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Baby led weaning is not only an approach to food introduction, but it’s a gateway to independence.
Our kiddos rely on us for everything in the beginning, Any little bit of freedom we can give them helps them realize their potential, and helps us gain a little time and independence back too.
Helping your child master the process of feeding themselves early on will do wonders for your family life. It’s easier to go out, easier to enjoy a meal with the kids, and easier to multitask during meal times.
Check out this beginners guide to baby led weaning and see how this approach to food may help you lead a bigger, better life.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby led weaning is an approach to food introduction that’s gaining more and more popularity. The strategy calls for skipping purees and spoon feeding all together. Instead, babies are encouraged to start feeding themselves with whole solid foods.
The idea of baby led weaning started with a now popular book, Baby Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. The book originally gained a following in the U.K. but is now recognized around the world.
Depending on your doctor you could be instructed to start introducing foods anywhere between 4 and 6 months of age. When more physicians used to believe four month olds needed to start foods so young, purees were encouraged due to the babies inability to hold their head up and use dexterity to feed themselves.
Now, many doctors and parents encourage waiting until closer to 5.5-6 months old to start foods. This means baby should be sitting up and holding their head on their own. If your baby can sit up and support their own head, they are ready to try eating!
Baby led weaning babies are encouraged to eat along with the rest of the family. They have the ability to explore and taste new foods and textures at their own leisure. Baby led weaning creates a fun environment for baby to play and enjoy the process of eating.
As with most new functions, it can take baby a bit to get the hang of things.
It’s important to remember that at this age babies are still getting all of their nutrients from breast milk or formula. That means parents should continue to nurse or bottle feed as often as they would have before starting to introduce foods.
You can also breathe easy even if it feels like baby isn’t getting much food in their mouth. Baby led weaning is a process that encourages baby to learn how to feed themselves. The whole process doesn’t happen overnight.
When to Start Baby Led Weaning?
It’s best to start baby led weaning somewhere around the middle of baby’s first year. It’s around this time that the digestive system starts to mature, and babies will start to have the motor skills and interest to tackle food.
That being said, all babies are different.
You should take into account your own child’s abilities before deciding whether or not to start baby led weaning. There are a few ways you can tell (listed below) and you can also consult with your pediatrician. Although be warned, not all traditional pediatricians know or understand baby led weaning.
They will most likely push you to start with some kind of rice cereal, which can be dangerous for babies digestive development, and also has low levels of arsenic.
Signs Baby is Ready to Baby Led Weaning
- Baby is able to sit up without support
- Baby has the motor skills needed to feed themselves (consider their ability to grab things, specifically the pincer grasp using their thumb and forefingers)
- Baby doesn’t automatically push solids out of mouth their tongue (called the tongue-thrust reflex)
- Baby makes chewing motions (although they do not need to have teeth)
- Baby is interested in food and often tries to grab or participate during meals
Use these guidelines to decide whether your child may be ready to start exploring foods with baby led weaning. But above all, trust your gut. No one knows your child better than you do.
Why Baby Led Weaning?
Why exactly are parents choosing baby led weaning anyway? There are so many benefits to baby led weaning.
Baby Led Weaning is a Time Saver
First, feeding baby real whole foods saves time. Making baby food purees can be time consuming. You can purchase pre-made jars of baby food purees, but a lot of times these have ingredients that aren’t 100% whole and natural, or they are boosted up with extra sugar.
Using the baby led weaning methods allows you to totally bypass purchased baby foods and skip blending, freezing, and defrosting your own too. Not to mention you can delete that expensive baby food maker from your registry.
Baby led weaning also saves time because parents aren’t tied to the high chair. With purees, it’s the parents job to sit and spoon feed baby. Not only is baby not developing any useful skills, the parent is stuck sitting with them the entire time they are eating. What a waste!
The baby led weaning method allows parents to get up and move around while their child explores and feeds themselves. You need to stay near to make sure they aren’t choking and help them corral pieces of food, but you have a little more freedom.
Instead of being glued to a chair, parents are able to wash a few dishes, pick up the kitchen, or make a meal for another child.
Baby Led Weaning Develops Good Skills
In addition to saving time, baby led weaning helps baby learn. By skipping spoon feeding babies learn to feed themselves right away.
