Baby-Led Weaning Guide for a Stress-Free Start to Solid Food

By following these simple steps, you and your baby can have a fun-filled time exploring new foods!

Published January 5, 2023
Excited baby girl looking at mother holding food

Baby-led weaning is a fantastic way to get your infant excited about food. This feeding technique allows your baby to jump to solids immediately, skipping all the purees that line the baby aisle. It also puts your baby in control. Once the food is served, they learn to feed themselves! If you're interested in stirring things up and throwing out traditional techniques, this simple baby-led weaning guide can help parents make the most out of this milestone.

How to Start Baby-Led Weaning

Before starting baby-led weaning, you must first answer yes to these four questions:

  • Is your baby at least six months old?
  • Does your baby have full head, neck, and torso control?
  • Has your baby's tongue-thrust reflex gone away?
  • Is your baby beginning to pick up items and bring them to their mouth?

Once your baby meets these requirements, the process is simple. To start, you need a high chair that allows them to sit up straight and provides foot support. This ensures that they are sitting in a 90-90-90 position. Why does this matter? Early eaters require proper posture to prevent choking. If your baby is slumped over, they are more likely to obstruct their airway when eating.

Baby-Led Weaning Guide: 13 Tips for Success

By following these baby-led weaning tips for beginners, you and your baby can explore the world of food and make this transition exciting, fun, and stress-free.

1. Always Offer Breastmilk or Formula First

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, and Health Canada all recommend that families breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life. After this milestone, parents should introduce solid foods, but these should be complementary to breastmilk or formula. They are not to be a substitute. This guarantees that your child gets the proper balance of vitamins and minerals to develop and grow.

For the parents who want to try BLW, you need to offer your baby breastmilk or formula first. After they have finished, wait for at least 30 minutes to allow the milk to digest. Then, offer solid foods. This will help to make the experience less about sustenance and more about learning to enjoy different foods and trying new things.

2. Begin With One Food at a Time

Just like with pureed foods, the intent is to determine if allergies are present. This means that it is best to start with single ingredient foods and work your way up to combination options. Since the goal is to have them eat what you are serving, start by simply setting aside one ingredient from each recipe that you plan to serve at mealtime. Once you determine they can handle the ingredient, add to it. Soon delicious foods will fill their plate!

3. Cut Foods into Finger-Sized or Large Coin Shapes

Having safe food sizes and shapes for babies is one of the most important steps in the BLW process. Parents should keep in mind that a baby's airway is only about the size of a drinking straw and food needs to be safely cut to avoid choking risks.

Whatever food you are planning to serve, slice it into a section that is the size of an adult finger or a large coin shape. What is considered large enough? The best way to determine if a modification is necessary with round foods is to touch your pointer finger to your thumb. If the food can fit through the circle you make with your hand, it needs to be cut into smaller pieces. For instance, a hot dog can fit through this space, so the circular slices need to cut into quarters. In contrast, a cucumber slice will probably be larger than this space, making it safe to give without any modification.

Baby-Led Weaning Cutting Basics Infographic

Once your baby becomes more familiar with grasping various food types, you can also give them much larger pieces of food, like a turkey leg or broccoli crown. This allows them to bite off small pieces, which limits the instance of choking.

4. Let Your Baby Take the Lead

In baby-led weaning, your baby is the one in control. Put their food on their tray and let them do the rest. If they need to use a spoon, then load it up for them and then allow them to navigate it to their mouth. It is called 'baby-led' for a reason!

5. Lower Your Expectations

Everything in your baby's world is new! When you first try out this feeding method, your baby may not take to it immediately. Don't force the activity. If they don't show any interest, then try again in a few days.

6. Know That Gagging Is Normal

Everyone has a gag reflex. This is a natural process that protects you from choking. If your child gags in the first few weeks, try not to worry. They will get the hang of chewing and swallowing! However, if this reflex continues despite regular efforts to try solid foods, talk to your pediatrician. They may recommend a speech therapist to help you address any swallowing disorders that may be present.

