoid. Some are actually hazardous for babies, and others are unnecessary, potentially frustrating, or best to avoid while developing your baby's palate.


Hazardous foods

1. Raw vegetables and hard fruits

Although fruits and vegetables are an important part of your baby's diet, raw veggies and some fruits can pose potential risks. Raw carrots or apples, for example, can be too hard for your baby to chew and may pose a choking hazard. Roasted or steamed versions of these items are a better choice for babies.


2. Round foods

Round foods, such as grapes, cherry tomatoes, whole nuts, or sliced hotdog rounds can be a choking hazard for babies because they can easily slip into their small airways and block their airflow. 


3. A spoonful of peanut butter

Peanut butter can be a good early food for your baby, as long as you present it in a safe way. A spoonful of peanut butter is sticky, difficult to swallow, and a choking hazard. Instead, try spreading a very thin layer of peanut butter on a strip of toast or mixing some thoroughly into oatmeal or yogurt. 


4. Honey 

Honey can contain bacteria that can lead to a rare but dangerous form of food poisoning known as infant botulism. While the risk is small, it's important to err on the side of caution and avoid honey until your baby is at least one year old.


5. Deli meats, raw or undercooked eggs or meats, and unpasteurized cheeses

Although it's rare, young babies can become very ill from listeriosis, a potentially serious disease caused by bacteria found in contaminated foods. Deli meats, pate, undercooked poultry, and even side dishes or salads may have been exposed to the bacteria when stored at the deli counter. 


Raw or undercooked eggs, poultry, and meats and raw dairy products pose risk to anyone but babies are a much higher risk for e coli and salmonella. For this reason, avoid offering any foods made with these items to babies and young children.


Other foods to avoid

1. Added salt

Babies are still developing their taste buds, so they don't need the added flavor that salt provides. Additionally, too much salt can put unnecessary strain on their kidneys and lead to health issues down the road. 


Instead, focus on introducing your baby to a variety of healthy foods that are naturally flavorful. Be mindful of processed, packaged foods that may contain excess sodium, such as certain breads, pasta sauces, and canned goods.


2. Added sugar 

Likewise, it's best to avoid giving your baby foods with added sugars. Research has shown that the introduction of added sugars can lead to a preference for sweet foods later in life. Plus, consuming too much sugar can increase the risk of cavities and contribute to childhood obesity. 


Be mindful that added sugar is an ingredient in many packaged foods marketed for babies, including flavored "baby yogurts." Instead focus on offering a balance of whole foods. 


It is recommended to wait until your child is two years old to give them added sugar.


3. Plain cow's milk

Cow's milk can be hard for babies' developing digestive systems before age one. However, cow's milk yogurt and cheese can be good options. Just introduce them slowly and watch for any reactions.


4. Juice

Fruit juice offers no nutritional benefits to your baby–it’s mostly water and sugar. Juice consumption in children is associated with dental cavities, nutritional imbalances, and diarrhea. 


Occasionally, your pediatrician may recommend juice for medical reasons, such as to treat constipation. Store bought juice should be pasteurized, and homemade juices should be consumed immediately after blending.


5. Slippery foods

Although there is nothing wrong with giving your baby super slippery foods like avocado or banana slices, these can be very hard for them to grasp and bring to their mouth, which can lead to frustration. Instead, try spreading these foods on toast or leave some banana peel on to create an area to grip. 


Choosing the right high chair and utensils

High chair

For the safest eating experience, place your baby in a high chair instead of holding them in your arms. A high chair provides proper support and allows them to freely move their arms and hands to reach for food on the tray.


A baby sits upright in a high chair

Make sure that the high chair holds your baby so that their back is in an upright position, rather than reclined.


Finally, since baby-led weaning can be very messy—especially at first—choose a high chair with a removable tray that is easy to clean!


Pathfinder Health recommends:

Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair


Graco Table2Table high chair



Utensils

Choose an easily-wiped bib to protect your baby's clothing. Bibs with built-in pockets will help catch any wayward bites.


Pathfinder Health recommends:

PandaEar set of 3 silicone bibs


Other than a bib, you don't need any utensils to begin baby-led weaning—the most important tool is your baby's own hands! Provided with a safe environment and foods cut into safe sizes, your baby can efficiently feed themselves, developing their self-confidence and dexterity as they grow.


A baby feeds himself with a spoon

However, once your baby has sufficiently developed their fine motor skills, you can begin offering spoon-able foods in a bowl. Choose small, easy-to-grip spoons with short handles.


Pathfinder Health recommends:

GrabEase baby silicone spoon set


Set of 2 Numnum Gootensil pre-spoons


Although it's not strictly necessary, a bowl that attaches to the high chair tray with suction can prevent your baby from dropping or throwing their bowl and reduce messes!


Pathfinder Health recommends:

Munchkin Stay Put suction bowls, set of 3


Baby-led weaning eating schedule

The timing of your baby's meals and snacks with baby-led weaning will depend on how old they are.


