Baby-led weaning is when your baby feeds himself with chunks of food using his own hands. You avoid washing up the blender, but be prepared – you'll probably end up with a lot of food on the floor
Who should choose to go for baby-led weaning? A baby older than six months who can sit up straight by himself is ready to wean in this way. He should also be able to pick up food and lift it to his mouth. Remember, if there are allergies in the family you must check with your health visitor or GP about which foods to offer when.
There are a few things to keep in mind to make baby-led weaning a success. And we've got plenty of tips to share.
- It is very important when using baby-led weaning that you don't rush things, because a more immature infant could choke on food. A baby who can only sit reclined may find unwanted food sliding down his throat rather than coming out of his mouth. Waiting until six months is recommended by the NHS in most cases.
- Make sure your baby is sat upright before you begin and avoid giving any potential choking hazards, like nuts or whole grapes. Remember that babies should never be left alone while eating.
- An easy-to-clean high chair is a real benefit when baby-led weaning, because your baby is likely to throw, spill, and generally lose most of her meals, rather than eating them! For the same reason, a big wipe-clean mat to place under the chair can be useful, especially if you have carpets rather than hard flooring. Bibs with full arms are also a good idea.
- You can generally give your baby pieces of your ordinary family meals, or things you have in the house already, with baby-led weaning. Just avoid too much sugar and salt. If you are having a roast dinner then bits of potato or vegetables can be put out for your child. If you are eating home-made pizza, that's fine too. Pieces of large pasta are ok, as is toast or soft fruit slices.
- A hard aspect of this method of weaning can be relinquishing control. You really have to be able to step back and trust your baby to get on with it. Don't help to put any food into his mouth, and you mustn't worry if you think he isn’t eating much. Food is all about experimenting and learning at this stage, he will be getting the nutrition he needs from his milk, whether formula or breast milk.
- Try to offer a variety of foods. Once your baby learns to use a pincer grip (holding things between a finger and thumb) you can introduce berries and raisins, or peas. Don't overwhelm the baby with too many bits of food, two or three items at a time is enough.
- Remember, ‘food is for fun before they’re one’, so see weaning as a sensory experience and messy play for the first few months. Your baby will play with her food at first, but this is an important part of her development. She will start to eat eventually, so relax and enjoy.
- Baby-led weaning is messy and your baby will enjoy dropping food to see what happens to it. Put a clean shower curtain or plastic mat under the highchair to make cleaning up afterwards easy.
- Give your baby a spoon to play with – lots of parents think that baby-led weaning means spoons are banned, but many babies love feeding themselves with one. Letting her play with a spoon helps her practise putting it into her mouth, and you can help her by loading it up with things like yoghurt before you give it to her.
- Use food which is easy to pick up, particularly during the first few weeks. Fusilli or conchiglioni pasta is easier to grasp than flatter, smoother varieties. Sticky rice is easier than loose grains, so overcook it slightly or mix it with a bit of sauce.
- Cut food into sticks or wedges, and leave the skin on fruit so it’s less slippery. Halves or quarters work well for apples or pears. Cut bananas in half and leave the bottom bit of peel on as a ‘handle’. Offer meat in small strips that are easy to manage.
- Use a crinkle cutter when you’re cutting fruit and veg, as the ridges will make it easier for your baby to grip the food.
- Spreading things on fingers of toast is a really quick and easy way of getting your baby to experience new flavours.
- Use wipe-clean bibs with a scoop to catch some of the food your baby drops. She will be able to pick out some of the pieces from the scoop and have another go.
- Make runny foods like porridge thicker so your baby can scoop it up with her hands. As your baby gets older, she will enjoy using edible dippers like carrot sticks and celery to help her eat runny foods.
- Be patient – your baby might take a while to get the hang of things, but she’ll get there in the end!