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Crash Course in Baby Led Weaning

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

Sometime around your baby’s 6-month checkup, your pediatrician will likely recommend you begin introducing your baby to solid foods, in addition to their milk or formula feedings. For many parents, this is both an exciting and frightening step.

Most of us were likely fed pureed fruits and vegetables and rice cereal as our first solid foods, then our parents slowly introduced finger foods and food that was cut up into very small pieces. However, over the past decade, baby led weaning has become a popular alternative method for beginning solid foods. This was the method we opted for when my son was about 6 months old.

Baby led weaning, or in some parts of the world, baby led feeding, is a fairly simple way of starting your baby on solid foods. Provided your baby can sit up with minimal support and can grasp and bring items to his mouth, he is ready to begin exploring food. Caregivers offer foods soft enough to easily mash between your fingers, but solid enough for baby to pick up and bring to his mouth. Food is cut into pieces that are about the width and length of your index finger. Using a crinkle cutter can make slippery foods easier to pick up. Common first foods include sweet potato, avocado, and banana.

Baby led weaning has a wide variety of benefits for both caregivers and babies.

1. Fosters autonomy.

a. Babies who are given the opportunity to feed themselves, rather than

being spoon-fed, feel a greater sense of independence and control. This

can promote a wider acceptance of foods of various tastes and textures

and can increase baby’s enjoyment of meal time.

2. Promotes fine motor development.

a. Babies must pick up the pieces of food and put them in their mouths.

Manipulating foods of different textures is excellent fine motor practice.

3. Simpler for caregivers.

a. Caregivers usually can feed baby some of what they are already having

during meals, with a bit of extra thought and planning; no preparing or

purchasing special “baby food.”

4. Promotes family cohesion.

a. Babies can eat with the family since they are self-feeding, rather than

having an adult spoon feed them, and then the adults must eat separately

from the baby. Babies who are included in family mealtimes from the start

have excellent models as to how to eat, use utensils, and behave at the


Common fears about baby led weaning:

1. My baby will choke!

proven that babies are no

more likely to choke when

using the baby led

weaning approach when

compared to spoon-feeding.

b. Most babies will gag, some quite frequently early on, as they learn to

manipulate food in their mouths and swallow it. This is developmentally

very normal. However, they are very unlikely to choke, provided you offer

foods of appropriate shape, size, and texture for baby’s age and

developmental abilities. (Babies should always be closely supervised

when eating, no matter the method).

2. It will be so messy.

a. Yes. There is no getting around this. It will be messy! However, babies

experiencing their food with all of their senses is an important part of

learning about food. When they can get their hands in the yogurt, mashed

potatoes, hummus, etc. they get a complete sensory experience, in

addition to tasting the food. Babies who are allowed to play with their food

when they are very young, usually become more competent, flexible

eaters as they get older, and play with their food less as they get older.

b. To minimize mess, you may opt for a full coverage bib, a splat mat (or old

towel) under the high chair, and a high chair that is easy to wipe down (aim

for plastic or rubber, not cloth).

3. I won’t know how much my baby is eating.

a. When adults spoon-feed babies, they are controlling and can easily

observe the quantity of food the baby is actually ingesting. This is a bit

more challenging when baby is sucking and gnawing on larger pieces of

food, and perhaps swallowing a bit here or there. However, between 6 and

10 to 12 months, babies still get the vast majority of their calories and

nutrition from breast milk or formula, so the precise amount of solid food

they consume is relatively unimportant.

b. As they get closer to the one-year mark,

we do like to see them beginning to eat more solid foods and taper off

their milk feedings.

4. My child won’t be able to eat foods that require a spoon.

a. Just because adults aren’t spoon-feeding baby, doesn’t mean baby can’t

use a spoon. Caregivers can pre-load a spoon full of something mushy but

thick (i.e. thick oatmeal, mashed potatoes or black beans) and lay it on the

baby’s tray or hold it out to baby. Baby can pick up the spoon and feed

himself. Most babies love the opportunity to do so.

Be sure to offer small sips of water (no more than 2-4 oz. per day) with each meal to give baby opportunities to practice drinking from a small open cup and a straw cup. This also can help minimize constipation which can arise during the beginning of solid food introduction.

So far, we've had a lot of fun with baby led weaning, and my son seems to be very enthusiastic every time we sit down together at the table for a meal. Yes, I'm spending more time cleaning up after him, but we're enjoying this learning process together.

Whether you choose to begin your child’s solid food journey with spoon-feeding purees, or by diving into the world of baby led weaning, it’s a big step and will take some adjustment for parents and baby alike. Babies develop at different rates and will similarly demonstrate competence with eating at their own pace. I wish you well on this next stage in your food journey together.

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