They are able to start working on hand eye coordination, chewing skills and dexterity long before babies who are only spoon fed.
It does require a certain level of patience and willingness to clean up a mess from the parents, but the effort pays off. Babies that use the baby led weaning approach to food introduction will likely feed themselves more independently sooner than babies that were solely spoon fed.
This popular strategy also allows baby to explore lots of different food types in a positive way. Some parents that have used baby led weaning report that their children are less picky later on in life. Being exposed to a variety of textures, tastes, and sizes of foods should help develop baby’s palate and appetite for food.
Baby Led Weaning is Healthy
Some studies have shown that baby led weaning can help prevent overweight children. Baby learns to feed themselves and how to self regulate. They choose exactly how much to put in their mouths, and when to stop.
It’s also easier for them to communicate when they are done. With traditional spoon feeding, parents are in control and guessing at exactly how much to feed their kiddos. Similar to breastfeeding, baby led weaning gives the power back to baby to make decisions.
Because of this, some experts suggest that baby led weaning may help children develop healthier BMIs
How to Get Started With Baby Led Weaning
Getting started with baby led weaning can feel a little intimidating. It may seem impossible that your little child is going to pick up a piece of food and feed themselves. But, babies are truly incredible, and children are often capable of much more than we give them credit for.
Follow these guidelines to get started with baby led weaning:
1. Find a Safe Place to Sit
Baby is going to need an established area to work on their new eating skills. Most parents opt for a high chair. It’s best to keep the high chair in a spot where baby can feel included in meal times. Near the kitchen table or an island is a great place to start.
Remember, your child should be sitting up on their own and holding up their head. They should not be laying back in a high chair, or having their head slouch to the side. Trying to force baby to start baby led weaning before they are ready can increase chances of choking.
Some parents choose to allow baby to sit in their lap while exploring baby led weaning. This option does limit your ability to move around as a parent.
2. Get the Right Baby Led Weaning Gear
Baby led weaning is going to be messy. Baby is leaning to hold and move food from their tray to their mouths, and they are 100% going to miss. They are going to miss more than they succeed.
That means food all over the tray, all over their hands and mouth, all over their lap, and all over the floor.
If you want to try and avoid as many outfit changes and stains as you can, invest in some good large bibs with pouches to catch any dropped items. If the mess doesn’t bother you, just roll with it.
See more baby led weaning gear recommendations below, or check out the complete guide to baby led weaning products to help you get started on a path for success.
3. Choose Starter Foods
You’ll want to choose a foolproof first food to start with. Great first foods are ones that are large enough that baby will be able to grab and hold on to, but also soft enough that baby can use them gums to work them down.
A lot of parents start with avocados, bananas, or sweet potatoes.
You’ll learn more about babies preferences as they try more foods and learn the process. Don’t feel frustrated if they don’t love their first food or dive right in. Remember, this is a completely new learning experience for your child.
Check out our ultimate guide to baby led weaning foods to get even more ideas.
4. Start Once a Day
Your baby isn’t going to go from never eating to consuming three full meals a day. You may feel a lot of pressure to make sure they are getting enough food, but remember, their nutrition is still coming from breast milk or formula at this point.
Start slowly by introducing baby to food once a day. As you see their comfort level and interest grow, you an increase their exposure. Eventually baby will be eating three times day with the rest of the family.
Follow your gut when it comes to timing. Your baby will let you know what they need and want.
5. Stick With It
You really need to stick with baby led weaning to see the benefits. Baby is going to need lots of time and exposure to master the eating process. And as a parent you will constantly be introducing new foods for them to explore.
It’s OK to feel frustrated if it seems like your child isn’t getting the hang of it. Just remember they’ve only been on this earth for a short while so far. They needs lots of encouragement and opportunity to learn.
6. Work Together
Remember that baby is learning a lot from watching their parents and other siblings eating. It’s important to incorporate baby’s new meal times into your own.
Timing everyone’s meal times will probably be a challenge. In the end it will be worth it to see potentially faster results, and building bonding memories as a family.
Downsides to Baby Led Weaning
Baby led weaning is amazing, but it’s also important to understand some of the risks.
The biggest challenge surrounding baby led weaning is the risk of choking. As a parent it can be extremely nerve wracking to watch your tiny little baby bring large pieces of food to their mouth. It’s also scary if, and when, they do appear to be choking.
