What is Baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is a common-sense, safe, easy and enjoyable approach to feeding your baby.Most people’s image of weaning babies on to solid foods is of mixing up baby rice or carrot puree, taking aim with the spoon and putting it into the baby’s mouth. Most of it comes back out and the parent then scrapes it back up and tries again. And so they go on, until one of them gets fed up.
Baby-led weaning is different. It’s a way of introducing solid foods that allows the baby to feed herself – there’s no spoon feeding and no purees. The baby sits with the rest of the family at mealtimes, and joins in when she is ready. Her parents offer her food in sizes and shapes that she can handle and she feeds herself with her fingers, choosing what to eat, how much and how quickly.
All healthy babies can do this. They don’t need their parents to decide when weaning should start and they don’t need to be spoon-fed; they just need to be given the opportunity to feed themselves.
Baby-led weaning allows babies to grow into confident, skilled and happy eaters.
Why it makes sense
Baby-led weaning is based on the way babies develop in their first year
- The Department of Health and the World Health Organization recommend that babies should have nothing but breastmilk (or formula) until they are six months old because their immune and digestive systems aren’t ready for other foods before that
- A normal, healthy six-month-old baby is able to sit upright, pick up pieces of food, take them to his mouth and chew them
- Babies will start to take food to their mouths when they are developmentally ready – when their immune and digestive systems are mature enough to cope with other foods and when they are physically able to get foods to their mouth. This is usually from six months onwards
- Although the current UK Department of Health weaning leaflet concentrates on mashed foods for babies, it also advises parents to allow their babies to feed themselves, using their fingers, as soon as they show an interest and to offer finger foods from the beginning. The difference with baby-led weaning is that they do it all themselves, with no need for spoon feeding
- Many parents with two or more children have discovered baby-led weaning by accident when their babies simply helped themselves to food from someone else’s plate.
- Parents have for many years been encouraged to give their babies finger foods from six months to encourage them to develop chewing skills. However, most people assumed babies needed purees before they could move on to finger foods. But babies don’t prepare for chewing food by sucking puree from a spoon – the best way to develop chewing skills is to practise them.
- There is no research to support spoon feeding as the best way to introduce solids for the majority of babies. It’s a practice left over from the days when everyone believed that babies needed more than breastmilk or formula at three or four months. At that age babies aren’t capable of taking food to their mouths themselves
- At six months most babies will begin to feed themselves finger foods if they are given the opportunity – there’s no need to spoon feed
- There is no more risk of choking with BLW than with any other method of introducing solids. A normal, healthy six-month-old baby is able to sit upright, pick up pieces of food, take them to his mouth and chew them.
- Adults and children are more likely to choke if someone else is feeding them and they can’t control what goes into their mouth – with BLW the baby is in control
- Basic safety principles apply with BLW, as with all methods of feeding babies solid foods:
- the baby must be sitting upright
- nuts and fruit that contain stones (such as cherries or olives) shouldn’t be given to babies
- no-one other than the baby should put anything into his mouth
- babies should never be left alone while handling food