Baby-led weaning is when you let your baby take the lead and feed themselves. Learn more, including how to get started with baby-led weaning, here.
All About Baby-Led Weaning
If you're getting ready to add complementary foods into your little one's diet, you may be wondering what baby led weaning is?
Well, baby led weaning (BLW) simply means letting your child feed themselves. 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 puréed 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.
The benefits of baby led weaning
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:
- Improved fine motor, chewing and hand-eye coordination skills.
- Easier food preparation because your baby can share the same meals and mealtimes with the rest of the family.
- Your little one gets a full sensory experience and develops good eating habits as they explore, inspect, and taste different flavours and textures.
- They develop independence because they’re in control and learn how to stop eating when they’re full.
- Making homemade baby food lets you know exactly what’s in their food.
- It makes picky eating and mealtime battles less likely.
How to do baby led weaning
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.
- Introduce one new food each day for your baby to explore. This way, they have a variety of foods and discover more options they enjoy. It also means you can see what kind of foods or shapes they prefer.
- Lay a wipe-clean tablecloth under the highchair to catch any mess. At first, you may find that your baby creates a real mess during mealtimes, but that’s all part of the process.
- Offer your baby food, rather than giving it to them. Put it in front of them or let them take it from your hand so that the decision is theirs.
- Involve your baby in your mealtimes. If it’s suitable, you can give them the same meal that you're eating in a smaller portion, so they can learn to copy you.
- Schedule mealtimes for when your baby isn't tired or too hungry. That way, they can concentrate on learning new skills.
- Offer water in small amounts during mealtime. This can be given in an open cup from six months old to help baby develop their oral motor skills.
Many babies eat only small amounts for the first few months of baby led weaning. For them, these early mealtimes are about discovering and learning rather than eating. You'll know when your baby is finished eating if they turn their head away and shut their mouth. If they show these signs, don’t keep feeding them and trust their cues. They'll let you know when they're feeling peckish again!
Remember, keep smiling, enjoying, and paying attention. If you keep it enjoyable, your baby will be keen to try new foods and look forward to mealtimes. Weaning is a very short time in your child’s life, so have a camera ready to capture those first gummy, carroty smiles!
When to start baby led weaning
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:
- Staying in a sitting position and holding their head steady.
- Coordinating their eyes, hands, and mouth so they're able to look at food, pick it up and put it in their mouth.
- Swallowing food (rather than spitting or pushing it out).
- Making mouthing movements as they watch others eat and showing an interest in food.
Baby led weaning first foods from six to 12 months
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.
All foods you give should be soft enough to be mashed with baby’s tongue or between your fingers.
The foods offered can include toast batons, carrot sticks, broccoli, chicken, salmon – whatever they're able to hold, squash and sensibly chew, or gum! That’s the essence of it.
Read on for some more in-depth advice on what types of food you can offer your baby, and how to serve them at each stage.
|Baby's First Vegetables||Baby’s Age||How to Serve|
|Asparagus, avocado, broccoli, butternut squash, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, courgette, green beans, kale, parsnips, peas, peppers, spinach, and swede.||6 Months||It’s a good idea to offer a variety of vegetables from the get-go. They should be cooked until very soft, then mashed or blended into a suitable texture. Alternatively, they can be sliced up and offered as baton-shaped finger foods that can be squashed between your finger and thumb.|
|7 – 9 Months||Cook vegetables to soften them, then mash them to a lumpy texture or chop them into finger foods.|
|10 – 12 Months||By now, your little one should be able to eat mashed, lumpy, chopped and finger foods. Veggies should be cooked until soft and offered chopped or as hand-held finger foods.|
|Baby's First Fruits||Baby’s Age||How to Serve|
|Apples, bananas, blueberries, kiwi, mango, melon, nectarines, oranges, papaya, peach, pears, pineapple, plums, raspberries, and strawberries.||6 Months+||At any stage, you can soften (either blend or mash) ripe fruits to the perfect texture for your baby or chop them up and offer them as baton-shaped finger foods. Please note that fruits that are a little firmer need to be cooked until soft. You should always wash fruit and get rid of pips, stones, and hard skin before offering it to your baby.|
|Baby's First Proteins||Baby’s Age||How to Serve|
|Beans, beef, chicken, eggs, fish with no bones, lamb, lentils, pork, pulses like chickpeas, tofu, and turkey.||6 Months+||This food group is suitable for babies from around six months of age, provides protein and contains other nutrients like iron and zinc. When preparing eggs for your baby, make sure they’ve got a British Lion Quality stamp.|
|Baby's First Dairy Foods||Baby’s Age||How to Serve|
|Dairy products like cheese and yoghurt.||6 Months+||You can offer your baby pasteurised dairy foods as part of a meal from around six months. Plain yoghurts that are full-fat and unsweetened are best. Full-fat goat’s, sheep’s or cows' milk that’s pasteurised can be used when cooking for your baby from around six months old. However, these shouldn’t be offered as drinks until they’re one years old or over.|
|First Starchy Foods||Baby’s Age||How to Serve|
|Bread, pasta, porridge oats, potato, quinoa, rice, sweet potato, and toast.||6 Months+||These foods can be cooked if needed, and then mashed or blended to a suitable texture for your baby. Alternatively, they can be chopped and offered as finger foods.|
Easy baby led weaning meal ideas
Variety is the spice of life, and weaning is no different! There’re tons of great websites, books, and blogs you can use for research to inspire your baby led weaning journey. Here are a few to get you started:
How to do baby led weaning safely
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. Choking and gagging might look the same 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 natural gag reflex, a safety mechanism that prevents choking. Your little one may also gag on foods they're trying for the first time because it’s something new that their taste buds aren't used to yet.
