So what is baby-led weaning?
Well, it’s basically where baby gets to do the feeding – your baby’s first taste of independence.
(Well, kind of).
If you’re new to baby-led weaning (what’s BLW??) or you want to refresh your knowledge as a veteran mama, we’ve called in the expertise of Registered Toddler Dietitian and Nutritionist (RDN) Kacie Barnes to get you up to speed.
Let’s get into it.
In this article: 📝
- What is baby-led weaning?
- What is the difference between traditional weaning and baby-led weaning?
- What are the 4 stages of weaning?
- What are the advantages of baby-led weaning?
- At what age can you start baby-led weaning?
- What are the signs of readiness for baby-led weaning?
- How do I start baby-led weaning?
- What baby-led weaning supplies do you need?
- Is baby-led weaning dangerous?
- Baby-led weaning foods
- What do babies drink after weaning?
- What foods should you avoid when weaning?
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is all about putting solid foods quite literally in the hands of your baby.
It’s an approach that’s beautifully messy (a high percentage of that food is floor-bound) and very convenient.
Did you know that baby-led weaning has been around for centuries?
Yup – even before the advent of the store-bought puree, mamas have been offering appropriate soft foods to their babies to keep them nourished and start their lifelong relationship with solid foods.
More recently, baby-led weaning has entered the realm of parenting chic.
Made popular in 2008 in the book ‘Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods-and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater’ by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, BLW has become a sought-after method to take the stress out of mealtimes and kickstart your little one’s culinary connections.
The baby-led weaning method is highly praised because it has two serious draw cards:
- The development of healthy eating habits. It allows your baby to develop their own relationship with food and eating, right from the get-go. This can mean they learn lessons in self-regulation early on, and tap into them when they are feeling full.
- It’s easier. For most (but not all) mamas, baby-led weaning may just mean modifying what you’re already having for dinner and not putting on a whole separate culinary show for the littlest member of the household. It also may mean skipping purees altogether.
BLW is all very enticing, but does require some patience.
“And not all parents will be comfortable with this method, says Barnes, which is okay too!”
“Many embrace a hybrid approach which includes purees and pouches, too, but let’s dive into what BLW looks like from the start so you can make the best decision for your family and baby!”
What is the difference between traditional weaning and baby-led weaning?
The ‘traditional’ method of weaning is to start with what’s also known as ‘spoon-fed’ weaning.
Basically, baby learns to feed themselves with a spoon before they learn to regulate and chew foods.
So traditional weaning is done with pureed baby foods and a baby-friendly spoon.
“This looks like parents starting with spoon feeding and eventually progressing to baby being able to bring the loaded spoon to mouth and so on,” explains Barnes.
But with baby-led weaning, baby is fed ‘chunkier’ foods for them to chew as soon as they’re ready to wean.
This means food in their whale forms, prepared and offered in safe shapes and textures (but not pureed).
Psst, if you’re after some fresh, frozen healthy baby meals directly to your door, you can get 25% off your first 3 boxes of Mamamade purees with the code PEANUT25. Shop here.
Can I switch from spoon-feeding to baby-led weaning?
Yes, you certainly can!
In fact, a lot of mamas choose to start with spoon-fed weaning to baby-led weaning.
“A hybrid approach is often an option, too,” says Barnes.
“If you want to try BLW yourself, but you don’t feel comfortable with a caregiver doing the same while you’re away, you can definitely incorporate both!”
How do you mix baby-led weaning and spoon-feeding?
Yes, you can – mixing baby-led weaning and traditional spoon-feeding can work for a lot of babies to help teach them more autonomy and how to make choices.
One method of mixing BLW and spoon-feeding is to give baby a choice of baby-led weaning foods and spoon-fed food during their mealtimes, to see which they choose and how they interact with both choices.
Both are totally safe as long as done under supervision.
Speak with your doctor if you’re unsure ‒ every baby is different.
What are the 4 stages of weaning?
Weaning, including baby-led weaning, is often split into three main stages, resulting in four stages:
- Stage 1: From 6 months, once baby shows signs of readiness, starting to wean with soft solid foods.
- Stage 2: Between 6-9 months, introducing different textures and flavors.
