Mother and Baby

Baby-led weaning: What is it and what are the benefits?

father feeding smiling baby

When it came to weaning, for years most parents opted to spoon-feed purees to their babies. But in 2008, British midwife Gill Rapley popularized the idea of baby-led weaning. She suggested simply putting appropriate food on your baby’s tray and letting him feed himself.

Eleven tears and thousands of baby-led weaned babies later, we’ve learnt a lot about what works well - and what doesn’t - when it comes to this method of weaning.

Is baby-led weaning best for you and baby? Choose the weaning approach which matches your needs and your baby’s nature, and weaning will be easier.

Firstly, what is baby-led weaning?

Baby-led weaning is when your baby feeds himself with suitable 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!

The benefits:

baby eating food
Adventurous eater: Letting your baby make choices may lead her to be a more adventurous eater as she grows up and introducing texture straight away means she’s less likely to be put off by lumps. 

More sociable: As your baby is eating what everyone else is eating, she’s more likely to eat with the rest of the family. Research shows that good eating habits are more likely to be formed when families eat together.

It's natural: A baby's desire to explore is innate and it's how they learn. If you encourage little ones to use their hands, they are discovering different textures, as well as colours, smells and (hopefully!) taste. 

The downsides:

Time-consuming: This method is based on your baby being the one in control, so you must let the mess happen! Before your baby is nine months old, it might be challenging for her to get the food into her mouth. 

Adapting family meals: If you’re giving your baby the same food as the rest of your family, you need to make sure these meals are suitable. Babies shouldn’t be eating food with added sugar or salt, so no stock cubes. 

Baby gagging: It’s likely you’ll experience your baby gagging, and perhaps choking, so learn what to do if this happens.
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

🎉🥬The first month of weaning...what to expect🥑🎉 Today I’ve teamed up with my good friend @kidfriendly.meals to give you some reality pointers when it comes to the first month of weaning! 🤪Many parents kick off weaning expecting that their babies will love food, gobble up all the meals they create & slip easily into family mealtimes 💭However in reality weaning isn’t often like that at the very start 🤔Let’s think about this from a baby’s perspective? 👶🏼They’ve only ever had milk before their first tastes 👶🏼They don’t know what “food” is 👶🏼The whole high chair/eating environment is new for them 👶🏼They’ve likely never had anything other than milk & a few toys in their mouth before... And all of a sudden we expect them to just roll with something totally new ✈️I try and encourage people to think about the first month of weaning as a bit of a journey 🍆It’s a chance to introduce something totally new to your baby, to help them learn new skills & start becoming familiar with the process of eating 👅It’s also about getting them used to a whole host of new flavours - savoury, bitter, sour, umami 🤢So if your little one pulls a face, spits food out & really isn’t that interested at the start, please do remember that THAT’S OK! 📝I’ve written a blog (see bio)about what to expect during the first month of weaning, including some of my tips on what to do if you feel your little one just isn’t taking to solids 🌟A few things I’d say to ask yourself first: ❓Are you sticking to a routine around foods ❓Is there a nice gap between milk and solids ❓Are you anxious about mealtimes, for whatever reason? ❓Are you sitting with your little one and eating something vaguely similar? ❓Have you chosen a time of day when baby is calm, happy & fairly hungry ❓Are you letting baby explore the foods with their hands and utensils? ❓Are you both enjoying it? ❇️Some of these questions might help you to make some changes to get your little one more interested in eating 🤷🏼‍♀️However, some babies are just slower to take to solid foods, but lots of family mealtimes, smiles & patience can go a long way ❓How did your first month of weaning go, was your baby excited or reluctant to eat?

A post shared by Charlotte Stirling-Reed (@sr_nutrition) on

What do I need to know?  

  • Put the food straight onto your baby’s tray. In a bowl, it’ll be catapulted across the room.
  • Don’t put too much in front of her. Two food items are enough.
  • Cut food into chip-shaped pieces about the length of your finger. This is the easiest shape for her to pick up. The chips need to be long enough for your baby to grasp, with enough sticking out of her fist to eat.
  • Use a crinkle cutter to chop the food. The crinkles make it easier to grip. 
  • Don’t put the food in your baby’s mouth – you must leave your baby in charge. ‘Don’t worry if she just seems to be playing with the food,’ says Rana. ‘Licking, smelling, mushing, holding – it’s all part of learning to eat.’
  • Don’t feed food that’s known to be a choking hazard, such as whole olives, cherries or grapes. 
  • Be alert for gagging or choking. Because baby-led weaning food is lumpier from the get-go, you’re more likely to have to deal with this hazard. ‘When a baby gags, she’s bringing the food from the back of her mouth to the front, so she can chew it,’ says Rana. ‘It’s usually quick and there’s usually a noise. Choking is much more serious. This is when food is blocking a baby’s windpipe – and it can be silent. Take a first-aid course and learn how to deal with choking at sja.org.uk before starting weaning.’

Baby-led weaning food

  • Banana: half unpeel it to give your baby something to hold, along with easy access to the fruit. 
  • A piece of soft, cooked carrot: naturally sweet and full of vitamin A to strengthen your little one’s immune system.
  • Steamed broccoli floret: most babies love the taste of broccoli and its stem provides a built-in ‘handle’.
  • For more baby-led weaning first foods read 14 brilliant finger food ideas for baby-led weaning

Tips to make baby-led weaning a success.

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1) Don't rush!

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.
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2) Make sure they're sat upright

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.
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3) Prepare for spillages

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. 
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4) You don't have to cook a seperate meal

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.
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5) Take a step back

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.
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6) Little is better

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.
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7) It's a sensory experience

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.
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8) It will get messy

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. 
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9) Let them practise

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.
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10) Use easy to hold foods

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. 
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11) Offer foods in sticks or wedges

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.
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12) Make foods easier to hold

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. 
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13) Use different flavours

Spreading things on fingers of toast is a really quick and easy way of getting your baby to experience new flavours. 
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14) Use bibs with a scoop

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. 
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15) Thicken runny foods

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. 
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16) It will take time

Be patient – your baby might take a while to get the hang of things, but she’ll get there in the end!


Meet the expert: Dr Rana Conway, a nutritionist and author of Weaning Made Easy about baby-led weaning.

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  • Author: Sophie Knight Sophie Knight
  • Job Title: Contributing Editor

Sophie is a journalist and mum of one, and previously edited motherandbaby.co.uk before moving on to write about family cars for Parkers.co.uk - now Sophie is Commercial Content Editor for M&B, Closer, Heat, Empire, Yours, Garden News, and WhatsTheBest.co.uk 

She is passionate about raising awareness around postnatal depression and is a Mental Health First Aider.

Sophie studied History at the University of Sheffield and has been in journalism for 16 years. 

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