And remember not to panic. Gagging is a safe reflex that actually helps protect your baby from choking. It’s very common to have some gagging in the beginning stages of baby led weaning, and if you panic, your baby will too.
You can tell the difference between choking and gagging using the following guidelines.
Gagging with Baby Led Weaning
Baby might be coughing slightly, and might make a little noise
Choking with Baby Led Weaning
Baby will be unable to breathe, unable to make any noise, and appear very scared
Parents should always be trained in infant-specific heimlich whether they are choosing baby led weaning or not. There is always a chance your baby could put something in their mouth that causes them to choke. And that chance only increase when you have older children with small toys and other types of food laying around.
You can learn the appropriate response to an infant choking using this American Red Cross Pediatric First Air/CPR/AED Reference Guide.
That being said, choosing the right foods and following the correct baby led weaning guidelines should protect you and your child from a choking episode.
The most common choking hazard foods to avoid are whole grapes, hot dogs, raisins, popcorn, raw vegetables, apples with the skin, cherries, nuts and sticky nut butters like peanut butter. These foods should be avoided during baby led weaning.
The other downside to baby led weaning is that it’s messy! Letting your kiddo take the reins at dinner time is a recipe food everywhere. Having an easy to clean high chair and the right bib will help you get through.
More Tips for Baby Led Weaning
Starting a new routine can take some getting used to. Baby led weaning is no different. We’ve compiled a few tips to help make this transition a breeze.
- Block enough time for meals. Baby led weaning can be a slow process. Baby is going to take a lot longer feeding themselves than you would using a spoon. Leave enough time so you don’t get frustrated and try to rush the process.
- Practice patience. Along the same lines, make sure you set your expectations so you can be a calm, patient parent during the baby led weaning process. Getting frustrated may upset baby and you want to keep things upbeat.
- Avoid tiny pieces of food. Cutting food into tiny pieces actually makes it more difficult for baby to learn. Food should be in pieces that are large enough for baby to easily grasp.
- Don’t worry about clean up. If you’re worried about the mess the entire time, no one is going to enjoy themselves. Grab a huge big, or let baby go naked, relax and have fun.
- Avoid an overly hungry baby. The last thing you want to do is put baby in the high chair when they are already upset. That’s going to create an unpleasant experience for everyone. Wait for a time when baby is happy and excited to play to get started.
- Check food softness. How quickly your baby can gnaw at a food item will depend on whether or not they have teeth. Ideally all of your baby led weaning foods should be able to be smashed between your finger and thumb. This will keep them safe for baby and avoid choking risks.
- Appreciate progress. Appreciate the little wins! Is baby getting a few more pieces to their mouth than they did yesterday? Then you guys are making progress. Progress is what’s important.
- Try using a zig zag cutter. Many parents choose to cut baby led weaning safe foods with a zig zag cutter to make a safe size for baby that is easy to grab.
- Understand your child. Your child is the most important part of the entire process. Know that baby led weaning doesn’t work for every child. If your baby is struggling with certain delays or other health issues, it may be better for them to start solids on a more traditional path. There’s nothing wrong with that.
- Don’t stop breastfeeding or bottle feeding. Even though baby led weaning sounds like you’re weaning them off of nursing, you’re not! You are addition food in addition to their existing diet, which should remain the same.
The Best Foods for Baby Led Weaning
There are endless options when it comes to baby led weaning foods. This is an opportunity to bond with your child, and let them get excited about exploring the world of food.
You can get started with the following types of ideas, and then add in your own creative mix!
Bananas, avocados, ripe pear, raspberries, or other fruits cut into sticks or wedges
Steamed broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, or green beans, sweet potatoes fries, butternut squash, roasted asparagus, cucumbers (great for teething babies), potatoes (sweet, white, gold, purple)
Boiled and shredded chicken or beef, eggs made various ways, grilled fish (no bones), meatballs
Yogurt, soft pasteurized cheeses (think ricotta or cottage cheese), sticks of firm cheese
Fusilli pasta, wheat toast
How to Cut Foods for Baby Led Weaning
How you prepare food for baby led weaning will depend on your child’s age and their developmental skills. Some babies have further developed dexterity, and some babies have full sets of teeth.