Choking, on the other hand, is a very serious situation. Proper food preparation can help diminish choking risk. Always think about what you're feeding your baby and consider the consistency of the food being served. Size and shape also make a big difference. Finger-shaped foods are best.

It is also important for parents to know the basics of choking first aid when they begin baby-led weaning.

7. Less Is More

Babies and toddlers get overwhelmed easily. The best way to counteract this is to lessen the portion sizes and to only give them a few items at a time. When you first start baby-led weaning, choose one food to try, and then work your way up to a full plate. This will lower the amount of waste and the amount of mess that they can make throughout the meal.

8. Iron Is Important

Iron is important for your baby's neurological development. After about six months, babies can start getting the additional iron they need from supplementary foods. It's a good idea to serve foods that are filled with this vital mineral. That means adding lots of color, beans, meats, and iron-fortified grains to your baby's diet.

PRO TIP: If you are serving an iron-filled food, pair it with a fruit that has a high vitamin C content. This will maximize absorption.

9. Babies Don't Need Teeth for BLW

You would think that your little one would need their pearly whites to mash through a good number of the foods that you intend to serve, but their gums are surprisingly powerful. With the right foods and proper preparation, teeth aren't necessary to start solid foods.

Keep in mind that children don't chew by grinding their teeth until the age of four, so diced most raw fruits and vegetables should be avoided, as well as those with hard or crunchy textures such as broccoli and carrots. Vegetables with softer textures, such as cucumber or pepper cut correctly are acceptable, as well as some fruits with softer textures. Smaller soft fruits like blueberries should be squished or cut in half or quartered. Other foods that you need to avoid include popcorn and whole nuts.

Baby girl eating in high chair

10. Embrace the Mess

This is one of the hardest things for baby-led weaning beginners to accept - messes are a good thing! You want your baby to be excited about their food. Trying to keep them clean throughout the meal will hinder the process. Allow them to make their mess and clean up after the meal is done.

11. Offer Water With Each Meal

At six months, you can offer a small amount of water with each meal. However, you need to avoid cow's milk, juice, and other beverages until after your child's first birthday. This will ensure that they aren't filling up on calories that won't provide the nutrition they need. As mentioned above, formula and breastmilk need to remain their main source of calories until they turn one.

12. Remove Distractions and Don't Rush

Baby-led weaning is a process. There are going to be good days and bad days and your baby is not necessarily take to this new way of eating in a day. Give it time. Also, just like anything else in life, the best results will come when you remove distraction from the equation. This means turning off the TV, getting off of your computer, and focusing on the meal. This will not only make it more enjoyable for you, but it will also help to facilitate a better experience for your little one.

13. Natural Purees Are Welcome, But Baby Purees Are Not

Spoons are not the issue! Applesauce, mashed potatoes, refried beans, hummus, oatmeal, and grits are all delicious choices that adults eat regularly. This makes them great options for BLW. In comparison, store-bought baby food has virtually no texture, which makes it hard for your baby to feed it to themselves. Pouches are also a problem. Similar to a bottle, they simply require sucking. This is not going to fine-tune your baby's oral motor skills. Stick with adult foods if you want to get the most out of baby-led weaning.

Baby-Led Weaning Requires One Key Ingredient

The most important component of baby-led weaning is your baby. They need to be happy going into this experience, otherwise it will not go well. This means skipping solid foods on the days that they are sick and not putting them down to eat when they are fussy. Also, don't forget that your little one's baby teeth are slowly starting to work their way to the surface. This causes up to a third of babies to lose their appetite. If they are in pain, consider holding off on the warm pasta and serving them cold grapes. If they don't want to eat, then nix the meal altogether. Pay attention to their cues and follow their lead.

Baby-Led Weaning Guide for a Stress-Free Start to Solid Food