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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 you can start your baby on their first foods.

What is baby-led weaning?

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 develop the skills needed for swallowing safely.

So far so simple, but here we explain what else you might want to know before deciding to introduce solids in this way.

When can I start baby-led weaning?

The recommended age to start baby-led weaning is from six months onwards (NHS, 2019). This is the same age as the alternative – spoon-feeding (NHS, 2019).

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 soft sticks and chunks of food, rather than feeding it to them (Public Health England, no date; First Steps Nutrition Trust, 2020). Try offering them things like:

  • cooked vegetables
  • fruit
  • pasta
  • soft foods like banana or avocado.

See our other article 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 (Boswell, 2021).
  • Some research suggests babies who feed themselves are more likely to control their appetite, perhaps reducing their risk of being overweight 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; Boswell, 2021)

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. Emerging evidence suggests that baby-led weaning may result in more gagging as babies get used to swallowing but no increased likelihood of choking (Brown, 2018).
  • 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. However, numerous studies have now shown that babies take in enough energy with a baby-led weaning approach (Cameron et al, 2015; Taylor et al, 2017; Morison et al, 2018). And at this stage, milk feeds are still your baby's main source of nutrients and first foods are a way of exploring tastes and textures.

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 (Boswell, 2021).

All babies have a strong gag reflex, and there's a clear 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.

Make sure you know what to do if your baby is choking. Some parents find it helpful to attend an NCT baby first aid course to help build up their confidence.

This page was last reviewed in February 2022

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

You might find attending one of our Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

 

Boswell N. (2021) Complementary feeding methods - a review of the benefits and risks. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 18(13):7165. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18137165

Brown A. (2018) No difference in self-reported frequency of choking between infants introduced to solid foods using a baby-led weaning or traditional spoon-feeding approach. J Hum Nutr Diet. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12528

Brown A, Lee MD. (2015) Early influences on child satiety-responsiveness: the role of weaning style. Pediatr Obes. 10(1):57-66. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.2047-6310.2013.00207.x

Brown A, Wyn Jones S, Rowan H. (2017) Baby led weaning: The evidence to date. Curr Nutr Rep. 6:148-156. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1007/s13668-017-0201-2

Cameron SL, Taylor RW, Heath ALM. (2015) Development and pilot testing of Baby-Led Introduction to Solid-a version of Baby-Led Weaning modified to address concerns about iron deficiency, growth faltering and choking. BMC Pediatr. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1186/s12887-015-0422-8

First Steps Nutrition Trust. (2020) Eating well: the first year. A guide to introducing solids and eating well up to baby’s first birthday. Available at: https://www.firststepsnutrition.org/eating-well-infants-new-mums [Accessed 10th February 2022]

Lakshman R, Clifton EA, Ong KK. (2017) Baby-led weaning - safe and effective but not preventive of obesity. JAMA Pediatr. 171(9):832-833 Available at: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.1766

Morison BJ, Heath A-LM, Haszard JJ, Hein K, Fleming EA, Daniels L, et al. (2018) Impact of a modified version of baby-led weaning on dietary variety and food preferences in infants. Nutrients. Available at: https://doi.org/10.3390/nu10081092

Naylor A, Morrow A. (2001) Developmental Readiness of Normal Full Term Infants to Progress from Exclusive Breastfeeding to the Introduction of Complementary Foods. Academy for Educational Development. Available at: https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/Pnacs461.pdf [Accessed 10th February 2022]

Public Health England. (no date) What to feed your baby. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/start4life/weaning/what-to-feed-your-baby/around-6-m… [Accessed 10th February 2022]

Rapley G. (2015) Baby-led weaning: the theory and evidence behind the approach. J Health Visiting. 3(3):144-151. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276905087 [Accessed 10th February 2022]

Rapley G, Murkett T. (2010) Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater. Experiment LLC, London.

Taylor RW, Williams SM, Fangupo LJ, Wheeler BJ, Taylor BJ, Daniels L, et al. (2017) Effect of a baby-led approach to complementary feeding on infant growth and overweight: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Pediatr. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.1284

Townsend E, Pitchford NJ. (2012) Baby knows best? The impact of weaning style on food preferences and body mass index in early childhood in a case-controlled sample. BMJ Open. 2(1):e000298. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000298

Wright CM, Cameron K, Tsiaka M, Parkinson KN. (2011) Is baby-led weaning feasible? When do babies first reach out for and eat fingers foods? Maternal and child nutrition 7(1):27-33. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1740-8709.2010.00274.x

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