Take a look at the options for preparing baby led weaning food and choose what works for you and your baby.
Around 6 Months of Age
Most babies at this age haven’t developed their pincer grasp yet. At this age it will be easiest for babies to work with foods they can grab with their whole hand. Cut food into long thin sticks. A good size reference is your pinky finger. This should allow babies to grab onto the food and get it in their mouth, while the length should prevent them from choking.
Around 8 to 10 Months of Age
As baby develops his or her pincer grasp you’ll be able to cut foods into smaller pieces. In fact, the smaller sized portions will make them work harder on perfecting that grip. You can cut foods into chickpea-sized bites, and slightly smash them depending on the food. It’s also completely OK to continue serving the previous sizes if baby isn’t ready yet.
No matter what the age, baby led weaning foods should be soft enough to easily smash between your thumb and forefinger.
Baby Led Weaning Gear
You’ve likely made it this far in the article because you really care about the best development for your child. You want to empower them to learn, eat independently, and set them up for success as they get older too.
You don’t technically need any special gear besides your child and the right foods, but having the right stuff will help you and baby thrive with baby led weaning.
We’ve compiled our favorite baby led weaning products below.
Baby Led Books
If you truly want to understand baby led weaning and all of the benefits, it’s best to go right to the source. Check out the original book, Baby Led Weaning, by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett.
Learning directly from the creators of this parenting phenomenon will give you the best chance for success!
Baby Led Weaning Cookbooks
The same authors of the original baby led weaning book have also create two super popular baby led weaning cookbooks. The Baby-Led Weaning Family Cookbook includes 99 new recipes suited for families of four or more and The Baby-Led Weaning Cookbook includes 130 recipes perfect for baby led weaning with the whole family.
Baby Led Weaning Bibs
There are plenty of options out there for baby bibs. For baby led weaning you’ll want to specifically look for a non-fabric bib that covers as much of the shoulder area as possible and has a pocket too.
These features will help keep clean up as easy as possible. The pocket helps catch extra food that gets dropped. Staying away from fabric bibs means you can simply wipe or hand wash them off versus having to do a load of laundry.
The crinkle cutter tool makes it easy to cut baby led weaning approved foods into a shape that’s easier for baby to grab. A lot of food options can get slippery for baby to grab. Creating a crinkled stick shape provides extra texture for your kiddo to grab, making it easier to get the food to their mouth.
A lot of baby led weaning foods are best served cooked. That means a lot of veggie steaming. We suggest grabbing a cheap food steamer to streamline your cooking process. This should make cooking baby led weaning foods quicker, but you also may enjoy having a steamer around for other cooking as well.
Food Storage Containers
It’s most efficient to make a few servings of your selected baby led weaning foods at the same time so you’re not working from scratch at each feeding. It’s easier on you, and faster when you need to keep a child on the verge of a meltdown happy. Meal prep is definitely your best friend if you’re working with an impatient baby.
Make sure you stock up on some food storage containers to stay organized. We like this popular set from Amazon because it comes with a variety of sizes and is clear so you can easily see what’s inside.
Non-Fabric High Chair
The less fabric you have around baby while working on baby led weaning, the better. This means avoiding fabric bibs and fabric high chairs. If you’ve already a purchased a high chair, you may want to grab something simple and cheap like IKEA’s ANTILOP option. This bad boy is a steal at $22.99 and actually has pretty decent reviews.
If you’re planning ahead or looking for a longer term solution they you probably want to get something a little higher quality.
We’ve spent A LOT of time looking at high chair options. We take into account the price, quality, look (because this thing is going to be sitting in your kitchen) and the ease of cleaning. After a ton of search and personal trial, we landed on the Oribel Cocoon 3-Stage High Chair.
This super smart design works really well with baby led weaning because cleaning it is a breeze, and there is no fabric in sight! The tray is also removable and doesn’t have weird nooks and crannies like other chairs that eventually get a little moldy and stinky. As an added bonus, the chair has a pretty sleek and modern look.
This chair also converts into a regular chair once baby graduates from needing a tray.
Baby led weaning is a smart way to set yourself up for success. As your child learns to feed themselves you’ll experience more freedom, and potentially avoid some serious picky eaters later in life too.
Put the time in now so you can use baby led weaning as a building block to help you and your family lead a bigger, better life.