Ultimate Guide To Baby Led Weaning

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Weaning probably seemed like a long way off when you were trying to get the hang of breast feeding in the first few blurry days of motherhood. It certainly did for me. But now your baby is happy and healthy and already interested in what you’re eating—if you’ve been thinking about moving forward with baby led weaning, this article is for you.

I was looking for an alternative to traditional weaning, and I’m so glad I discovered baby led weaning. We’ll go over what goes into baby led weaning, why you might want to use it, and how to do it successfully.

What Is Baby Led Weaning?

Before you get started, you’ll want to know what baby led weaning actually is—and how it differs from other weaning methods.

Weaning happens when you begin to provide your baby with solid foods. Your baby begins to rely less on breast milk (or formula) for nutritional needs and starts to consume solid food. Baby led weaning differs from other weaning methods in that you allow your baby to make the big decisions.

When using baby led weaning as your feeding approach, you can skip the jars of unappetizing baby food. Your baby will start eating foods cut down to an appropriate size for them—usually whatever food is on your plate.

Baby-sized spoons may be cute, but with baby led weaning, you allow your child to self-feed. This provides some great opportunities for your baby’s development that we’ll focus on later.

While weaning, it’s important to keep in mind that babies are designed to continue receiving nutrition from milk or formula. In fact, the World Health Organization recommends that infants continue to nurse (when possible) through the first two years of life. Your baby will likely be a competent eater well before this time.

When Should You Start Baby Led Weaning?

There’s no right or wrong time to start baby led weaning. You’re going to let your baby tell you when the time is right and go from there.

Many babies are ready to explore food around the time they turn six months old. Your baby should be able to sit up on his or her own and be able to bring things to their own mouth.

Early on, you may find most of the food doesn’t make it into your baby’s mouth. You might also note your baby is more interested in playing with it than eating it. All of this is okay. Continue to offer safe options and your baby will eventually begin to eat what’s provided.

Choosing safe food is critical when following a baby led weaning approach. In spoon fed weaning, foods are pureed to an easy-to-consume consistency. With baby led weaning, you’re offering small pieces of food to babies who are learning a new skill. They may also have few teeth to work with.

Here are some tips for making baby led weaning as safe as possible:

  • Never leave your baby unattended with food.
  • Always ensure your baby is seated fully upright.
  • Test foods prior to serving—you should be able to mash them easily with your tongue and the roof of your mouth.
  • Avoid any raw or hard fruits and vegetables.

You should always be actively watching a new eater with food. Being in the room isn’t enough, as a fully obstructed airway will cause noiseless choking. Avoid a blind sweep with a choking child as you may cause the blockage to lodge further in the airway.

Instead, begin the Heimlich maneuver and follow the guidelines on this page.

Here’s a visual too, from CHOC Children’s hospital:

How To Start Baby Led Weaning

There are two things to keep in mind when you begin your baby led weaning. The first thing to remember is, no matter what you do, it’s going to get messy. The second thing to remember? It’s not about having your child actually consume the food you’re giving. It’s about the experience.

It’s tempting to equate baby led weaning with no longer nursing or giving your baby a bottle. The truth is, your child will continue to get the bulk of their nutrition from formula or milk through the first year of life, at least.

If you’re looking for ways to ease the transition from a non-eater to a competent eater, the following tips may be helpful:

  • Start slowly: Introducing solid foods isn’t a race. It’s setting your child up for a lifelong relationship with food. Don’t be afraid to let your baby take it slowly and enjoy the experience.
  • Prepare for mess: You want this to be enjoyable for your child, and that means it’s going to be best if it’s enjoyable for you, too. Prepare for the mess so you can enjoy the experience, spend less time cleaning, and have fewer stressors in your routine. Using oversized wipeable bibs with pockets and plastic drop cloths can be helpful for quick cleanup.
  • Continue your regular nursing or bottle-feeding schedule: Don’t drop what’s working. Continue to provide your baby with breast milk or formula on demand or on a feeding schedule that works for you. Your baby will let you know when they’re ready to cut back on liquid nutrition.
  • Experiment with food shapes: It’s tempting to always make food bite sized. New eaters can benefit from having longer skinny pieces of food they can hold in one hand and chew on from the top down. This can help ensure they are only taking in what they can handle.
  • Make it easy on yourself: Skip special meals made for your baby. They’re going to be interested in whatever you have on your plate. This is a great time to give them a wide variety of tastes and food types. You’ll probably want to skip the plates and bowls, too—they’ll only end up on the floor.
  • It isn’t about eating: I know it seems counterintuitive, but moving forward with baby led weaning isn’t about eating. It’s about your child development. Like anything else, having fun is how children learn best, so let them play.
  • Watch for allergic responses: Pay attention to what you’re feeding your baby. Make notes about any skin changes you see that could indicate an allergy or intolerance.