- Stage 3: Between 9-12 months, eating more family meals (adapted to suit baby).
- Stage 4: From 12 months onwards, eating smaller versions of family meals, increasing the sizes as baby’s appetite grows.
It’s important to always keep an eye on baby when they’re eating, especially when trying baby-led weaning or spoon-fed weaning, as there is a risk of choking.
“A good rule of thumb is to always be within arms reach,” recommends Barnes.
“Choking is often silent, so you want to be present in the same room and with your eyes on them!”
What are the advantages of baby-led weaning?
If you choose to try baby-led weaning, there are lots of benefits of BLW:
- Baby develops a more adventurous food palette. Even spices are welcome in BLW (just hold off on the salt until after their first birthday)
- Encourages healthy eating behaviors ‒ baby gets to choose what and how much they want to eat
- Baby recognizes when they get full
- Some studies have shown that BLW babies learn not to just eat food because it’s in front of them, but instead to eat it because they’re hungry
- BLW babies are rarely overfed
- Baby-led weaning can mean that baby is more likely to follow their growth curve and grow and develop at a healthy rate
- Preparing baby’s food can be easier and quicker, especially when they’re able to eat smaller versions of family meals
- BLW may reduce anxiety in mamas, too!
- Baby can develop their hand-eye coordination earlier
What are the disadvantages of baby-led weaning?
Okay, so BLW sounds amazing, but are there any disadvantages of baby-led weaning?
Well, yes – nothing’s ever cut-and-dry with this motherhood journey, after all!
- It’s messier: A lot of food will end up on the floor. Although a splash mat under baby’s highchair can help with the clean-up
- It can be tricky to keep track of exactly how much baby has eaten with BLW: Eating a pot of puree is easy to monitor, but if baby ends up smushing food and splatting it on the floor, it’s a little harder to monitor!
- The risk of baby choking is always something to be aware of
- It’s possible to start BLW too early for baby, before they’re developmentally ready
- Making sure baby gets the nutrients they need can be tricky especially as they are still learning to be more adept grasping different types of foods and bringing them to their mouth.
At what age can you start baby-led weaning?
So when can you start BLW?
Well, there’s no single answer for when to start baby-led weaning.
Different babies will be ready for baby-led weaning at different times.
A recommended ballpark age is to try BLW at 6 months – but your little one has to be ready for this kind of commitment.
Generally speaking, 3 months is considered too early to start either baby-led weaning or traditional spoon-fed weaning.
This is because some parts of baby’s digestive system haven’t fully matured by 3 months.
They may not be able to properly process foods other than breastmilk or formula.
Is 4 months too early for baby-led weaning?
Not necessarily, but it may not be necessary.
“As a dietitian, I like to recommend closer to 6 months, as your baby will be demonstrating more of the readiness signs than at 4 months,” says Barnes.
“Also, there isn’t much research to suggest that starting earlier is advantageous, so 6 months is a good target, especially since baby will be getting everything they need nutritionally from formula or breastmilk until at least 6 months.
What are the signs of readiness for baby-led weaning?
If you’re keen to try baby-led weaning, but you’re not sure if baby’s showing the signs of readiness for BLW, we’ve got you covered.
Here’s a quick checklist of the BLW signs of readiness:
- They can hold their head up and have trunk stability. “They don’t need to sit 100% independently, but with assistance. Think stable and not floppy
- They seem to be into the food thing. This may mean they watch you eat with longing in their eyes or they actively try to reach for your snacks.
- Food goes in more than it goes out. They have to get more of it down than they are spitting out.
🔎 Dig deeper: 4 Things Your Baby Should Be Able to Do Before Starting Baby-Led Weaning
Can you do baby-led weaning without teeth?
Yes, you can try baby-led weaning before baby has grown their first teeth.
In fact, the first teeth that baby gets aren’t really used for chewing ‒ that’s more the work for molars.
Baby’s gums should be able to work their way through most baby-led weaning foods because, after all, the teeth are right there under the gums helping mash!
🔎 Dig deeper: What are the Best Teething Foods?
How do I start baby-led weaning?
Right – now that we know what baby-led weaning is and the signs of readiness for BLW, it’s time to find out how to start baby-led weaning.
