What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning is encouraging your baby to feed themselves meals and snacks the family is eating.
People who exclusively practice baby-led weaning omit purees and never spoonfeed their babies. So instead of cracking open a jar of liquidized pears, slices of fresh fruit are put in front of Baby and he puts them into his own mouth.
Baby-led weaning is not necessarily about weaning Baby off of breastmilk or formula. Instead, the focus is on allowing your baby to sample new foods and gradually learn to feed themselves. While Baby is practicing eating table food, breastmilk and/or formula is still the main component of his diet.
Although the term “baby-led weaning” sounds like a fancy, new age philosophy, the concept has been in existence pretty much since the beginning of time (you think the cavemen had Baby Bullets?). It’s regaining popularity as more families are opting to skip the purees and noticing their baby is ready to try a variety of food.
When I became interested in baby-led weaning, I turned to this book:
and its companion cookbook:
Both were super helpful resources to make me more comfortable with the idea and set me on the right path!
What are the benefits of baby-led weaning?
There are countless pros to implementing baby-led weaning for your little one. Here’s a short list of benefits:
- Babies can explore their natural interest in food
- Your baby will be able to experiment with different tastes and textures
- You don’t have to prepare an additional puree or separate meal for Baby
- They can sit at the table and be included in family meals
- You don’t have to focus additional attention or energy feeding Baby yourself
- Early exposure to a variety of food has been shown to lead to less picky eaters later in life
- Baby learns to self-monitor hunger
- Great practice for dexterity and coordination
- Promotes independence because Baby doesn’t rely on others to be fed
How can you tell if baby is ready to try?
Most parents say around 6 months is ideal for them to begin. Consult your pediatrician for pointers specific to your child, but these are a few signs that your baby may be ready for baby-led weaning:
- Baby can sit up independently and has good control over his head and neck
- He shows interest in your food and reaches for things others are eating
- When offered food, baby eagerly accepts it
- Baby attempts to pick up food and bring it to his mouth
Teeth are not required for your little one to successfully try new foods. We enacted baby-led weaning with our first when she was seven months and she didn’t get teeth until 11 months.
Is there a higher risk of choking?
You should always be prepared with infant first aid and CPR skills because your baby can literally choke on anything at any time, not just food. Sign up for a course through the Red Cross to make sure you have current knowledge to help your baby in an emergency situation.
That being said, supervise your baby when he’s eating because there is always a chance of choking, even with purees.
Also, take the time to learn the distinction between choking and gagging. A choking baby will not be able to breathe, cough, or get the food out themselves. A baby who is gagging will cough and work the piece of food out on their own. After gagging, a baby may spit up their food or keep it in their mouth and try chewing it again.
It’s completely normal for babies to gag as they’re learning how to chew and swallow. It can be horrifying to stand by and watch as a parent, but neither of my girls ever seemed to be bothered by gagging.
Sidenote: Babies will typically spit out anything they can’t easily chew, such as apple skins or bread crust. It doesn’t mean they’re throwing up or not capable of eating.
Will my baby get enough to eat with baby-led weaning?
There’s the saying “food before one is just for fun” for a reason.
In the beginning, your baby is basically playing with their food because that’s how they learn. They’re tasting and feeling everything in their mouths, but it takes time for them to figure out how to efficiently chew and swallow.
Your baby probably won’t consume all of their calories or meet all nutritional needs from baby-led weaning for several months. Be sure to continue breastfeeding or formula feeding until they’re skilled eaters.
A few tips to get started
- Give baby something to eat each time your family sits down for a meal.
- Put food on the tray or table in front of Baby and let him practice picking it up.
- Choose foods that are soft and easy to pick up and manipulate.
- Use common sense when selecting food: no excessive sugar, spices, hard food, or choking hazards.
- Give baby a few pieces at a time. You can always offer more if they finish it.
- Read baby’s cues. It’s okay if they’re not interested in a certain food or just don’t want to feed themselves at all.
Expect a mess
Your dining area will rarely ever be clean while your baby is learning to eat. That’s just the nature of the activity: Give a tiny person food and they will find a way to get it everywhere. Check out my first daughter during dinner as a baby:
It’s important, though, that baby has a safe place to make their mess and practice eating. I’m absolutely obsessed with this convertible highchair! It is SO EASY to clean and has a dozen features to adjust and modify as baby grows. It even includes a booster seat that our toddler now uses while the baby sits in the highchair. It’s been completely perfect for our little people while they eat!
These bibs from Baby Bjorn are also amazingly helpful during baby-led weaning! They have a deep pocket that catches any dropped food and you can wipe them clean when Baby is done eating. These have lasted us through two babies so far and are definitely durable enough for another couple.
How did I know baby-led weaning right for me?
When I had my first baby, I fully immersed myself in a puree mentality. I devoted time to making baby food and didn’t consider any other options for introducing the world of eating.
See my guide for homemade baby food!
But then I was met with a child who resisted being spoon fed. If we put a spoon in front of her, she refused to take it. She was, however, very interested in the food my husband and I were eating and would swipe at our plates until we offered her a bite of our meal. It became easier just to put a few pieces of our food on her tray and let her eat what we were eating.
We still tried purees and even gave her baby snacks, like Puffs, for a couple more months, but she made it clear that she only wanted real, whole food.
Now that she’s 2.5, she feeds herself effortlessly and eats everything I serve her, except broccoli (which she actually ate as a baby and then decided later that she didn’t like it anymore). I’m proud to say that her favorite foods are tomatoes, bell peppers, and avocados and I truly believe it’s because we introduced them to her so early.
With our second daughter, we tried purees for a few weeks. Then, just before seven months, she started reaching for our plates. Again, it was easier in our situation to transition to baby-led weaning.
We occasionally make applesauce or eat yogurt, but those are the only smooth foods they’re given. It definitely saves me time in the kitchen when I don’t have to make special kid meals.
Is baby-led weaning right for you?
As with any parenting choice, the decision to practice baby-led weaning is entirely personal. Consider your preferences and your child’s personality, but also speak to your pediatrician and see what’s recommended.
The point with baby-led weaning is not to feed your baby, but let him feed himself. It’s a learning experience for you and Baby. Take it day by day and see what works for your circumstances.
If you decide that you really dislike feeding your baby table food, you can always go back to purees until you’re ready to make the switch.
It’s your kid. You don’t need a fancy label to feed your baby. And you can always embrace a combination of purees and modified baby-led weaning. Just decide what works for you!
Did you try baby-led weaning with your kids? Tell me about your experience in the comments!