Baby led weaning (sometimes referred to as infant-led weaning) is becoming a popular approach to weaning babies on to solid food.
In basic terms, it means forgetting about pureed food and letting your baby feed herself (appropriate) whole foods. It is arguably the natural way to introduce solids. Although it still remains a recommendation of many childcare professionals and institutions, there is actually no research to support the widespread notion that babies should be weaned first on to solids through pureed or mashed food.
The idea that pureed solids should be introduced is arguably a hangover from the 1960s, when the recommended age for introducing solids was 3 months. These days, the recommended age for introducing solids is 6 months. By 6 months, most babies have strong necks, can sit up if supported and have enough fine motor skills to reach out and grasp things, including finger food.
They can also start to feed themselves.
Baby led weaning
To start baby led weaning, offer your baby a selection of appropriate finger food. Because babies will not yet have developed a pincer grip and can only grasp things in their fists, foods shaped like a chip or ones which have a handle (such as broccoli spears) are ideal. Leave it up to your baby to decide what to do with his food – if at first all he wants to do is play with it, that's fine. He may move on to sucking on his food and later 'chewing' it by mashing it with his gums.
Make sure you let your baby pick up his own food and do not put food into his mouth for him. This is because his ability to manage his food matches his overall development. When he is first introduced to solids, he will not have the fine motor skills to pick up small foods which may otherwise present a choking hazard.
Do not worry about him getting enough food or eating a balanced diet of solids. He will still be getting all of his required nutrients and 'balance' from breastfeeds – the marvels of breastfeeding! You should, however, try to offer a variety of solid finger foods to keep up his interest.
Benefits of baby-led weaning
According to Gil Rapley, deputy programme director of UNICEF UK's Baby Friendly Initiative, weaning babies using a baby led approach has the following advantages:
- babies can join in with family meals from the start, learning valuable social skills
- babies are less likely to refuse foods and be fussy eaters
- it avoids common childhood feeding problems, often caused by babies being confused by the need to chew 'second stage' food which has lumps
Will not my baby choke?
It is very important that self-feeding babies sit upright and are never left unattended. But until a baby can chew, she is unable to move food to the back of her mouth. And until she can chew, she will not be able to pick up food to put in her mouth. The way in which your baby naturally develops makes the risk of choking minimal. If a piece of food does move to the back of her mouth, she will promptly clear it herself by gagging and coughing it out. While the gagging reflex may look uncomfortable, it does not seem to bother babies at all.
Is baby led weaning for everyone?
Baby led weaning may not be suitable if:
- you have a family history of allergies or digestive problems
- your baby was born prematurely
- your baby has special needs and has impaired chewing or other fine motor skills
In these cases, you should consult with your paediatrician or GP before starting.