Baby Led Weaning

What is Baby Led Weaning

Baby-led weaning (BLW) is the term used to describe introducing solids and letting your baby self-feed. It involves by-passing purées and letting your baby feed themselves by offering them food which has been cut up into manageable portions.

The key difference between BLW and giving food via spoon feeding is that babies learn to chew before swallowing, whereas with purees, they learn to swallow first.

Many parents follow BLW without even thinking about it, particularly when it comes to their second or later children as babies often try to grab food from their sibling’s plates, happy to feed themselves just like their big brother or sister does.

What age should I start introducing solid food?

We recommend following the WHO guidelines to start offering solid food from around 6 months of age, especially if you are going straight onto finger foods. Your baby should be able to sit up unassisted, have lost the tongue thrust reflex and should be able to grasp and hold onto foods. 

How much should my baby eat and will he get enough from finger foods alone? 

Most healthy babies will eat the right amount of food that they need. Babies have a great ability to self-regulate their appetite, which can be overridden if you continue trying to feed your baby if they are not hungry. Keep offering a wide variety of balanced foods (see examples below), and follow your baby’s cues during feeding time.

Please keep in mind that all babies are different and will eat textures, bits and chunks of foods at their own pace.

How do I start?

You can offer a wide range of delicious, healthy and simple to prepare finger foods that are suitable from 6 months. By starting when the family are all round the table eating is a great way for your baby to join in.

The easiest finger foods for young babies are those that are large enough to hold onto, like a baton of carrot or cucumber, or those that have a natural handle, such as cooked broccoli spears.

When your baby first tries solids they will only be able to clasp foods with their fist. As they they more food, they will be able to start using a pincer grip, when they can pick up food between their thumb and forefinger.

At first, your baby may just play with the food. They may grab pieces of food with their fist and start to suck on them. Remember that at this stage the breast or formula milk you are giving makes up the majority of their nutrients and calories, so it doesn’t matter if only they only manage to eat the smallest amount of food.

Why give finger food?

Letting your baby feed themselves is a great chance for them to develop hand-eye coordination, practice the chewing motions that develop speech muscles and learn to explore food for themselves. It is also great fun! 

Research has shown the importance of introducing finger foods from an early age to ensure they familiarise themselves with different textures.   

Embrace the mess!

Letting your baby feed themselves is a very messy process, and in the early stages of BLW more food tends to end up on the floor, in their hair and being eaten by the dog than eaten by your baby. We suggest putting down a good mat or using a wipe clean bib with sleeves. Or better still, simply feed them naked before their bath and let them enjoy the mess!

Getting enough iron

One thing to watch out for is getting them to eat foods that are a good source of iron such as meat. Meat as finger food is slightly harder to give, but try making meatballs by slow cooking the mince or blending the chicken before forming into patties.

Fear of choking 

It’s perfectly understandable to worry about your baby choking or gagging when trying whole foods.

If a baby can sit upright unaided, they should be able to handle and control the amount of food they eat, as well as moving it to the back of their mouths, which means the risk of choking should be minimal. Remember that babies should never be left alone when eating. It’s important to offer soft foods to your baby and avoid hard ones, such as chunks of raw apple, or round small pieces of food such as cherry tomatoes, grapes or olive, until they’re older.

Still, whatever type of weaning you’re doing, it makes sense to learn what to do just in case something does get stuck in your baby’s throat. Watch some of the brilliant Red Cross videos LINK or go on one of their courses.

breastfeed may give him a head start at learning to chew.

Are there any reasons why I shouldn’t try BLW?

Talk to your health visitor or GP before trying BLW if any of the following apply to you:

  • you have a family history of allergies or digestive problemsn
  • your baby has special needs and can’t chew very well or has difficulty picking up food and moving it to his mouthn
  • your baby was born prematurelyn