Gagging is sometimes mistaken for choking, but it’s a normal part of trying new foods. If you recognise the signs of gagging, don’t try to help your baby, or stop them from vomiting, because this can cause them to choke.
Signs of gagging can include…
- Loudly gurgling, coughing, or sputtering
- Regurgitating swallowed food back into their mouth, spitting up or vomiting
- Baby’s tongue may be thrust forward
- Possible red face.
It's always important for parents to know the signs of choking, too. These include…
- Struggling to cough or breathe
- Having a terrified look
- Making high-pitched sounds while breathing
- Face and lips that turn blue
- Struggling to make a sound.
To keep your little one safe while weaning…
- Sit them upright, facing the table, either on your lap or in a highchair. Make sure they can sit steadily and can use their hands and arms freely.
- Never leave them alone with food and always monitor them at mealtimes.
- Talk to your health advisers if you have a family history of food intolerance, allergies, digestive problems, or any other concerns about your baby’s health or development.
Can I combine baby led weaning with traditional spoon-fed purée weaning?
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.
Purées can still be beneficial during the early baby led weaning process. The truth is, you don’t have to stop feeding purées when you begin baby-led weaning – you can mix wean! Some of the benefits of combining purées and baby led weaning include:
- Convenience and flexibility
- Reduced food waste
- It can be easier to introduce them to new flavours and textures.
How to incorporate puréed food into your baby led weaning journey
There are lots of ways you can introduce purées in your baby led weaning routine. These include:
- Spreading fruit-based purées on toast batons.
- Loading your baby’s spoon with purée and letting them hold it and feed themselves.
- Stirring fruit-based purées into yoghurt.
- Adding purées into a pancake mix.
- Using purées as a dip for carrot or cucumber batons.
- Letting your baby explore and get messy by spreading some purée on their highchair table.
What foods can babies and toddlers not have?
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.
Babies don’t need to have salt added to their meals, as it’s not good for their kidneys. So, it’s best to remember this if you’re cooking for the whole family. Season everyone else’s food separately.
Babies don’t need added sugar in their food. Plus, if you avoid sugary snacks and drinks, you'll help protect their developing teeth.
Don't give your little one too many foods that contain lots of saturated fat. This includes things like crisps, cakes, and biscuits.
This can contain bacteria that produces toxins and can lead to a very serious illness called botulism. It's recommended that parents wait until their baby is at least one year old before they give them honey.
Peanuts and whole nuts
These are only suitable for children over the age of five due to the risk of choking. However, babies can have peanuts or other nuts from six months old if they're smoothed into a butter. If you know you have a family history of allergies, you should talk to your doctor before you introduce nuts into your baby's diet.
Because of a risk of a disease called listeria, babies and young children shouldn’t have soft, mould-ripened cheese or cheese that’s made using unpasteurised milk
Eggs that are raw or lightly cooked
Babies aged six months and over can have eggs. If they’re hens' eggs with a red lion stamped on them, or if you can see a red lion with the words "British Lion Quality" anywhere on the box, your baby can have them lightly cooked or raw in things like homemade mayonnaise. Eggs that don’t have the red lion mark should only be offered if both the white and yolk are cooked fully.
Children under five shouldn't be given rice-based drinks instead of their regular breast milk, formula, or cows' milk after one-year-old. This is because they can contain levels of arsenic.
Popcorn, raw jelly cubes, boiled or sticky sweets, and ice cubes
Small, hard foods like these can potentially cause babies and young children to choke.
Raisins and other dried fruits
Whole raisins or dried fruits shouldn’t be given to babies under the age of one. After that age, they should always be cut into small pieces.
Shellfish that’s raw or lightly cooked can cause food poisoning and shouldn’t be offered to babies.
Shark, swordfish, and marlin
The amount of mercury in these types of fish is dangerous and can affect how a baby’s nervous system develops.