Curious about the baby led weaning approach to feeding your baby? Here’s a quick dietitian-approved guide on what you need to get started with baby led weaning to make it safe and easy.
Baby led weaning is super trendy right now with new parents. If you or someone you know has an infant, it’s likely you’ve heard the term. But what exactly is baby led weaning?
Baby led weaning, also called self-feeding, is an approach to starting solids that skips the purees and spoon feeding altogether and goes straight to finger foods. It may seem counterintuitive if all you’ve ever known is purees for baby, but if you think about it, it’s not a new concept. How did babies learn to eat before the invention of rice cereal and purees? By eating soft foods that their parents ate!
I’m honestly all for the self-feeding approach, as many dietitians are. We used the baby led weaning approach with Queen C and were very successful, and I plan to use it with baby number two as well. This post will introduce you to the self feeding approach and what you need to get started with baby led weaning in order to be successful with it.
Advantages to Baby Led Weaning
Why baby led weaning over the puree method? There are many benefits of baby led weaning, including:
- Improved dexterity and oral-motor development skills earlier on
- Introduction to a wider range of foods and flavors- leading to less picky eating
- Convenience for parents – no blending and freezing, baby food jars, or expensive pouches. Baby eats what you eat!
- Increased ability for self-regulation and body trust for little ones – setting the stage for a positive relationship with food.
Is Baby Led Weaning Right for You?
I get that baby led weaning is not everyone’s cup of tea. It can be messier at first, and many parents are scared of their babies choking (though the risk for choking is the same whether you are feeding purees or baby-appropriate finger foods). It can also seem hard to incorporate if both parents are at work during mealtimes, if only one parent is on board, or if there are especially pushy grandparents who are uncomfortable with it.
But the good news is that baby led weaning doesn’t have to be an all or nothing approach! You can still teach baby to pick up and eat soft finger foods and pay attention to their hunger and fullness cues while feeding some purees, too. It’s all about what works best for your family.
When To Start Baby Led Weaning
Most pediatricians recommend introducing solid foods to baby at 4-6 months of age, while continuing to give breastmilk or formula until at least 1 year of age. With baby led weaning, introduction might occur at 6 months or later, as baby needs to show signs of readiness, such as:
- Sitting up unassisted
- Grabbing and holding on to objects
- Dropping the tongue thrust reflex
Children with special needs may take longer to show signs of readiness, but be patient, they’ll show you when they’re ready.
A Few Things To Know Before You Get Started With Baby Led Weaning
- Don’t worry about how much actual food is ingested. At the beginning, baby led weaning is less about how much food is ingested and more about exploring and learning to eat. The majority of baby’s nutrition will still be coming from breast milk or formula, so don’t worry too much about the quantity of food, though there are things you need to be aware of when planning your baby’s meals, such as offering iron-rich foods and limiting sugar and sodium.
- Gagging will happen. Before you get started, I recommend watching a video or two on the difference between choking and gagging to get a little more comfortable with gagging. Gagging is an essential reflex that baby will use when they can’t swallow a particular food and is not dangerous, whereas choking is dangerous. Here is a great resource on choking vs gagging.
- It will be messy. Baby led weaning is messier than spoon feeding at the beginning, and that’s okay! Baby is exploring and learning to use those hands and mouth. Know that you will be cleaning up a lot of messes (which is why some of the tools below are helpful), but as your little one masters new skills, the mess will decrease. And honestly, I think the messiness lasts for a shorter period than spoon feeding because they develop eating skills more quickly with BLW.
Must-Have Tools To Make Baby Led Weaning Easier
While you won’t need all the equipment you would for making pureed baby food (another great thing about BLW!) there are a few tools that will make your baby led weaning journey easier. Here is what I used with Queen C, and what I recommend for parents starting baby led weaning:
- Born To Eat – I highly recommend this book, written by two dietitians passionate about raising confident, adventurous, body positive eaters. It’s such a great tool, complete with everything from the basics of baby led weaning, to the nutritional aspects of feeding your baby, to sample meals and snacks for a variety of stages. It’s a total confidence booster, and a must-have if you’re even thinking about going the BLW route.
- High Chair – Baby led weaning or not, every little one is going to need a high chair. Since BLW can be messy, I prefer one that has a removable pad and is easy to wipe down. The one we have is recalled (though I still love it), but is very similar to this one linked.
- Pocket Bibs – I love love love silicone pocket bibs! They catch a lot of the spills, and make it easier to pick up any food that might have missed baby’s mouth and put it back on her tray. We use them for every meal, and take them with use when we go to restaurants too!
- Soft Spoons – Even though you won’t be spoon feeding baby, there will still be things like yogurt or oatmeal that you will need to load onto the spoon and then hand it to baby. My favorite are these soft silicone spoons by Beaba. The end is just the right depth so that babies can easily get the food off, and it’s a great size and shape for their little hands to hold. They’re also nice and soft so they won’t hurt teething babies.
- Silicone Suction Plates and Bowls – Babies love to pick up their plates with food still on them. That’s why I love these silicone dishes with suctions on the bottom. They stick to the high chair tray, the table, or just about anywhere, making mealtime much cleaner. I also love that I can toss one in my purse for when we go out to eat, because our little one especially loves to turn over restaurant plates. I have this little set of plate, bowl, spoon, and cup, and they have all been wonderful!
- If you’re pulling baby’s high chair right up to the table, the EZPZ mat is also a great option with a built-in divided plate that can stick right on the table (or the high chair tray if it fits).
- Transition Sippy Cup – Once you start to make the transition from bottle to cup, I like this option for a sippy cup. It has one lid with a soft sippy spout that’s leak-proof, and a second flat lid that is more like an open cup. Or use no lid for a full open cup.
- 360 Cup – I also love this 360 cup. Our little one learned how to use it fairly quickly, and it’s pretty spill-proof, unless they drop it from their high chair, which they will do. Consider yourself warned. There is also a stainless steel option.
And more tools that aren’t really necessary but may be nice to have…
- Travel High Chair – while not necessary, a travel high chair makes life easier if you’re on the go a lot. That way, you’re never without a place to put baby during a meal out. We have this one that can fold up and easily attaches to any table or counter top, and it’s been so great to keep in the car for when we might need it, such as the rare restaurant that doesn’t have high chairs or at friends’ and family members’ houses.
- Mesh Feeders – These little feeders made my mom more comfortable with feeding our babe solid food at the beginning. Put soft foods like banana inside, or frozen fruit for teething babies. They’re a little less messy and fun for baby to hold on to, plus great for sore gums when you add frozen fruit!
- A Splat Mat – Many parents love splat mats for placing under high chairs. They catch (most of) the food that will inevitably fall on the floor. You might really need one if you have carpet or new floors under your table. For us though, we ended up putting the splat mat away because our floors are pretty indestructible and it’s easier for us to just wipe up the floor after meal time (or have a dog come in and clean up the mess!). I love that they are machine washable though, and will definitely use it in the future for messy crafts and such!
- Tiny Glass Containers – I received these glass baby blocks (meant for pureed baby food) for a shower gift, and though I don’t make purees, I do use these tiny containers all the time! They’re the perfect size for storing any leftovers from baby’s meal that you can serve later, without taking up a lot of space in the fridge. Because with BLW, your child may or may not eat a lot at mealtime, so it’s nice to be able to save food for later to help with food waste.
I hope this list has helped you on your road to baby led weaning. It’s such a fun and exciting journey! What questions about baby led weaning do you have? I’d love to answer them in the comments or in a follow-up post!