Baby-led weaning is gaining popularity, particularly among younger parents who seek a more natural and family-friendly way to feed their child. It involves your child in mealtimes. By offering your baby only finger foods and letting them feed themselves from the start (rather than spoon-feeding them puréed or mashed foods) you can offer a range of small, finger-sized pieces of food.
Some parents prefer baby-led weaning to spoon-feeding, while others combine a bit of both. There is no right or wrong way – the most important thing is that your baby eats a wide variety of food and gets all the nutrients they need.
The benefits of baby-led weaning
Baby-led weaning helps fine-tune motor development by supporting the development of hand-eye coordination, chewing skills, dexterity, and healthy eating habits. It also offers babies an opportunity to explore the taste, texture, aroma, and colour of a variety of foods right from their highchair.
It is an early and particularly important step for babies in learning self-regulation, so they teach themselves to stop eating when they feel full. Babies who self-feed cannot realistically be made to eat more than they need since they are feeding independently.
It can be a time saver as you won’t need to buy food jars or cook, puree, freeze, and defrost meals in advance. Your child can just eat what you are eating when you are eating it.
What foods are best for baby-led weaning
Examples of first finger foods include
- steamed broccoli florets with a stalk
- baked sliced apple without the peel
- moist and shredded meats
- poached or flaked salmon
- omelette cut into pieces
- strips of chicken
Substantial-size pieces-cut in long, thin strips, coin-shaped, or with a crinkle cutter-are easiest for your baby to manage
Baby-led weaning and choking
There is no evidence to suggest babies are more likely to choke with baby-led weaning, compared to spoon-feeding so try not to worry too much.
All babies have a strong gag reflex. You will be able to tell the difference between gagging and choking. When your baby gags they might cough and go red in the face but if they are choking, they will be silent.
To be safe, follow these rules:
- Always stay with your baby while they eat.
- Make sure your baby is sitting up when eating.
- Serve foods that aren't too hard. Raw apples are one of the biggest choking hazards for baby-led-weaning babies.
- Do not rush to help your baby if they gag. Babies sense parents' panic and can develop negative associations with eating. Instead, stay calm and give them time to work it out.
Tips for successful baby-led weaning
Prepare for a mess. The goal with baby-led weaning is to let your baby explore the foods they are eating and unfortunately, getting messy is part of the process. A good idea might be to place a plastic wipe-clean mat under the highchair to save time with cleaning up and replace a bib with a painting apron to avoid clothes getting stained.
Eat together. Sit at the table as a family and eat together so you can all talk with each other, and the baby feels included during mealtimes. You can give your child baby cutlery and show them how to use it and guide it to their mouth. Some babies just like to hold the cutlery to mirror the actions of a parent.
Consider a mixed approach. Especially when you start baby-led weaning, your child may not eat and swallow a lot of solids as they are only starting to experiment and learn. You may want to consider some spoon feeding at the beginning until they get the hang of self-feeding.