baby led weaning

Have you ever wondered if there was an alternative to spoon-feeding your baby and dealing with all those jars of baby food? Well, there may be! Baby-led weaning is a method in which babies begin feeding themselves with pinky-sized finger foods from the get-go.

Find out more about baby-led weaning, learn if it’s right for you and your baby, and discover how you can implement it at home.

What Is Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)?

Baby-led weaning, abbreviated as BLW and also known as baby-led feeding, is a growing international trend in which babies 6 months and older feed themselves soft solid foods with their hands. The idea behind the BLW method is that it allows your baby to explore foods with different textures and self-regulate the amount of food they’d like to eat.

Traditionally, when introducing solids, parents begin spoon-feeding their infants from around 6 months of age with pureed foods and infant cereal. Gradually, parents expand their baby’s menu to include foods with coarser textures, such as mashed and chopped foods, served with a spoon, and then finger foods. Finally, babies are introduced to family foods (the same foods eaten by the entire family at mealtime) when they’re about 12 months old.

In Summary

Baby-led weaning is a way of introducing solid foods to your baby that is an alternative to the traditional method of spoon-feeding. In this method, babies begin feeding themselves solid food with their hands instead of being fed purees or infant cereals with a spoon. 

Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning Vs. Pureed Foods

The main principle of baby-led weaning is allowing babies to guide the food into their mouths on their own. This method replaces spoon-feeding with pureed foods where you as the parent may need to pretend that the spoon is a rocket, an airplane, or a train in order to get your little one to take a bite.

Some studies have shown that BLW has many benefits for babies, including

  • honing fine motor skills and oral development through the action of self-feeding

  • less fussiness

  • less demand for food

  • a feeling of independence/control when it comes to

  • starting the meal

  • choosing what to eat from among the foods on offer

  • setting the pace of the meal

  • choosing the amount to be eaten.

  • responding to hunger and satiety cues more easily

  • a lesser chance of being overweight/obese

  • eating the same foods as the entire family.

Risks and/or Disadvantages of Baby-Led Weaning

Researchers are investigating not only the possible benefits but also the potential risks and disadvantages of baby-led weaning, some of which are also relevant for the traditional spoon-feeding method of introducing solids. For example, you’ll need to ensure that your baby is getting the proper amount of iron in their diet, as this (along with other nutrients) is essential for healthy growth and development.

If you’re considering baby-led weaning, check in with your child’s healthcare provider to weigh the risk factors together and decide whether it is a good choice for you and your baby.

Choking

The chief concern when it comes to baby-lead weaning is the possibility of choking. As your baby is learning to eat, they’ll move food around in their mouth, biting and attempting to chew whether they have baby teeth or not. Since a baby’s air passages are still very small, there is a possibility of choking. However, studies have suggested that if parents take the right precautions, baby-led weaning is just as safe as spoon-feeding as a way of introducing solid foods.

Always supervise your child during self-feeding. Ensure your child is seated upright and don’t leave them unattended. Offer your little one foods that are easy for them to pick up, yet easily mashable in their mouth, or easily gnawable without turning into a choking hazard.

Foods High in Salt and Sugar

During the complementary feeding stage (from 6 months old until about 1 to 2 years of age), don’t offer your little one food that is heavily salted, sweetened, spiced, or buttered. These additives can disguise the natural taste of different foods and could have long-term, harmful effects on your baby’s health. Keep this in mind as you plan and prepare meals and as your little one begins to eat food from the family table, as many processed foods are high in sodium and/or sugar.

In Summary

The baby-led weaning method of introducing solid foods to your baby requires paying attention to possible risks, such as choking. It’s also important to avoid offering foods that are highly salted, sweetened, or spiced. Consult your child’s healthcare provider to discuss the pros and cons of this method and determine whether it’s the right fit for your baby.

