Baby-led weaning is an alternative approach to starting solids where babies are offered soft hand-held foods from the beginning and encouraged to self-feed. Many new parents question if baby-led weaning is safe. This article dives into the evidence.
What is baby-led weaning (BLW)?
Baby-led weaning is an alternative approach to starting solids where babies are offered soft, hand-held foods from the get-go instead of just purees. BLW is based on the idea that allowing babies to explore food and try a variety of textures promotes motor development, food acceptance, and appetite regulation.
BLW is underpinned by a growing body of research. 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 promotes self-feeding, allowing infants to join you at the dinner table and learn social skills that take place during family meals.
Is baby-led weaning safe?
Yes, studies to date suggest that baby-led weaning is safe when properly executed. BLW has not been shown to increase the risk of choking or compromise intake of key nutrients such as iron. However, this is contingent on avoiding foods that pose a choking risk such as whole grapes, and tough chunks of meats, and offering a diversity of nutrient-dense foods [2, 3]. BLW first foods should be soft, free of added sugar, low in sodium, and easy to grip. In addition, infants should be closely supervised during mealtimes to avoid a choking emergency.
Gagging vs. choking: What’s the difference?
Gagging is a natural reflex that protects against choking by pushing food forward and closing off the airway. Gagging is a normal part of learning to eat, particularly since babies have a highly sensitive gag reflex when they begin solids and they are not particularly skilled eaters at first.
Choking, on the other hand, occurs when the airway becomes obstructed, making it difficult to breathe. Signs of choking in babies include having difficulty crying, tugging at their chest, gasping for air, squealing, and changes in skin color. If your baby is choking, administer chest blows and thrusts (see this video) and call an ambulance.
Baby-led weaning has not been shown to increase choking episodes. However, one study showed that BLW resulted in more gagging at 6 months but less gagging at 8 months compared to spoon-fed infants .
Baby-led weaning first foods
Babies are small and need small pieces of food, right? No, actually that’s not the case. At 4-6 months most babies haven’t mastered the pincer grasp and don’t have the dexterity to pick up small pieces of food. 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).
Good examples of first foods using the baby-led weaning approach include:
- Cooked broccoli or cauliflower
- Cooked zucchini batons
- Avocado strips
- Banana cut into wedges
- 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
Can you offer purees as part of baby-led weaning?
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 up to their mouth or giving them a pre-loaded spoon can help them get the hang of eating.
Choking hazards and no-go foods
One of the best things you can do to equip yourself to deal with choking is to take an infant CPR course. With any luck, you will never have to use those skills but understanding what to do in a choking emergency can help bring peace of mind.
In addition, there are a number of things you can do at mealtimes to minimize choking risk:
- Feed your child upright, ideally in a high chair, during mealtimes.
- Supervise your child closely as they eat. Remember, babies aren’t skilled eaters at first, and they’re looking for guidance from you about how to do it.
- Avoid foods that pose a choking risk including :
- Raw veggies such as carrot sticks
- Unripe/ hard raw fruit such as pears and apples
- Whole cherry tomatoes, grapes, or blueberries
- Dried fruit such as dried apricots and prunes
- Whole or chopped nuts
- Tough chunks of meat
- Untoasted white bread
- Baby-led weaning is a novel approach to starting solids where babies skip the purees-only phase and self-feed soft finger foods from the get-go.
- BLW has not been shown to increase the risk of choking or compromise intake of key nutrients such as iron if executed properly.
- Hand-held BLW foods should be soft, easy to grip, low in sodium and free from added sugar.
- Avoid giving your baby foods that are hard or can be swallowed whole such as raw carrot, grapes, and blueberries, to minimize choking risk.
- 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
- Fangupo, L. J., Heath, A. M., Williams, S. M., Erickson Williams, L. W., Morison, B. J., Fleming, E. A., Taylor, B. J., Wheeler, B. J., & Taylor, R. W. (2016). A Baby-Led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking. Pediatrics, 138(4), e20160772. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2016-0772