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In the UK, three in five first-time parents find weaning confusing and, almost two-thirds have heard conflicting advice about when to introduce solid foods. The truth is, every baby has a unique weaning journey.
Baby-led weaning offers a popular alternative to puree feeding for many parents. Lots of mums and dads find that it helps their little one to learn new skills and allows them to enjoy exploring new flavours.
Let's run through the details of baby-led weaning and answer some of the most frequently asked questions on the topic. That way, you can decide if it's the right weaning method for you and your baby.
Baby-led weaning (BLW) means letting your child eat independently. First, they will use their hands, then move on to using cutlery. The term was created in 2001 by Gill Rapley, and describes a relaxed and unstructured approach where babies are offered solid foods and feed themselves. The food is usually served in small, soft pieces that can be held in the baby's hand, rather than being offered as pureed on a spoon.
We know that choosing a weaning style can feel daunting, so read on to learn all about the benefits of baby-led weaning, when to start, and what kind of foods you can offer at every stage.
Yes, it can be a little messier than traditional weaning, but there are tons of pros when it comes to baby-led weaning! These include:
Weaning typically starts at around six months, but it's important to look out for certain cues that will let you know if your baby is ready or not. These include:
Instead of spoon-feeding, baby-led weaning involves setting out soft finger foods in front of your little one on a table or highchair tray and letting them take control!
To help you get started, here are our top tips for baby-led weaning success:
When they're first getting started, lots of parents wonder "is baby-led weaning dangerous?". One recent study found there's no increased choking risk for babies who feed themselves solid food compared to spoon-fed babies. Therefore, baby-led weaning is no more dangerous.
Often, babies are not choking when they eat but gagging. Gagging may look similar to choking and can be scary, but they're entirely different. So, it can help to know what to look out for.
Gagging is caused by your baby's gag reflex. This is natural safety mechanism we have to help prevent choking. Your little one may also gag on foods they're trying for the first time. This is because their taste buds aren't yet used to these new flavours and textures.
Gagging is sometimes mistaken for choking. But don't worry, gagging is a perfectly normal part of tasting new foods. If your baby is gagging, don't try to help them or prevent them from being sick, because this can cause them to choke.
Signs of gagging can include...
It's always important for parents to know the signs of choking, too. These include...
To keep your little one safe while weaning...
Asparagus, avocado, broccoli, butternut squash, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, courgette, green beans, kale, parsnips, peas, peppers, spinach, and swede.
Apples, bananas, blueberries, kiwi, mango, melon, nectarines, oranges, papaya, peach, pears, pineapple, plums, raspberries, and strawberries.
Beans, beef, chicken, eggs, fish with no bones, lamb, lentils, pork, pulses like chickpeas, tofu, and turkey.
Dairy products like cheese and yoghurt.
Bread, pasta, porridge oats, potato, quinoa, rice, sweet potato, and toast.
There's no set amount of food that babies should eat during the baby-led weaning process.
The idea of this method of weaning is that it's led by your baby, and they'll tell you when they've had enough. Plus, since they're still having breast milk or formula until they're at least a year old, they'll continue to get all the calories they need.
If you're baby-led weaning, your baby's first foods should be firm enough for them to grasp but soft enough for the baby to gum without irritation or difficulty. Then, as they get older and their confidence and motor skills develop, they can expand their palette of flavours and textures.
Here are some of the most popular baby-led weaning foods that parents introduce their baby to at different ages.
As well as the foods listed above, from seven months you can introduce...
By the age of 10 months, babies should be having three meals a day - with lunch and tea including a main course and pudding of fruit or plain yoghurt.
Absolutely! Some parents love baby-led weaning and prefer it to traditional spoon feeding, while others use a bit of both.
As with most parenting topics, there isn't one right or perfect way to wean, just what feels right for you and your baby. The main thing is that your baby has a healthy, varied diet, and gets all the important nutrients they need to grow and develop.
Purees can still be beneficial during the early baby-led weaning process. The truth is, you don't have to stop feeding purees when you begin baby-led weaning - you can mix wean! Some of the benefits of combining purees and baby-led weaning include:
There are lots of ways you can introduce purees in your baby-led weaning routine. These include:
While there are plenty of new tastes they can discover through baby-led weaning, there are a few foods you should steer clear of for your baby or toddler.
Along with added salt, sugar, and saturated fats, this includes honey (for babies under the age of one due to the risk of botulism), rice-based drinks (as they contain levels of arsenic), mould-ripened cheese, and certain seafood - including swordfish, shark, and marlin (as they contain mercury). Additionally, raw, or undercooked shellfish and eggs can pose a health risk.
You should also avoid giving your baby anything that poses a choking risk. This can include peanuts and whole nuts, raisins and other dried fruits, popcorn, boiled sweets, raw jelly cubes, or ice cubes.
Introducing Solid Foods to Your Baby
This is your chance to introduce new flavours to the menu, and to encourage your mini-me to get the hang of chewing by doing less of the work for them and providing solid food or meals with lumpier textures.
Weaning: How Much Food to Give
Weaning is an important part of your baby's development, but it can be hard to know how much food to give them. Read our handy guide to discover more.