When and How to Start Baby-Led Weaning

You can start baby-led weaning when you would typically introduce solid foods, which is around 6 months of age. This is usually when spoon-feeding with solid foods (but actually pureed and mashed foods) and infant cereals would take place. However, if you’ve chosen to try baby-led weaning, you’d skip spoon-feeding and start directly with finger foods cooked to a soft texture and cut into strips (more on this in the next section).

Around 6 months is recommended as the ideal time to introduce solid foods as a complement to breastfeeding or formula feeding because it’s around the time your baby

  • has lost the tongue thrust reflex (which helped them breastfeed)

  • is able to sit up unsupported

  • can bring food to their mouth

  • can chew (if they have some baby teeth) and swallow food.

Whether you choose spoon-feeding or baby-led weaning, you should exclusively breastfeed (or bottle-feed) until 6 months of age. After that, you can start introducing complementary foods while continuing breastfeeding or formula feeding until your baby turns 1.

In Summary

You may start baby-led weaning at around 6 months of age, which is also the age you would traditionally introduce complementary foods via spoon-feeding. At this age, your baby will most likely be able to sit unsupported, bring food to their mouth, and chew and swallow—all things that are important for self-feeding.

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First Foods for Baby-Led Weaning

If you’re thinking about trying baby-led-weaning with your 6-month-old, here are some of the best first foods to try:

  • Carrots, steamed

  • Sweet potatoes, roasted and peeled

  • Chicken, cooked until soft

  • Beef, cooked or stewed

  • Broccoli, steamed

  • Banana

  • Pasta, boiled spiral shapes or strips of lasagna.

With baby-led weaning you’ll want to offer food shapes and sizes that are easy for your infant to hold, so opt for cutting most things into sticks or strips about the length of your pinky finger. For example, offer a floret of steamed broccoli, a steamed carrot stick, or a small strip of soft-cooked chicken or beef. A handy tip: You know it’s the right size if there’s a bit of the food protruding from your baby’s fist when holding it.

Avoid offering foods that are hard, small, coin-shaped, slippery, crunchy, sticky, or tough to chew. These types of foods can lead to choking.

Basically, most of the foods you’d offer your baby as part of spoon-feeding can also be offered as part of baby-led weaning, except for infant cereals.

Baby-led weaning may be simpler to implement than spoon-feeding from jarred baby food since you can give your baby many of the same foods as you’re feeding your family. However, it’s important that the foods not be salted, sweetened, or seasoned and that they are healthy and nutritious. You may consider making some homemade baby food, or you may have to alter your cooking style during this time.

In Summary

You can introduce the same types of food to your baby with baby-led weaning as with spoon-feeding. The difference is you’ll want to slice most foods into stick-like shapes about the size of your pinky so that your baby can pick them up. Make sure the meats and vegetables are cooked until soft so your baby can eat them more easily.

FAQs at a Glance

You can start baby-led weaning when your baby turns 6 months old, which is the same time you would start the more traditional method of spoon-feeding. This is the age at which your baby most likely can sit up on their own, bring food to their mouth, and independently eat their food.

The Bottom Line

Baby-led weaning is an alternative method to spoon-feeding when it comes to introducing your baby to solid foods at around 6 months of age. With this method, your baby feeds themself with foods cut into sticks or strips no bigger than your pinky finger.

This method of self-feeding encourages your baby to be independent and allows them to make decisions, such as how much to eat and when to stop eating once full. Other benefits may include your baby being less fussy or demanding about eating, a lesser chance of overeating, and the opportunity to eat the same foods as the rest of the family from the get-go.

Studies have shown that the risk of choking with baby-led weaning is no different than with spoon-feeding. However, if you’re providing the same foods for your baby as the rest of your family, make sure that your baby’s portion isn’t salted, seasoned, or sweetened.

If you’re thinking of trying baby-led weaning instead of the more traditional route of spoon-feeding your little one, speak to your child’s healthcare provider. Weigh the pros and cons together and decide whether this method of self-feeding is right for you and your baby.

How We Wrote This Article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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