Introducing Solids: Baby Led Weaning
Read time: 5 minutes
What should I know about Baby Led Weaning?
- Understand the key features of Baby Led Weaning
- Learn the possible benefits of the feeding style
- Recognize the potential detriments and risks
- Learn which foods to start with and which to avoid
During this time your baby’s needs increase for certain nutrients, such as vitamins C and A, folate, calcium, magnesium, zinc, and iron; some of which cannot be met by breastfeeding alone.3,4 Additionally, this is a time when baby is ready to begin developing the skills needed for feeding and eating.5
Read more: Introducing solids: Signs of Readiness
Spoon-feeding purees versus Baby Led Weaning
Traditionally, starting solids begins with spoon-feeding pureed foods and gradually advancing in texture and consistency to lumpier and more solid foods over time.2,5 This method puts the caregiver in control of the feeding.
The Baby Led Weaning (BLW) method emphasizes self-feeding soft solid foods rather than spoon-feeding purees.6 This puts the infant in control of what and how much they eat.7
What is Baby Led Weaning?
According to Gill Rapley, the pioneer of Baby Led Weaning, this feeding method encourages infants to explore more textures and tastes, to be more independent, to better develop chewing skills, and to help in the development of hand-eye coordination.7,8
It is recommended to wait until at least six months to try BLW as babies are more developmentally capable of reaching for food and putting it in their mouth at this age.8
The feeding process involves putting soft, whole foods, cut into appropriate size pieces that are easy to grasp, onto your baby’s tray and then letting them eat what and how much they want.7 In fact, many advocates for BLW encourage the feeding of family foods and meals with adjustments to the food’s size and texture for baby.6,7,8
Potential benefits of Baby Led Weaning
Proponents of Baby Led Weaning believe there are several advantages BLW has over spoon-feeding purees.
May encourage greater acceptance of a variety of foods and development of healthy eating habits. 6,7,8
Tip: Regardless of the method you choose to feed your infant, giving vegetables and other foods repeatedly, even after they were initially rejected, can help infants begin to accept and enjoy them. It can actually take more than 10 tastes before your little one accepts a new food or texture.9,10,11
Tip: Whether you are using BLW or spoon-fed purees, it is important to listen to your baby’s hunger and fullness cues.15,16 Babies know when they are full and can self-regulate their food intake.17 Stop when your little one shows signs they are full or no longer interested in eating.
May promote healthy oral motor and chewing skills.7,14
Potential Disadvantages of Baby Led Weaning
Family diets are not necessarily adapted to an infant’s needs. Typically, proponents of BLW recommend having your baby join family meals and be offered the same foods as everyone else; just in soft, graspable pieces.6,7,8 However, the family meal may have much more salt and/or sugar than what is recommended to feed a baby under 1 year.
During infancy your baby is developing their lifelong taste preferences – foods baby eats now may impact what they will choose when older.18,19 Introducing foods with their natural tastes will help your baby be more open to these flavors in the future. The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends no added sugar up until baby is 2 years old.3
Read more: Healthy Snacks for Babies and Toddlers
Since BLW encourages self-feeding, this often makes vegetables and fruit the primary first foods offered, as fortified baby cereals and other foods may be initially more difficult to self-feed. While produce is an important part of the diet, alone it may not provide quite enough calories to meet your infant’s nutritional needs.
Solution: Offer a wide variety of foods
For sufficient nutrient and calorie intake, aim to feed your infant a variety of foods, including vegetables, fruit, fortified cereals and grains, meat, poultry, fish, beans, legumes, and eggs – all at the appropriate consistency for your baby’s age. Include healthy fats, such as oils, nut butters, and butter, in the preparation of your little one’s food.
Most importantly, continue to provide mostly breastmilk and/or formula. These milks will remain a primary source of calories, hydration, and nutrients until your little one gets closer to 1 year.21,22
Read more: Meal Plan for 6 to 9 Month Old Baby
The need for iron increases exponentially after 6 months of age. The primary sources of iron when feeding infants include fortified cereals, beans, spinach, tofu, meat, and poultry.23 Some of these foods may be more difficult to consume for a self-feeding infant, so should you choose BLW, be aware of this potential nutrient gap in your baby’s diet.
Solution: Offer iron-rich foods most days
To make fortified cereals easier for baby to eat, try making it fairly thick so that it sticks to the spoon easier. Pre-load the spoon and let your baby self-feed. You can also provide fortified soft-cooked pasta for your little one to eat. Offer soft roasted beef or chicken in strips for baby to grasp and gnaw on or if baby’s pincer grasp is good, offer them in shreds. Provide small cubes of tofu.
This is one of the most common concerns when it comes to baby led weaning. Some babies, such as those born prematurely, may not yet be able to coordinate the chewing, breathing, and swallowing needed to feed themselves at six months.
Solution: Provide soft enough foods and supervise mealtimes
Ensuring you are providing your infant with the appropriately sized, soft foods, as well as watching your infant closely during the feeding process, will help prevent choking from occurring. The good news is that studies indicate choking does not seem to happen more often during baby led weaning than during traditional practices.8,24
Always chat with your pediatrician before starting solids to ensure your little one is ready.
Read more: Preventing Choking in Infants and Toddlers
Tips for getting started with Baby Led Weaning
First foods in Baby Led Weaning
Make sure the first foods you introduce are soft. You’ll know it’s the right consistency if you can smush the food between your fingers. Providing the food in a baby-fist-sized strip will allow your little one to grasp it more easily.
- Soft steamed apple or pear slices, skin removed
- Banana, avocado, ripe mango
- Steamed strips of sweet potato, butternut squash, green beans; broccoli and cauliflower florets
- Over-cooked pasta, particularly those fortified with iron
- Well-cooked, soft fish; skin and bones removed
- Well-cooked scrambled eggs
- Well-cooked ground or finely chopped chicken, turkey, or meat
Avoid adding salt and sugar to baby’s food for optimal taste development and health.
Get messy and watch for hunger and fullness cues
Introducing solids is a messy endeavor! Initially, feeding solids is less about nutrient intake and more about learning to eat and tasting new foods. Don’t be discouraged if only a small amount of food makes it into your baby’s mouth. This is why continuing to feed enough breastmilk and/or formula is so important.
Once your baby gets the hang of eating, be sure to watch for the signals that they are full. This will help prevent the learned practice of over-eating and help build healthy habits for years to come.
Bottom line: Do what works for you and your baby
It’s perfectly fine to use a combination of feeding practices as you introduce foods to your infant. There are currently no studies showing that one method of feeding is better than the other.
As long as you progress through textures and stages when your baby is ready and offer a variety of foods, you will be setting up a solid foundation for your baby’s future healthy eating habits.
If you are still unsure, speak with your baby’s pediatrician to help determine what’s best for your baby.
We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.
Our Happy Baby Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitian nutritionists certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too! They’re here to offer personalized support on our free, one-on-one, live chat platform Monday through Friday, from 8am–6pm ET, and Saturday and Sunday, from 8am–2pm ET. No appointment needed, no email or sign-up required. Chat Now!
Read more about the experts that help write our content!