Is your infant just about ready to start solids? You’ve come to the right place. Read on to learn how to start baby-led weaning and build a foundation for adventurous eating.
Signs of readiness to start solids
Before we jump into the principles of baby-led weaning, it’s worthwhile double-checking that your baby is read to start solids. Most infants are ready to start solids at 4-6 months, however, every child develops at their own rate and there are a couple of key milestones that are important for starting solids safely. Babes born prematurely or who have medical conditions such as cleft palate may need a little more time and you should consult your pediatrician before starting solids.
Your baby is likely ready to start solids when they:
- Are able to hold up their head and sit in a high chair
- Open their mouth when food comes their way
- Can move food from spoon to throat
- Weigh at least 2x their birthweight
- No longer exhibit the tongue-thrust reflex (automatically pushing food out with tongue)
What is baby-led weaning (BLW)?
Baby-led weaning is a novel approach to starting solids whereby babies skip the purees-only phase and self-feed soft finger foods from the get-go. BLW is based on the premise that allowing babies to explore food and try a variety of textures promotes motor development, food acceptance, and appetite regulation.
And there’s a growing body of research to support it too. Studies show that introducing lumpy foods at 6 months can help reduce the likelihood of feeding problems and picky eating later in life . Moreover, BLW has not been shown to increase the risk of choking or compromise intake of key nutrients such as iron [2, 3].
One of the lesser discussed aspects of baby-led weaning is the emphasis on family meals. Although they require close supervision, BLW promotes self-feeding, allowing infants to join you at the dinner table and learn social skills that take place during family meals. Observational research suggests that eating finger foods and promoting eating autonomy is associated with advanced language skills in children .
How to start baby-led weaning (BLW)
Has your infant achieved all the relevant milestones to start solids? If so, great! Things are about to get fun and a bit messy.
Your baby should be seated upright (ideally in a high chair) when they first start solids to minimize choking risk. Remove distractions such as toys and TV during mealtimes to help them concentrate on and enjoy food. Keep in mind that infants need time to explore new foods, and meal times may take longer than usual, especially early on.
Baby-led weaning tools
Many foods can be offered directly on your baby’s high chair tray, however, plates, bowls, utensils, and cups can be helpful for developing motor skills, containing messy foods such as yogurt, and serving multiple foods at once.
Here are a few of my favorite products for new eaters:
- EZPZ Silicone Mini Mat
- EZPZ Tiny Spoons
- EZPZ Tiny Cup
- EZPZ First Foods Set
- Bumkins Baby Bib
- OXO Tot Roll-Up Bib
- NumNum GOOtensils
Baby-led weaning (BLW) first foods
Before we get to the food itself, let’s talk about grip. Your intuition may tell you to cut soft finger foods up into small pieces, however, at 4-6 months most babies don’t have the dexterity to pick them up. Instead, new eaters need soft solids appropriate for the palmer grasp. This means serving larger, thicker pieces of food in the shape of a log (roughly two fingers wide).
Now, onto the food. First foods should be extra soft, and prepared without added sugar or salt. Your baby’s kidneys are still relatively immature and consequently, low sodium foods are recommended for the first year of life. Moreover, providing foods that contain added sugar can establish taste preference for extra sweet foods, and should be avoided for the first 12 months.
Good examples of first foods using the baby-led weaning approach include:
- Cooked broccoli or cauliflower
- Cooked zucchini batons
- Avocado strips
- Banana spears
- Melon slices
- Soft mango batons
- Soft-cooked pear wedges
- Well-cooked wedges of sweet potato or pumpkin
- Scrambled eggs or a plain omelet cut into strips
- Cooked tofu strips
- De-boned cooked salmon flaked into pieces
- Whole milk plain yogurt
Slippery, hand-held foods such as avocado slices and wedges of soft-cooked sweet potato can be difficult for babies (and quite frankly, adults) to pick-up and hold. Try coating these foods in hemp seeds, coconut, baby rice cereal, wheat germ, or panko breadcrumbs to make them easier to grip.
Can you offer purees as part of baby-led weaning (BLW)?
One thing worth noting is that just because you’ve decided to pursue baby-led weaning doesn’t mean that you can’t offer purees. In fact, BLW can include purees either offered as finger foods(!) or on pre-loaded spoons. In the early days of starting solids, your baby will most likely need a bit more guidance and bringing soft finger foods or a pre-loaded spoon up to their mouth can help them get the hang of eating.
How often should you offer solids?
The World Health Organization recommends offering soft solids:
- 2-3x a day from 6-8 months
- 3-4x a day from 8-12 months
- 3-4x a day, plus 1-2 snacks from 12-24 months
Every baby is a little different. Some take to food right from the start, while others take longer to build-up their feeding skills. Regardless, breastmilk or formula will remain the predominant source of nutrition for your child for a while after solids are introduced so don’t worry too much if they only eat a few bites at first. Becoming an adventurous eater requires persistence and takes time.
- Most infants are ready to start solids at 4-6 months, however, there are a couple of key milestones that are important for starting solids safely.
- Baby-led weaning (BLW) is a novel approach to starting solids whereby babies skip the purees-only phase and self-feed soft finger foods from the get-go. Evidence suggests that baby-led weaning may improve food acceptance and decrease pickiness later in childhood.
- First foods should be extra soft, and prepared without added sugar or salt. Cooked zucchini batons, soft-cooked pear slices, and scrambled eggs are all good examples of first foods for BLW infants.
- Building feeding skills takes time. The World Health Organization recommends offering soft solids 2-3 times a day from 6-8 months of age.
- Northstone K, Emmett P, Nethersole F; ALSPAC Study Team. Avon Longitudinal Study of Pregnancy and Childhood. The effect of age of introduction to lumpy solids on foods eaten and reported feeding difficulties at 6 and 15 months. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2001 Feb;14(1):43-54. doi: 10.1046/j.1365-277x.2001.00264.x. PMID: 11301932.
- Brown A. (2018). No difference in self-reported frequency of choking between infants introduced to solid foods using a baby-led weaning or traditional spoon-feeding approach. Journal of human nutrition and dietetics : the official journal of the British Dietetic Association, 31(4), 496–504. https://doi.org/10.1111/jhn.12528
- Boswell N. (2021). Complementary Feeding Methods-A Review of the Benefits and Risks. International journal of environmental research and public health, 18(13), 7165. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph18137165
- Webber, C., Blissett, J., Addessi, E., Galloway, A. T., Shapiro, L., & Farrow, C. (2021). An infant-led approach to complementary feeding is positively associated with language development. Maternal & child nutrition, 17(4), e13206. https://doi.org/10.1111/mcn.13206