6-7 months

When you first introduce solids, begin with just one meal a day. Try to choose a time when your baby is not overly tired or hungry. The middle of the day is often best.


To prevent frustration and ensure that breast milk or formula continues to be your baby's primary source of nutrition for the first year, offer solid foods after your baby has already had milk or formula.


8-12 months

As your baby becomes accustomed to feeding themselves, you can gradually add more solid food meals per day. By the time they are one year, your baby can have 3 solid food meals a day.


These meals should be between and in addition to their regular breast milk or formula feedings, not a replacement.


Towards the end of their first year, your baby's schedule might look similar to this, although it may vary by an hour or more based on when they wake up:


Sample schedule for 10-11 month old


One year old and beyond

By the time most babies turn one, they are ready for 3 solid meals and 2 snacks per day. They are also probably ready to switch to whole cow’s milk or an alternative milk. Milk becomes more of a drink and less of a food at this age.


Challenges and concerns

Choking risks

Many parents are reluctant to try baby-led weaning because they are afraid that their child will choke on the larger pieces of solid food.


However, research has not found that baby-led weaning creates a higher risk of choking compared to other feeding methods, as long as parents take the proper safety precautions when preparing food and during mealtimes.


Safety Precautions

There are a number of basic safety precautions to follow when offering solid foods, whether you are baby-led weaning, spoon feeding, offering finger foods, or a combination:


1. Wait until your baby is developmentally ready for solid foods, generally around 6 months old.


2. Offer foods that are the appropriate size and texture for your baby's developmental stage.


3. Avoid round or hard foods that can become stuck in your baby's throat.


4. Choose a high chair that supports your baby in an upright position, not reclined.


5. Closely supervise your child during mealtimes. Sit facing your baby and avoid leaving them alone while eating.


6. Avoid distractions such as toys and screens while your baby is eating so that they can focus on chewing and swallowing.


7. Learn infant CPR so that you can respond quickly in the event of choking.


The difference between gagging and choking

If you've fed your baby solid food, you may have experienced a moment of panic when your baby appears to be choking. However, most instances of "choking" are actually gagging. Understanding the distinction between these responses can help to ease your worries.


While they might sound similar, gagging is a protective reflex that occurs when food or objects reach the back of the throat. It's a normal part of the learning process as babies explore and figure out how to eat.


Choking, on the other hand, occurs when something blocks the airway, and immediate action is necessary.


By learning the difference between gagging and choking, you can better determine whether your baby needs assistance or if they are simply exploring the new experience of eating.


Introducing potentially allergenic foods

Food allergies affect almost 5% of children under age 5. The 9 most common allergies are to the following foods (foods in bold commonly cause the most severe reactions):


  1. Cow’s milk

  2. Eggs

  3. Peanuts

  4. Soy

  5. Wheat

  6. Tree nuts

  7. Shellfish

  8. Fish

  9. Sesame


For a long time, experts believed that avoiding peanut products during the early years was the best way to prevent peanut allergies. However, an important 2015 study revealed that introducing and regularly feeding peanut products to infants at "high risk" for peanut allergy (those with severe eczema and/or an egg allergy) actually prevented the development of peanut allergy.


As a result, most doctors now recommend introducing the top allergenic foods to babies around 6 months of age, when they start eating solid foods, and consistently offering them thereafter. You should always consult with your own healthcare provider before introducing potentially allergenic foods.


Be vigilant in monitoring for any signs of an allergic reaction—they can appear after the first exposure and beyond. Common signs of an allergic reaction often include a rash, diarrhea, and vomiting.  


Choosing safe foods in your baby's first year

Nutritional concerns

Because baby-led weaning empowers the baby to decide what and how much they will eat, it's important for parents to carefully monitor their child's nutrient intake and ensure that they receive proper nutrition.


Offer a wide variety of foods to prevent gaps in nutrients and be sure that your baby is eating proteins, grains, healthy fats, fruits, and vegetables. Iron-rich foods are especially important in the early years.


Rotate foods regularly to expose your baby to different flavors and textures. If your baby refuses to eat certain types of foods, try offering them in a different way or texture (for example, mashed avocado on toast rather than slices). This might mean including purees to ensure adequate nutrient intake.


You should also monitor your baby's growth and development and discuss any concerns with their healthcare provider so that you can make necessary changes to their diet and feeding style.


Baby-led weaning as part of your baby's diet

The role of breastmilk or formula

Whether baby-led weaning, spoon-feeding, or a combination, solid food should be introduced gradually and not used to replace breastmilk or formula.


Breastmilk or formula should continue to be your child's primary source of nutrition until their first birthday. These options provide almost all of the necessary nutrients and antibodies that your infant needs to support their growth and development.