Firstly, baby-led weaning doesn’t mean abandoning breastmilk or formula.
Rather, it’s about introducing small and soft pieces of food to your baby when they are sitting upright in their high chair.
And it’s as simple as this: offer them food, and help out where necessary.
It’s important to remember the “baby-led” part.
When they’re not into it anymore, it’s time to stop.
So what’s an example of a BLW schedule?
Let’s break it down into the different stages of baby-led weaning:
Stage 1 of baby-led weaning
A stage 1 BLW schedule could be swapping one or two feeding sessions with soft baby-led weaning food, like a single slice of banana, orange wedges, or slightly overcooked cauliflower florets.
“I recommend actually offering the feed of milk before the solid food (so that they don’t go in hangry and frustrated),” says Barnes, and not dropping any feeds right away.”
“At first, baby won’t be eating much, so it won’t likely be enough for them to need to drop a whole milk feed right away.
“As they get more adept, the scales will tip, and milk will decrease as solids increase.”
Stage 2 of baby-led weaning
Once baby’s more used to eating baby-led weaning foods, the next step is to introduce different textures and flavors for another couple of months (7-9 months).
“Some people even participate in the 100 first foods challenge,” observes Barnes, “where they work their way through 100 foods with baby.”
“It’s not necessary to do this, but definitely increasing variety and offering different foods is a great goal for the first few months of BLW.”
At this stage, you can offer baby a BLW snack before their usual feeding time, then for bedtime, stick with breastmilk or formula as part of their bedtime routine.
“Work with your pediatrician to gain an understanding of how much breastmilk/formula your child might need for their age group,” advises Barnes, “and then strategize how to fit that in before solids and AM/PM.”
“Again, the goal is not to replace milk right away – that shift will naturally happen as they eat more and more solid foods – but you don’t need to arbitrarily limit milk feeds as soon as they have the opportunity to try solids!”
Stage 3 of baby-led weaning
At stage 3, your baby will probably be between 9-12 months, eating more family meals (adapted to suit them).
Here, you can start to swap out some of their normal feeding times for BLW foods as baby should be eating three times a day at this point.
Stage 4 of baby-led weaning
The final stage of baby-led weaning can be from 12 months onwards, so baby could be a pro at eating BLW foods – no more breastmilk or formula needed!
Many parents even choose to offer milk at this time.
It’s also worth noting that the current recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics is to exclusively breastfeed or formula feed baby until 6 months, then to start weaning (either spoon-fed or baby-led weaning), and continuing to include breastmilk or formula in their diet partially until 12 months.
What baby-led weaning supplies do you need?
If you want to give BLW a go, it can help to get some baby-led weaning supplies.
Here are our suggestions for what you’ll need to start baby-led weaning:
The best high chair for BLW
So what’s the best high chair for baby-led weaning?
Well, according to our mamas of Peanut, the Evenflo 4-in-1 Eat 7 Grow Convertible High Chair is top of the charts.
It’s easy to clean (simply remove the tray and wash it with soap and warm water, and put the seat pad in the washing machine), easy to put together, great for small and big spaces, and baby can use it for years, if they need to.
The best spoon for BLW
One of the highest rated, best spoons for baby-led weaning is the NumNum Pre-Spoon ‘GOOtensils’, which can be used for the early stages of baby-led weaning.
The best bib for BLW
When it comes to the best bibs for baby-led weaning, the BIBaDO Coverall Baby Feeding Bib is beloved by mamas ‒ not nearly as much food on the floor!
The best baby-led weaning plate
Finally, the highest-rated baby-led weaning plate is the ezpz Mini Mat, which comes with its own built-in placemat with suction cups, so the plate itself won’t end up on the floor, too!
We love the smiley-face design, too!
Is baby-led weaning dangerous?
One of the biggest concerns is baby-led weaning choking, but this can be a concern whenever you’re introducing solid foods to baby’s diet.
But if you start them at the right age, prepare appropriate foods (again, think small and soft!), and closely supervise their feeding times, it’s safe.
A study in 2016 actually suggested that starting baby-led weaning doesn’t increase the risks of choking in babies.
Just be sure to always watch baby if they’re eating solid foods, and learn what to do if they do start to choke.
What is the difference between gag and choke in baby-led weaning?
