If you're thinking about baby-led weaning, it likely means your baby is just about to start solids. Congrats! (and good luck...)
It's a big step, and comes with some choices for you that feel big too. Like how do you start? Fortunately we're here to guide you.
This post is part of our Starting Solids series. if you haven't already read it, check out part 1 of our Starting Solids guide here. You'll find lots more general information on starting solids there, while this part will be completely focused on baby-led weaning.
So let's start from the beginning.
What Is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) is a method of introducing solids that puts your child in control of how they eat as well as how much they eat. It allows your child to completely follow their own instincts and skips out any need for purees or mashed food.
So as the name suggests, BLW allows your baby to take the lead in the weaning process. Yes you still have to decide what and when to offer them food, but the rest you leave to them. No endless spoon feeding!
Baby-Led Weaning Benefits
BLW is not for everyone but it does have some benefits, both for you and for your baby:
- Greater autonomy
- Eating is active rather than passive – they eat as much and as quickly as they want
- Learn to feed themselves safely from day 1
- Development of hand-eye coordination and pincer grip
- Encourages natural appetite control
- Eating becomes a natural learning experience for your baby to explore food with all their senses – taste, smell, appearance, and texture
For the parents BLW means you can eat meals together as a family, with no one responsible for feeding the baby at the same time. It also allows your baby to naturally build up their appetite for solid food while gradually reducing their consumption of breastmilk/formula, led by their own instincts.
When Can You Start?
The recommended age to start BLW is the same as any other way of introducing solids – around 6-months-old, or once you see that your child is ready to start solids (see part 1 of this guide for signs of readiness).
What Foods Should You Start With?
The best way to start BLW is with nutrient-dense, natural, and seasonal foods. Which often means fruit and vegetables. But you can easily start with any other food that you think your baby can easily grab.
A quick checklist of things to keep in mind include:
- Choose nutrient-dense food (e.g. fruit/vegetables)
- Introduce food one-by-one
- Include all food groups – in particular, high-fat and high-fiber foods
- Don't add any sugar or salt
How To Prepare And Serve Food for Baby-Led Weaning
Preparing The Food
When serving foods for BLW, you need to make sure that your baby can easily grab it and eventually chew it off and swallow. This means that the food needs to be prepared, cut and served in a way that prevents choking.
The best way to do so is to serve the majority of the foods in long thin sticks – about twice the length of the baby's palm and half an inch wide. With foods like grains, soft cheeses or small fruits where this is not possible, serve in a way where the baby can grab a small chunk with their palm and bring to their mouth.
Fruit/vegetables should be soft enough to be chewed by toothless gums. A good test is to check if you can mash it between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. Steaming food (vs. boiling) will also ensure you retain the most nutrients).
Alternatively, you can also serve fully-cooked meat, in chunks that can be easily grabbed and sucked on. This will also help your child work on the chewing and sucking skills they will need later on.
As your baby grows older, at about 9-10 months of age, they will have developed the pincer grasp and serving foods cut in smaller pieces will also be safe.
Preparing Your Baby
BLW requires very few utensils. At least not during the first year of life. There is no harm in offering food on a plate but chances are it's going to end up on the floor. So serving bits and pieces directly on a tray for your baby to eat while in their high chair is good enough.
So the essentials for starting BLW really are just a high chair, a bib, and a cup. The rest you can buy (or not) as you go. We've compiled below a list of our favorite essentials, but if you'd like more helpful BLW tools, click here.
Ideally, your high chair will have decent back support, a footrest, and a removable tray. By supporting a good posture, your child will stay comfortable for longer and will be able to concentrate on the meal in front of them. Meanwhile, the removable tray makes cleaning much less of a pain.
We love the Tripp Trapp as it's easily adjustable as your child grows, and provides great support. As they get bigger you can just remove the tray and pull them up to the table too.
Children can use a proper glass earlier than you would think. Giving them a shot glass to drink will allow them to copy the way you drink very quickly. However, you'll still want a good cup that can be dropped on the floor every 5 minutes without making a giant mess.
- Top choice: Munchkin Miracle 360 Cup
- Lower cost: GreenSprouts Silicone Learning Cup
- Another great option: Munchkin Click Lock Weighted Straw Cup
The Munchkin 360 cup is the best option as it allows your child to use the same mouth position as an open cup but without the spills. While they learn to drink, cups will be thrown to the ground a lot so having something that doesn't spill is crucial!
Feeding is going to get messy. It's best to just accept that as unavoidable from the beginning. But you'll still want to avoid a full wardrobe change after every meal if possible!
Our top choice bib recommendation is one that is so ingeniously designed that it really minimizes the mess. The others are great too, but somehow food will make its way into any gap available!
What To Avoid?
The foods to avoid with the BLW method are no different from that of any other method of starting solids:
- Honey: can cause botulism since it may contain spores of the bacteria that aren’t killed in the stomach until after your child is a year old
- Cow’s milk: digestive system not adapted yet (fermented products such as yogurt, kefir, and cheese are fine)
- Low-fat milk and dairy products: cause an excessive intake of protein and low intake of essential fats
- Salt: kidneys not developed enough yet
- Smoked & cured meats; processed food: excessive salt intake
- Sugar: completely unnecessary
- Fruit juices: excessive intake of sugar; can cause digestive problems
- High mercury fish (shark, tuna, sea bass, halibut, grouper): excessive intake of mercury
- Unpasteurized products: can contain dangerous bacteria
- Choking hazards
The only addition to the list is food that might be too crunchy, hard, easily breakable, sticky or otherwise difficult to process with gums.
Choking is often the biggest concern about BLW. While it can happen, your baby is actually much more likely to gag than choke, so long as you are serving food appropriately.
Gagging is an unavoidable part of the process of learning to eat and sounds much worse than it is. However, before you start BLW, you should make sure you know how to identify choking and what actions you need to take.
We'd recommend you look for a local first aid and CPR class, focused specifically on infants so you are prepared in any case. Hopefully you never need to use it, but it's much better to be prepared.
For more information on what foods can be choking hazards and more information on choking, click here.
When giving purees to your child you have a lot of control over where the food goes. With baby-led weaning not so much! While you may see it as a downside of the method, the look on your baby's face when they are actually making the mess should make it worthwhile! The best you can do is to embrace the inevitability of it all!
Baby Playing With Food But Are They Eating Anything?
Your child might not eat a whole lot in the beginning. But they will certainly end up playing with their food instead. But this is part of the point of baby-led weaning!
Allowing your child to explore food, and to be in charge of how much they eat is very empowering at an age when almost nothing is in your control.
And since breastmilk/formula will still be their main source of nutrition at this age, there's nothing to worry about at all. If your child is hungry, they'll eat.
Knowing When Your Baby Is Full
It’s as easy as looking for your child's cues. And they will be obvious when you acknowledge them! With BLW, your child may not be actively rejecting spoonfuls of food, however, they will still show clear signs when they've had enough of being in their high chair. A few to look out for include:
- Throwing food on the floor
- Pushing food away
- Showing no interest in their food
The BLW method as well as the traditional "puree" method has it's pros and cons. Ultimately it's up to you to decide what you are more comfortable with. And you can always combine the two and see what your child prefers as well!