What Is Baby-Led Weaning? Here’s What You Need To Know About This Delicious Stage

For the first few months of your Baby’s life, your darling’s diet consisted strictly of breastmilk, formula, or a bit of both. But when it comes time for real food, don’t think that you have to break out your blender to give your little one mushy or pureed foods. There’s a whole movement of letting little ones eat solids in small pieces. So if you’ve been asking yourself, “What is baby-led weaning?” this is what you need to know.

Of course, it can be anxiety-inducing to plop your baby in their highchair and serve them finger foods (because, well, choking). The thing about baby-led weaning is that you’re going to start with soft foods — and not raw carrots, for example — and you’re going to be sitting right next to them as they eat. Sure, it might not be as easy (or as quick) as spoon feeding them their oatmeal cereal, but you might find that baby-led weaning is the right option for your baby.

What Is The Baby-Led Weaning Method?

Up until now, you’ve pretty much been in control of Baby’s nutrition. After all, you’ve either prepared bottles or been breastfeeding (or both) to give your baby the best start in life. But baby-led weaning puts your child in charge of mealtime, specifically when they’re starting solids, according to Jenna Katt, MS, MNN-RNC, FNP-C, IBCLC, a lactation consultant. “Baby-led weaning is when a baby guides the introduction of solid foods,” she says. “Instead of purees and mushed up spoon feeding, parents will cut soft food into small pieces.” These finger foods are then put on a plate or your child’s highchair tray and Baby is allowed to chow down — all on their own.

“The idea is exactly as the name sounds: following Baby’s lead when weaning off breastmilk/formula and moving onto solids,” adds pediatric dietitian Krystyn Parks, MS, RD, IBCLC. “Baby is in charge of what foods they eat right from the beginning, since they are feeding themselves.” Not only does this allow your child to have a more exploratory approach to food, but it lets your child choose how much they want to actually eat.

How Do You Start Baby-Led Weaning?

If you’ve ever seen a TikTok of a cute baby with a face full of food happily feeding themselves, then you’ve witnessed what baby-led weaning looks like. Still, ages can vary greatly as to when you should start baby-led weaning, so it’s best to get a professional’s opinion first. “Get the seal of approval from your baby’s pediatrician,” advises Katt. “Most babies are ready at the 6-month mark of life.” The American Academy of Pediatrics updated its recommendations to state that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of their life. (Of course, some new parents can’t or might not want to breastfeed, so formula feeding is perfectly fine, too.)

But what are some of the signs that your baby is ready to self-feed? There are a few developmental signs to watch for, says Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes, MS, RDN, CDCES, LDN, CPT, a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist. “If your baby has specific motor skills, for example, they can sit up without assistance, is able to bring objects to their mouth like teething rings, does not have a troublesome tongue thrust then your baby is most likely ready for baby-led weaning,” she says. “In addition to appropriate motor skills, when you see your infant not satisfied with just breastmilk and/or formula, this is perhaps may indicate to start solids – always follow up with your pediatrician and registered dietitian when in doubt.” And if your child is still a gumless wonder, don’t worry: they don’t necessarily need to have their chompers in order to chow down on solids, per Parks. “Babies do not need to have teeth or reach a certain weight before starting,” she says. “Those are often listed as signs, but they aren’t actually important.”

What Are The Best Foods For Baby-Led Weaning?

The idea of offering your child foods in their somewhat natural state (instead of, you know, mush) can be exciting for a parent who wants to create a culinarian. But before you want to serve up steak, there are some foods that are best for baby-led weaning — and others, well, not so much. “The beauty is that it can be anything the parents are eating,” says Parks. “There is also no need to introduce one food at a time, so I often recommend offering whatever the rest of the family is making, just to modify it to make it safe for Baby.” For example, you want to be aware of the top nine allergens (for example: egg, milk, soy, wheat, shellfish, fish, sesame, nuts, peanuts). Adds Parks: I don’t recommend introducing them as the first food (in case there is a reaction, we don’t want Baby to associate reaction with ALL solids), but the recommendation is to introduce early and often.”

