Watching your baby hit their first milestones is SO exciting. Seeing your child laughing, outgrowing their swaddle, or eventually taking their first steps- these moments of growth and development make all of the sleepless nights worth it! One of these milestones is transitioning to solid food. Baby-led weaning is a way to transition into solids- minus the pureed peas and applesauce. Today, I’m covering everything you need to know about baby-led weaning!
What is baby-led weaning?
Typically, babies will graduate from milk to purees or baby-specific food. Baby-led weaning is an alternative option that allows your baby to be more involved in deciding which foods they eat. The American Academy of Pediatrics defines baby-led weaning as the start of soft finger foods in a baby’s diet when they show signs that they’re ready to feed themselves. It’s a self-led practice that follows the baby’s lead and is unique to each child, rather than having strict guidelines to follow by month.
There are many benefits to baby-led weaning, but also some things to keep in mind before deciding to implement it. Every baby is different, and there’s no right answer- do what’s best for you and your family!
Pros and cons of baby-led weaning
Benefits of baby-led weaning
Fine-tuning developmental skills
Baby-led weaning can encourage the development of both motor skills and social skills. Feeding themselves helps to develop hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. Being included in the dinnertime experience helps babies observe how to chew and swallow, and also receive positive reinforcement and socialization at the dinner table.
Exposed to different textures and tastes
There isn’t much room to explore textures when it comes to puree! Being exposed to different tastes and textures can introduce them to a more diverse palette early on, which can result in a less picky eater. Some studies even suggest introducing diverse foods early on can help to prevent certain food allergies.
One of the best parts of baby-led weaning is that it makes mealtime easier (and cheaper) for YOU. Instead of having to buy and prepare separate food for your baby, they’re able to eat the same foods that are already on the table. (Of course, this is within the foods that are safe for babies- they won’t be able to eat EVERY type of food at family dinner!) You also don’t have to push food into their mouth, since they are doing that themselves. Less spoon-feeding for you!
Lower risk of childhood obesity
Some studies indicate that incorporating baby-led weaning can reduce the risk of childhood obesity. Teaching self-regulation based on hunger cues is a skill that could potentially improve eating habits and reduce the risk of childhood obesity in the long run.
Cons of baby-led weaning
Baby-led weaning has some great benefits, but there are some potential drawbacks to be aware of. You want to be cautious about making sure your child is getting enough iron. Many iron-rich foods (like steak) are difficult for babies to chew and are not recommended. It’s important to keep an eye on iron levels to meet their daily nutritional needs and consult with a doctor about potentially adding an iron supplement to their diet.
Baby-led weaning can also introduce more of a choking hazard, so you want to be sure that you’re using safe foods and always closely monitoring them to make sure they’re not in danger. Also, it can be a mess to clean up since they’re eating everything with their fingers!
When to start baby-led weaning
It’s important not to start too early, and there isn’t one concrete age to start at- begin when your child is developmentally ready. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends around 6 months. More specifically, when your baby can sit up with little to no help, grab and hold objects, and guide items into their mouth with accuracy.
P.S. If your baby is around the 6-month mark, check out my blog post on the 6-month sleep regression to help you navigate that (exhausting) milestone!
How to start baby-led weaning
When your child is showing signs of readiness, it’s all about discovering different foods and learning. Here are the steps to starting solid foods through baby-led weaning!
- Have your baby join the family during mealtime
- Start with small pieces of soft, easy-to-chew foods
- Let your baby feed themself as much as possible- this is how they will learn!
- Let your baby lead with how much/how quickly they eat
- When your baby is 6 months of age or older, give them water with their solid food
Baby-led weaning is safe as long as it’s practiced correctly. Be sure to use safe foods that aren’t as easy to choke on, but keep in mind that choking is always a possibility with food (no matter how safe). It’s important to closely watch your child while they eat regardless of what they’re eating.
Make sure that you understand the difference between gagging (a safety response) and choking (a true hazard). If your child is gagging, they will make a noise, which means their gag reflex taking care of it- stay calm but keep a close eye. In the case of choking, their airways are obstructed and they will not be making noise. It’s always a good idea to be well-versed in CPR so that you can be prepared in the case of an emergency.
Safe first foods
While baby-led weaning is an exciting way to practice independence and get the hang of different foods, you want to be careful about which foods to use. Especially in the beginning, make sure the food is soft! Here is the recommended list of first foods for baby-led weaning from the American Academy of Pediatrics:
- Vegetables that are cooked until soft (broccoli, carrots, etc.)
- Roasted, peeled vegetables like potatoes/sweet potatoes or carrots
- Soft fruit like bananas, avocado, or pears
- Meat and fish
- Beans (mash them with a fork)
I hope this post has helped provide insight into all things baby-led weaning! Check out my 3-12 Month Feeding and Sleep Schedule Guide for more information on feeding schedules and sleep training. If you’re struggling to get your baby to sleep, I offer one-on-one sleep support to help families just like you get on a sleep schedule that works. The challenges of parenthood are so much easier to navigate when you feel well-rested!