Still not sure where to start? Here are some great foods for early baby led weaning:

  • Fruits and vegetables: Bananas, avocados, and pears can be a great introduction to fruits. Steamed broccoli, carrots, or cauliflower can be served for early vegetable encounters. Baked sweet potatoes, white potatoes, or squash are easily mashed by beginner eaters as well.
  • Shaped pasta: Pasta is easy to gum and has a fun texture. Experiment with types and shapes to keep your baby interested.
  • Proteins: Baked or boiled chicken legs, hard boiled or scrambled eggs, or meatballs and hamburgers can all be used for beginner eaters.
  • Dairy: Soft cheeses like ricotta and cottage cheese can be a great introduction to dairy for your baby. Yogurt is also a favorite.

What Are The Benefits Of Baby Led Weaning?

Still on the fence about how you want to introduce food to your little one? You may want to know more about the benefits of baby led weaning:

  • Baby led weaning can help prevent overeating and future obesity: It can be easy to sneak in a full extra spoonful of food after your baby is no longer hungry. You may not realize they’re full and they will eat to please you. This can help set up a pattern of overeating that follows them their whole life.
  • Baby led weaning allows your child to experience a variety of flavors and textures: You can help create a well-rounded eater through early exposure to healthy foods.
  • Fewer food allergies: Evidence suggests that babies given a variety of food early on have fewer food allergies as they grow.
  • Your baby is eating wholesome, healthy foods: You don’t need to read ingredients on the back of jars or wonder about preservatives. You’ll also save time at the grocery store and save money on jarred foods that may or may not be well-received.
  • Encourages important skills: Allowing your child to feed themselves supports a feeling of independence. It also helps them develop motor skills and improves hand and eye coordination.
  • Providing solid foods can encourage chewing: Instead of swallowing purees, your baby can practice chewing. Chewing will help the digestion process. It can also help your child’s teeth break through the gums, making the teething process a little less painful.
  • Incorporates your child into family mealtimes: Eating with your baby allows them to be part of a positive social experience. It helps create a routine they can grow into and makes them feel like an active member of the family. 

What Are The Negatives Of Baby Led Weaning?

Baby led weaning has a lot of great things going for it. Like everything else though, there are some things that can be considered drawbacks. You’ll want to be aware of them so you have all the information when moving forward with your weaning plans.

baby with raspberries
  • Baby led weaning is messy: It’s worth repeating here. Baby led weaning is likely to involve plenty of mess. While spoon feeding can also lead to mess, you usually have more control over what’s happening.
  • There will be food waste: Along with the mess, you’re likely to experience food waste. Your little one could be more interested in smashing or drawing with their food. They may prefer to wear it or feed it to the family pet. All of this is normal behavior for baby led weaning.
  • It’s up to you to monitor their diet: You’ll need to research appropriate foods to offer your child. This will help ensure they’re receiving all the nutrients they need.
  • You may need to give your baby a supplement: This is especially important when it comes to iron. If you are still nursing when you introduce solids you’ll want to consider iron-rich foods or an iron supplement. While most baby formulas have appropriate iron levels included in them, breast milk iron supplies can dwindle after four months.
  • Other people’s opinions: When it comes to babies, there are few things everyone agrees on. You’re likely to come across people who disagree with the choices you’re making. Arm yourself with all the information you can find and make the choices that work best for you and your family.

Let Baby Lead The Way

Weaning can be an exciting but also stressful time—for both you and your child. Baby led weaning can make it a little less stressful and a little more fun.

If you’ve been looking for the perfect way to introduce your baby to food, baby led weaning can be a great option for your little one. It can set your baby up to have a positive relationship with food for their entire life.

Cristin is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice, and the loving mother of two wonderful children. In her free time, she can often be found in a yoga studio or catching up on her favorite shows.