You might have heard of it but are not sure how to do it. We look at the pros and cons of baby-led weaning, and how start your baby on their first foods.
Baby-led weaning is all about offering your baby a selection of foods to choose from and letting them feed themselves. Introducing your little one to solids through baby-led weaning allows them to be in charge, explore and choose what they pick up and eat. This means they’re more likely to take food into their mouth, move it around and swallow safely.
So far so simple, but here we explain what else you might want to know before deciding to introduce solids in this way.
What is baby-led weaning?
The recommended age to start baby-led weaning is from six months onwards (NHS Choices, 2018). This is the same age as the alternative – spoon-feeding (Dodds 2013).
How do I start baby-led weaning?
To try baby-led weaning, your baby will need to be able to grasp whole pieces of food and bring them to their mouth. Babies usually develop this skill at around six months old (Naylor and Morrow, 2001; Wright et al, 2011).
First, you need to sit your baby upright facing the table, either on your lap or in a highchair. Make sure they are steady and can use their hands and arms freely (Rapley and Murkett, 2010).
You can start by offering your baby sticks and chunks of food, rather than giving it to them (Rapley and Murkett, 2010; First steps nutrition, 2017; NHS Choices, 2018). Try giving them things like cooked sweet potato, banana and unsalted breadsticks (Rapley and Murkett, 2010). See our other articles for more baby-led weaning how-to tips.
What are the benefits of baby-led weaning?
- Your little one has the chance to choose, pick up and explore food themselves. Helping them to gain independence.
- They get used to different food textures from the beginning.
- Your baby can be offered food that the whole family is eating, with little need for further preparation.
- Parents often say that babies who choose what to feed themselves have wider food tastes. The evidence is mixed about whether baby-led weaning could stop babies from becoming fussy eaters.
- Some research suggests babies who feed themselves are more likely to control their appetite, perhaps reducing their risk of obesity later in life. Other research suggests that’s not the case, so we don’t yet know for sure. (Townsend and Pitchford, 2012, Brown and Lee 2015; Rapley, 2015; Brown et al, 2017; Lakshman et al, 2017)
What are the negatives of baby-led weaning?
- Some parents worry that baby-led weaning is more likely to cause their baby to choke than spoon-feeding. But there is no evidence for this.
- Baby-led weaning can be messier than spoon-feeding. Whether you’re spoon-feeding or baby-led weaning, you’re bound to have some mess at this age.
- One concern is whether baby led-weaning provides a varied and nutritious enough diet. One study found baby-led weaning babies consumed ‘higher intakes of fat and saturated fat, and lower intakes of iron, zinc and vitamin B12’. Another trial suggests parents offer their babies iron-rich foods like meat, pulses and fortified cereals at every mealtime. (Cameron et al, 2012; Cameron et al, 2013; Daniels et al, 2015; Morison et al, 2015; Rapley 2015; D’Andrea et al, 2016; Fangupo et al, 2016)
Baby-led weaning and choking
There is no evidence to suggest babies are more likely to choke with baby-led weaning, compared to spoon-feeding (Cameron et al, 2013; Fangupo et al, 2016). So try not to worry too much.
All babies have a strong gag reflex. You’ll be able to tell difference between gagging and choking. When your baby gags they might cough and go red in the face but if they are choking, they will be silent.
Read our top tips on how to get started with baby-led weaning.
This page was last reviewed in June 2018
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Brown A, Wyn Jones S, Rowan H. (2017) Baby led weaning: The evidence to date. Curr Nutr Rep. 6:148-156. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/28596930 [Accessed 1st October 2017].
Cameron SL, Heath AL, Taylor RW. (2012) Healthcare professionals’ and mothers’ knowledge of, an attitudes to and experiences with, baby-led weaning: a content analysis study. BMJ Open. 2(6): e001542. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23183112. [Accessed 1st October 2017].
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