During BLW, gagging is very common – it’s a totally normal reaction for babies to have when trying new flavors and textures.
But how do you tell the difference between gagging and choking?
Generally speaking, gagging babies will be louder, sticking out their tongue and making lots of noise, sometimes with crying – they may also go redder in the face.
A baby who is choking may have an open mouth, but their tongue likely won’t be sticking out, they may not be making such noise at all, they might look more panicked than fussy, and they may start to go bluer in the face.
Basically, if they’re making noise, they’re likely gagging. If it’s silent, it’s choking.
What happens if you wean baby too early?
Weaning a baby before six months, or before they’re ready, can have an increased risk of choking.
It can also mean that they’re not getting the nutrients they need to keep growing – breastmilk and formula have everything a growing baby needs, especially as their digestive system continues to develop.
If you’re considering trying baby-led weaning before 6 months, it’s best to check with your pediatrician.
Do doctors recommend baby-led weaning?
Honestly, it depends on which doctors you ask.
Some pediatricians recommend baby-led weaning as it can build a healthy relationship with food.
Other doctors suggest traditional baby weaning with pureed food or weaning baby only from 12 months.
Ultimately, you can ask your doctor’s advice when it comes to baby-led weaning, but it’s yours and your baby’s choice, mama.
“I also recommend seeking out experts in your community like Registered Dietitians, says Barnes, “especially those who specialize in infant/toddler/childhood feeding as they can be the best resource for navigating these early feeding years.”
Baby-led weaning foods
So, ready to start baby-led weaning?
You’ll need some baby-led weaning recipes and BLW first foods ideas.
Whether you’re a first-time mom looking for recipes for BLW or you’re a veteran mama searching for baby-led weaning first foods, we’ve got some delicious ideas – baby’s bound to love at least one of these!
BLW foods for stage 1
Some favorites for stage 1 of baby-led weaning (around 6 months) include:
- Sweet potato or other root vegetables cooked soft enough to mash between fingers and served in wedges or spears.
- Cooked chicken or tofu
- Steamed pear slices
- Steamed green beans
- Mozzarella cheese
Simply chop them up nice and small, give them to your little one at mealtime, and see what happens!
As they’re still getting sustenance from milk right now, you don’t need to worry about how much (or little) they’re eating.
BLW foods for stage 2
The next stage of baby-led weaning can introduce some other textures and flavors of BLW foods, from around 7-8 months), such as:
- Peach slices
- Sliced strawberries
- Minced meat or ‘scrambled’ tofu
- Cooked beans
- Broiled fish (check all the bones have been removed)
- Cooked pasta
- Soft or shredded cheeses
BLW foods for stage 3
The last stage of baby-led weaning can introduce smaller or more cut-up versions of some of the foods you’re eating, from around 10-12 months.
What do babies drink after weaning?
After weaning, cow’s milk or unsweetened soy milk is recommended by the CDC, along with water or diluted juice.
Should I give my baby water when weaning?
The UK NHS says babies don’t need water until they’ve started eating solid foods.
The key to remember is that tap or bottled water isn’t actually sterile, so it’s recommended to boil it and then let it cool before you give it to your baby.
🔎 Dig deeper: When Can Babies Have Water?
Do babies drink less milk after starting solids?
Yes, your baby will likely drink less breastmilk or formula if they’re eating solids as well.
But if you’re concerned about them not getting enough nutrients while doing baby-led weaning, speak with your pediatrician.
What foods should you avoid when weaning?
What about baby-led weaning foods to avoid feeding baby?
Well, anything that’s high in salt, fat, or sugar should be avoided as well as choking hazards like foods that are hard, crunchy, or sticky.
Even in moderation, it’s worth remembering how small your baby’s stomach is – what’s not a lot of sugar to you could be a lot to your babe.
So some foods to avoid during BLW are:
- Sausages (these tend to have higher fat contents)
- Salted fries
- Soft drinks
- Fish with high levels of mercury
Ultimately, when it comes to baby-led weaning, it’s all about experimenting and getting used to new foods.
What one baby loves as a BLW food, another might condemn to the floor.
For more support, information, and advice on your baby-led weaning journey, why not ask the mamas of Peanut?