What is Baby-Led Weaning?

What is Baby-Led Weaning?

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Baby-led weaning got its start in the UK with Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett’s Baby-Led Weaning. The feeding method has since gained popularity around the world. It’s a popular feeding approach that embraces natural and family-friendly eating. Here’s how it works in a nutshell:

  • Your baby breastfeeds or bottle-feeds
  • Around 6 months, introduce soft solids
  • Skip spoon-feeding your baby pureed foods

 Key points

  • Baby-led weaning can start when your baby is about 6 months old
  • Start with age-appropriate, soft foods cut into strips
  • Encourage your baby to experience new foods

What are the Benefits and Disadvantages of Baby-Led Weaning?

Parents and caregivers who choose baby-led weaning commonly report benefits like:

  • Skipping spoon-feeding
  • Develop better motor skills earlier
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Healthier eating habits
  • Hand dexterity
  • Stronger chewing skills

In addition, your baby gets to explore food as an experience. This means getting to taste, feel, and see food in a new and exciting way. Plus, babies who lead their own weaning may get to develop self-regulation skills. In other words, your baby gets to stop eating when they’re full and the risk of overeating reduces.

But, there’s no such thing as a perfect feeding method. If you want to lead your child lead weaning, you’ll want to keep an eye on iron levels.

Breastfed babies get plenty of iron from breastmilk. So suddenly switching to finger foods can mean a dip in iron levels. Some pediatricians recommend adding liquid iron supplements to your child’s food. You can also encourage your baby to eat:

  • Green vegetables
  • Fortified cereals
  • Pureed meats

These foods are rich in iron and can help bridge the gap.

And lastly, baby-led weaning is messy! Your baby is learning how to eat and develop fine motor skills. You can expect food on the floor (and food all over your child) until they get used to it.

When to Start Baby-Led Weaning

The best time to introduce baby-led weaning is when you feel your child is ready. Most parents and caregivers start somewhere between 6 - 9 months. This is when your baby should be able to put food in their mouth and make basic up-and-down chewing motions. Your baby should also know how to:

  • Sit up by themselves
  • Grab onto objects
  • Control the tongue-thrust reflex

But your baby doesn’t have to be an eating expert right away. Baby-led weaning actually helps strengthen those chewing motions and develop fine motor skills.

Keep in mind that baby-led weaning doesn’t work for every child. Some babies catch on fast, and others don’t like it at all. Pay attention to your baby’s preferences and talk with their pediatrician.

How to Start Baby-Led Weaning

It’s tough for a lot of parents to imagine their 6-month old chomping down on solid foods — and for good reason. Your baby is new to this so it’s important you keep a close eye on them and follow these basic guidelines:

Don’t stop nursing or bottle-feeding

Even though your baby is starting to eat solid foods, don’t skip the formula or breastmilk. This is how they’ll get most of their nutrients for the first year of weaning.

Let go of the eating schedule

Baby-led weaning is all about letting your child take control of how they eat. It’s important to make solid foods available at least three times a day during normal meal times. But if your baby isn’t hungry for solids at dinner, that’s ok — don’t force it.

Stick to soft foods

A major benefit of baby-led weaning is that you get to skip spoon-feeding. But that doesn’t mean your baby’s food shouldn’t be soft. Be sure to offer your child foods that are easy to mash and dissolve. And stay away from hard, crunchy, or extra-chewy foods.

Offer age-appropriate foods

Prepare foods that your baby can hold, chew, and swallow. For most parents, this looks like cutting up softer foods into strips or sticks. This way your baby can start chewing at the top and chomp their way down. But as your child develops dexterity, start cutting up foods into bite-sized pieces.

Offer lots of different foods

Encourage your baby to try all different foods. This helps prevent picky eating later in life. And it also provides greater nutritional value.

Eat with your baby

For most of us, eating is a social activity. This is why it’s important you dine with your baby as often as you can. This gives them a special time to bond with you. And you get to give them an example of how to eat — it’s easier for them to mimic.

Top Baby-Led Weaning Foods

Talk with your baby’s doctor about baby-led weaning to choose a plan that’s right for them. But in the meantime, you can use this table as a guideline on the best baby-led weaning foods to try.

