Mother and Baby

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

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?

Simply cut up the food you’re having, making sure it’s suitable for your baby, into manageable pieces, put it on her tray and let them feed herself. 

The benefits:

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.

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.’

Best foods for baby-led weaning 

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’.

Check out M&B's top finger food ideas for baby-led weaning, here. 

Meet the expert: Dr Rana Conway, a nutritionist and author of Weaning Made Easy (£10.99, White Ladder Press), about baby-led weaning.

Now read:

16 brilliant tips for successful baby-led weaning

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