Here are some common baby-led weaning foods to try:

  • avocado (can crinkle cut or coat in chia seeds/ground flax/hemp hearts/ground nuts to help make it more grippy)
  • banana
  • meats (cut into long strips that Baby will suck on to get the juices)
  • steamed veggies (such as sweet potatoes)
  • pureed foods served on a preloaded spoon or in a bowl with Baby holding the spoon or eating with their hands
  • strips of toast with different spreads such as hummus, yogurt, a thin layer of nut butter (these are all potential allergens, so are a great way to expose once you know baby is not allergic to wheat)
  • omelette strips

“The rule of thumb is that the food should be soft enough to smush between your fingers,” advises Katt. “Your baby should be able to ‘gum’ the food and be able to swallow it.” You can also ask your pediatrician for a list of baby-led weaning foods to start with. You’ll also want to limit adding sugar and salt, and of course, no honey should be given to Baby before age 1. For babies who haven’t quite perfected their pincer grasp yet, larger pieces can work well, advises Park. “For babies starting out, having larger pieces is good because they hold the food in their fist and then eat whatever is sticking out from their fist,” she says. And if your family prefers their food on the spicier side, you can always add some extra sazon to the food you serve Baby but be mindful not to make meals too hot. “Babies can tolerate spices and flavors, so there is no reason to serve them bland food,” adds Park. Just start slowly with spicy hot food and work your way up from there.

Does Baby-Led Weaning Work? (i.e. Is Baby-Led Weaning Good Or Bad?)

One of the biggest fears of parents who are approaching baby-led weaning is that it won’t work. To be fair, most of the food often winds up on Baby’s face — or the floor. But if you don’t mind too much of a mess, baby-led weaning can help your child get used to feeding themselves from an early age. “Research shows that baby-led weaning may reduce childhood obesity rates,” says Katt. “A study by National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) showed that toddlers between 18-24 months showed more appetite control than their counterparts fed with a spoon. The thought is that these little ones are getting full on their own without parents pushing the spoon and forcing pureed feeds.” Letting your child feed themselves also gives your child the chance to perfect their pincer grasp.

Can You Still Give Your Baby A Bottle While Doing Baby-Led Weaning?

Just because your child has started solids doesn’t mean that they won’t need a bottle anymore. Actually, having a bottle or breastfeeding after a feed is very important, says Parks. “You can still give your baby a bottle or breastfeed while starting baby-led weaning. For individualized needs, follow up with your pediatrician healthcare team to assess and evaluate how your child is growing and to provide the best strategies for successful outcome.”

And just because your baby is eagerly eating avocado slices doesn’t mean that you can’t present some purees, too. “One common misconception that I see with baby led weaning is that you can’t serve purees or Baby will get confused. That’s just completely untrue,” says Parks. “We eat a lot of pureed consistency foods (yogurt, applesauce, etc.) and it’s totally fine to offer those to a baby as well.” What can cause a mealtime meltdown is if you let then self-feed sometimes and then try to take over if you feel that they’re not getting enough. Always be sure to follow your baby’s cues and leave it up to your child how much they want to eat — even if seems too much or too little.

What Are The Pros (And Cons) Of Baby-Led Weaning?

“Baby led weaning has many positives. It can help with fine motor skills, create a taste for a variety of foods, and interestingly lower obesity rates,” says Katt. It’s also a total timesaver since you don’t have to prepare special meals for your sweetie. “Parents also don’t have to make special foods and waste time. Simply take some of their own breakfast, lunch or dinner and cut it into small soft bits,” she adds.

And if you hadn’t already guessed, the one big con to baby-led weaning is this: choking — or the fear of it. “Choking is a concern when infants starting solids,” admits Anderson-Haynes. “No increase in choking was seen with infants introduced to baby-led weaning when compared to traditional feeding, according to a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

And it’s important to understand the difference between gagging and choking, Katt adds. “Gagging is a normal response when food is in the back of the throat,” she adds. “Choking is when the airway is blocked. Gagging is actually an important tool to not get to the point of choking.”

But if the worry about choking is blocking you from starting baby-led weaning, there are ways to mitigate the risks. “Reduce the risk of choking by keeping your baby close where you can see them eating, placing infant in high chair while eating, and avoid foods that likely cause choking such as foods cut in the shape of a coin.” You’ll also want to steer clear of certain foods that are known choking hazards, such as popcorn, grapes, and raw veggies. And no matter when you decide to introduce solids, make sure that you monitor the menu. Says Anderson-Haynes: “When introducing new foods wait 3-5 days and monitor before starting another new food per the recommendation of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, & Immunology.” This can help with better identification of an allergic reaction with a particular food.” If you suspect an allergic reaction, follow up with your pediatrician and registered dietitian with a food dairy as this will be beneficial.

Baby-led weaning is an exciting time developmental milestone for your child. Although it can seem somewhat scary, if you properly prepare Baby’s foods, they can enjoy their meal along with the rest of the family — and you might actually get to eat in (somewhat) peace, too.


Jenna Katt, MS, MNN-RNC, FNP-C, IBCLC, a lactation consultant

Krystyn Parks, MS, RD, IBCLC, a pediatric dietitian

Sue-Ellen Anderson-Haynes, MS, RDN, CDCES, LDN, CPT, a registered and licensed dietitian nutritionist

No Comments Yet

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.