6 - 7 Months

  • Baked or steamed sweet potato strips
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Plain Greek yogurt
  • Plain puréed beef, turkey or chicken shaped into logs
  • Quartered hard-boiled eggs or omelet strips
  • Ricotta cheese
  • Steamed broccoli or cauliflower florets
  • Steamed carrot strips
  • Steamed tofu strips
  • Thick avocado slices
  • Thick banana slices
  • Thick mango or melon slices (peeled)
  • Toast strips

8 - 9 Months

  • Baked or broiled fish like cod or salmon
  • Cooked beans
  • Grated or cubed Swiss or cheddar cheese
  • Halved mini meatballs
  • Halved raspberries or blueberries
  • Hummus
  • Minced chicken, turkey, or beef
  • Ripe peach or nectarine slices
  • Ripe pear slices (steamed or roasted if firm)
  • Steamed green beans
  • Steamed or roasted apple wedges (skin removed)
  • Steamed or sauteed chopped spinach
  • Steamed peas
  • Thinly sliced strawberries
  • Whole grain o-shaped cereal
  • Whole wheat pasta

10 - 12 Months

  • Baked fish or chicken (bite-sized pieces)
  • Deconstructed tacos
  • Half of a grilled cheese sandwich
  • Hummus plate
  • Sliced cheese
  • Soft whole-grain tortilla wedges
  • Steamed carrot strips
  • Thinly sliced and peeled cucumber strips
  • Tomato soup
  • Whole-grain pita bread
  • Whole wheat spaghetti and meatballs

Baby-Led Weaning Safety Tips for Parents

Most parents and caregivers have concerns about choking — and that’s natural. Serving up solid foods for the first few times is nerve-wracking. So it’s important you know about the signs of choking, and what to do in case of emergency. Here are some tips:

Choking vs. Gagging

Gagging is common, and it’s not the same as choking. As your baby gets used to solid foods, they may gag if food travels too far back. But in most cases, babies can take care of gagging themselves.

Wait patiently until they stop gagging and try your best to say and look calm until it passes. Here’s how choking and gagging are different:

  • Your baby may cough and make little noises if they’re gagging
  • If your baby is choking, they’ll look scared and they won’t be able to breathe. They won’t make any noise and they may start grabbing at their throat

Choking is a serious hazard. This is why it’s important to avoid foods like nuts, cherries, hot dogs, and other choking hazards.

Remember: If you notice signs of choking, act immediately and seek medical attention.

Food allergies and when to introduce allergens

Allergic reactions can happen suddenly and it can be a scary experience. Always keep an eye on your baby and how they’re feeling as they try new solid foods. If you notice signs of a food allergy, get medical help right away. Common food allergy signs include:

  • Hives
  • Rashes
  • Swelling of the tongue, lips, or face
  • Congestion or sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting

Talk with your baby’s pediatrician about common allergens like peanuts and seafood. Read more about the most common food allergies in babies in our complete guide!

Other quick safety tips

  • Always supervise your baby as they eat
  • Never leave a baby unattended, especially if they’re eating
  • Keep your baby sitting upright as they eat
  • Prevent your baby from doing other things as they eat (like playing)
  • Avoid eating in strollers or cars
  • Tell family and friends about these safety tips if your baby is in their care

How to Schedule Meals for your Baby

If you’re new to baby-led weaning and you don’t know where to start, here’s an example to follow for each age. Remember that this is a sample guideline and doesn’t replace the advice of your child’s pediatrician.

Baby-Led Weaning Schedule: 6 - 7 Months

7 AM Wake up time
Nurse or bottle feed
8 AM Breakfast (strips of banana)
8:45 AM - 10:45 AM Naptime
10:45 AM Wake up from a nap
Nurse or bottle feed
12:15 PM Nurse or bottle feed
12:30 PM - 2 PM Naptime
3 PM Nurse or bottle feed
4 PM - 4:30 PM Short nap
5 PM Nurse or bottle feed
5:45 PM Dinner (steamed sweet potatoes)
6:45 PM Nurse or bottle feed
7 PM Bedtime

Baby-Led Weaning Schedule: 8 - 9 Months

 7 AM
Wake up time
Nurse or bottle feed
8 AM
Breakfast (whole-grain toast strips and veggies)
9:30 AM - 11:30 AM
11:30 AM
Nurse or bottle feed
12:30 PM
Lunch (whole-grain pita wedges and hummus)
2 PM - 3:30 PM
3:30 PM
Nurse or bottle feed
5:45 PM
Dinner (whole grain pasta and steamed broccoli florets)
7 PM
Nurse or bottle feed
7 :30 PM

Baby-Led Weaning Schedule: 10 - 12 Months

 7 AM
Wake up time
Nurse or bottle feed
8 AM