Incorporating both baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding

Although baby-led weaning is a popular approach, not all babies will immediately embrace it and it will not be feasible for every family. Some parents may prefer to combine elements of baby-led weaning with traditional spoon-feeding methods.


A mother spoon-feeds her baby

This is known as "combination feeding" and can be a great way to still gain the benefits of the baby-led weaning approach while having a bit more control over the nutrients that your child consumes.


It's important to stay flexible and responsive to each baby's unique needs and preferences, as well as the needs of your family. If you choose to spoon feed your baby jarred baby food during some meals, whether to ensure that their nutritional needs are met or for convenience when you are away from home, that's okay!


Frequently asked questions

1. Does the AAP recommend baby-led weaning?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) does not specifically endorse baby-led weaning. The AAP does recommend offering small pieces of soft, easy to swallow finger foods once your baby can sit up independently and bring items to their mouth.


2. How do I start baby-led weaning?

When your baby is developmentally ready for finger foods, begin with one carefully supervised solid food meal a day. Place your baby in an upright high chair and offer strips or chunks of very soft food. Allow your baby to play and explore and follow their hunger and fullness cues.


3. What foods do you start with for baby-led weaning?

Great first foods for baby-led weaning include:


  • Slices of banana

  • Slices of avocado

  • Steamed broccoli florets

  • Roasted, peeled apple slices

  • Strips of toast

  • Strips of scrambled egg

4. Is baby-led weaning dangerous?

Baby-led weaning is not generally dangerous as long as parents wait until their baby is developmentally ready; begin by offering soft, easily swallowed foods; do not rush to offer regular table foods; and carefully supervise their baby during mealtimes.  


5. Is baby-led weaning really better?

Baby-led weaning can be a good way to develop a baby’s fine motor skills and promote healthy and diverse eating habits. However, these same benefits can also be obtained through a combination of spoon feeding purees and offering finger foods.


6. Is baby-led weaning evidence based?

Baby-led weaning is not yet evidence based. Some studies, as well as anecdotal evidence, have shown that baby-led weaning (when done correctly) can provide sufficient nutrients without increasing choking risks. However, there is not yet enough evidence to draw reliable conclusions. 


7. Do doctors recommend baby-led weaning?

There is limited scientific research on the benefits and issues of baby-led weaning and no concrete scientific evidence that it is a better approach. For this reason, most pediatricians do not actively recommend baby-led weaning, but rather encourage combination feeding.


8. Can you combine baby-led weaning and purees?

“Combination feeding”—spooning feeding purees while also providing finger foods, can be a great option for families. Babies still have the opportunity to explore different textures and practice motor skills and parents can be sure that their babies’ nutritional needs are met. 


9. What equipment is needed for baby-led weaning?

Babies are safest eating in a high chair that holds them in an upright position. Bibs, easy-to-grip spoons, and suction bowls for spoonable foods also help make mealtimes less messy and help develop fine motor skills. Otherwise, the main equipment is your baby’s hands!


10. What size should food be for baby-led weaning?

When starting baby-led weaning, offer your 6-7 month old long, thin strips or big chunks of very soft foods so they are easier for little hands to hold. As your baby develops their pincer grip around 8-9 months, you can begin offering smaller pieces of soft foods.


11. What are the disadvantages of baby-led weaning?

There are two primary disadvantages of baby-led weaning. First, because it encourages play and exploration, mealtimes can get messy. Second, it can require more food preparation–you may not be able to offer your baby the same foods as the rest of the family if they have added sugar or salt or create a choking risk.


The Takeaway

As long as you follow safety precautions, baby-led weaning can be a good way to introduce solid foods in a way that encourages your baby's development.


By understanding the principles, advantages, and potential challenges of baby-led weaning, you will be in a great position to consider whether this method is appropriate for your little one's food journey and foster a healthy connection with food right from the start.


Sources:

  1. Daniels L, Heath AL, et al Baby-Led Introduction to SolidS (BLISS) study: a randomised controlled trial of a baby-led approach to complementary feeding. BMC Pediatr. 2015 Nov 12;15:179. doi: 10.1186/s12887-015-0491-8. PMID: 26563757; PMCID: PMC4643507.

  2. D'Auria E, Bergamini M, et al. Baby-led weaning: what a systematic review of the literature adds on. Ital J Pediatr. 2018 May 3;44(1):49. doi: 10.1186/s13052-018-0487-8.

  3. Du Toit G, Roberts G, et al. Randomized Trial of Peanut Consumption in Infants at Risk for Peanut Allergy, N Engl J Med 2015; 372:803-813. doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1414850.

  4. Responsive Feeding: The Baby-First Guide to Stress Free Weaning, Healthy Eating, and Mealtime Bonding by Melanie Potock MA CCC-SLP 


Bio of Kavita Naik Cherry

Comentarios

Obtuvo 0 de 5 estrellas.
Aún no hay calificaciones

Agrega una calificación
bottom of page