baby eating avocado from a bowl

What is Baby-Led Weaning and How to Start

Baby-led weaning has become more and more popular recently. As the name suggests, baby-led weaning encourages babies to be in charge of their feeding experience. In its pure form, purees and baby food are skipped and babies are given true solids from the start. I don’t think you have to follow this rule strictly to reap the benefits of baby-led weaning. Keep reading for ideas of how to incorporate the concepts of baby-led weaning into any feeding approach.

Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning

Baby-led weaning has become incredibly popular for good reason. Some of the benefits include:

  • Baby-led weaning reduces picky eating. It exposes babies to real foods in their more natural state which allows for a richer sensory experience.
  • Baby-led weaning promotes independence from the start. It allows babies to decide when they want to eat and when they want to stop. This helps babies to recognize when they’re full.
  • Baby-led weaning encourages the development of fine motor skills. Babies practice picking up a variety of foods that are different shapes and sizes and that therefore require a variety of grasp patterns. They have to learn how to pick up foods that are slippery and very small which can help to challenge them in ways they may not otherwise be challenged.
  • Baby-led weaning promotes the development of oral-motor skills. Rather than the mouth only getting to experience one texture (puree), it challenges the tongue, lips, and jaw in new ways. This helps to increase strength and skill with biting, chewing, tongue movements and swallowing.

To read more about the benefits read our article Baby Led Weaning Benefits.

baby being fed by parent using spoon

Is Traditional Weaning Okay?

Absolutely! There are many reasons why parents may feel more comfortable starting with purees. For babies that have a significant history of feeding difficulties (such as a history of aspiration, G-tube placement, or oral aversion), gastrointestinal issues, oral-facial structural anomalies, or developmental delay, parents may feel more comfortable starting with baby food. In fact, you don’t have to have a reason other than you feel baby food is best for your child and that is what you want to do. You know your child best.

If you do decide to start with purees, it is important to start giving other textures around 8 months of age. There is nothing wrong with starting with baby food, you just don’t want to get stuck on it for too long. This can lead to picky eating and delayed oral motor skills. If your baby needs help learning to chew, check out this article.

When is Baby Ready to Eat Solids

Babies are usually ready to eat solids (either puree or more firm solids) around 6 months of age. Developmental readiness is more important than age when it comes to starting solids. It is important that babies first:

  • Be able to sit mostly on their own
  • Have excellent head control and
  • Show interest in food (such as watching you when you eat or trying to grab food off your plate!).

If you don’t see these signs by 6-7 months, you should mention this to your baby’s pediatrician.

First Foods to Offer to Your Baby

There are so many great options to start with. For busy parents, foods that require minimal prep such as avocado or banana are super easy options. Cut the avocado into slices and coat it in something if baby has a hard time picking it up (such as baby cereal, hemp seed, or shredded coconut). Alternatively, cutting slippery foods with a crinkle cut knife can also make them easier to pick up. A trick for making bananas into the perfect shape for baby is to peel it then stick your finger in the middle of the top which will cause it to split into thirds.

For foods that need to be cooked such as squash, carrots, or broccoli, make sure they are well steamed, boiled, or baked. Most raw vegetables should be avoided at this age, as they can be a choking hazard. Once cooked, cut them into spear/stick shapes (think the size and shape of a carrot stick) to allow for easy pickup. For more information on foods that are common choking hazards, see the CDC’s website.

Resources for How to Start Baby-Led Weaning

Solid Starts has an excellent website with an extensive food database. This can help to guide you on how to best prepare foods depending on your baby’s age and skill. Check out their website or download the app to get ideas of other foods to try and how to serve them to your baby. You can also check them out on Instagram @solidstarts for more great information!

baby sitting in high chair eating brocolli

What is the Best Approach to Feeding

My preferred approach to feeding babies is a compromise between traditional and baby-led weaning approaches. It is important for babies to be exposed to purees in addition to other solids, so I don’t necessarily agree with skipping them. You don’t have to blend and mash every single food but try offering foods that are “naturally” pureed in your family’s diet. Examples may include: Yogurt, mashed potatoes, applesauce, and sweet potatoes. You can incorporate some of the principles of baby-led weaning when you offer pureed foods by offering your baby a spoon to use. Encourage baby to use the spoon to feed themself as much as possible and assist them as needed. For more information on The Best Spoons for Your Baby and how to Teach Baby How to Use a Spoon click the links to read our previous articles.

Most importantly, feed your baby in the way that works best for you and then. Don’t feel the need to follow strict rules or trends. Eating should be fun and free from stress for both parents and babies as much as possible!

Can You Mix Baby Led Weaning and Spoon Feeding?
Teaching Baby How to Use a Spoon
How to Teach Baby to Chew

Disclaimer: This information is considered general in nature and should not be considered medical or therapeutic advice. Always consult with your healthcare provider regarding the best approach to feeding your infant.

References:

Center for Disease Control. When, What, and How to Introduce Solid Foods. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/foods-and-drinks/when-to-introduce-solid-foods.html#:~:text=Your%20child%20can%20begin%20eating,foods%20from%20different%20food%20groups.

Solid Starts. What is Baby-led weaning. https://solidstarts.com/baby-led-weaning/.

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