What is Baby Led Weaning and Should I Do It?
Written by Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN
Feeding babies can be challenging, whether you’re a first-time parent or seasoned one. You may have many questions, such as:
- What should be babies’ first food? How often should you feed baby?
- Should you spoon feed or let baby feed himself or herself?
- What kind of textures should you introduce? And what about allergens?
Feeding babies can be very overwhelming, however, we’re here to help. Check out our tips below to make the process simpler.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Most pediatricians will give you the go-ahead to introduce solids between 4-6 months of age. Check out tips for introducing solids for more info on this topic. Baby led weaning is just one form of introducing solids.
Baby led weaning refers to a method of introducing solid foods into a baby's diet by allowing them to feed themselves, as opposed to being spoon-fed.
In the baby led weaning approach, the emphasis is placed on exploring taste, texture, color and smell as the baby sets their own pace for the meal. The baby does this by choosing which foods to concentrate on or taste, making them an active participant in the feeding process rather than a passive one.
This is contrary to the traditional method of spooning pureed food into the baby's mouth, where the baby is unable to exhibit the same autonomy.
With baby led weaning, the baby takes part in family mealtimes and is presented with a variety of foods in easy-to-grasp pieces, which he or she can freely choose and explore as he so chooses.
Benefits of Baby Led Weaning
Research shows that baby led weaning facilitates oral motor development and strongly focuses on the family meal, while maintaining eating as a positive, interactive experience.
Eating with babies whenever possible is a powerful step in cultivating a positive experience with food and the family meal.
While it can be a scary thought to give babies whole foods, as long as you make sure to serve and cut foods appropriately, baby led weaning presents no more of a choking hazard than traditional spoon feeding.
No matter how you choose to feed your baby, remember that solids are complementary to breastfeeding or bottle feeding, as milk should still remain the baby’s main source of calories up through age 1.
Helpful Products for Baby Led Weaning
While baby led weaning can get messy, having the right gear can help reduce the mess and stress. Sit your baby in a solid highchair with a splash pad underneath to protect your floors. An easy-to-clean bib and placemat will keep spills and dribbles contained. This food-grade silicone Placemat and Bib from Busy Baby are great. They both have a tether system that keeps your baby’s utensils and other things within their reach and off the floor.
Introducing your baby to age-appropriate utensils early on will help them practice and learn to use them properly. This teething spoon from Busy Baby is a great way to introduce new purees and spoonfuls. With silicone grips on the handle for easy holding and on the spoon tip for feeding, it can help ensure your little one holds on to it and doesn’t stick it too far into their little mouth. Plus, it connects to the Busy Baby tethers and bungees so they stay off the floor. Busy Baby also makes a full utensil set made of safe, non-toxic materials, perfectly designed for babies that are starting to self-feed.
Just know that it’s normal and natural for babies to make a mess as they explore the textures of different foods.
Important Nutrition Components
All nutrients play a role in helping babies get what they need, and most babies can get them through offering a wide variety of colorful foods.
Some to focus on when baby led weaning include:
Fat When starting to introduce solids to babies, one important nutrient to include consistently is fat. Fat is very important for babies’ growing brains (especially EPA and DHA), as well as for skin and immune health. Fat is also very calorie-dense, helping babies get enough energy, and will also help with fat-soluble nutrient absorption (Vitamins A, D, E and K). Inadequate fat in the diet can lead to poor growth and cognitive outcomes.
Vitamin D – Babies need Vitamin D to help absorb calcium and phosphorus for bone health. While formula provides adequate amounts of Vitamin D, breastfeeding stores often empty by 6 months of age. Breastfeeding mothers should talk to their pediatricians about supplementation if needed. When introducing solids, offering salmon, egg yolks, and certain fortified foods can offer Vitamin D. Once babies can have whole milk after 1 year of age, the whole milk will be a major dietary contributor of Vitamin D.
Iron – Iron is important for brain health and development, breathing, psychological functioning, immunity and more. Babies can get iron through meats, poultry, fish, beans, legumes, soy products, and in some cases, supplementation. Pairing Vitamin C-rich foods, like strawberries, peppers, melon, tomatoes, with iron foods can help with the absorption of iron.
Choline – Choline is an important nutrient in utero and also during early development. It is involved in brain cell structure, neurotransmission, and memory processing. Some great food sources of choline are eggs and meats.
Easy Baby Led Weaning Recipes
Here are some easy baby led weaning meal ideas and recipes.
- Whole grain toast with hummus, mashed avocado, or thin layer of peanut butter
- Baby Roasted Carrots with beef
- Baby meatballs with steamed broccoli and olive oil
- Egg fingers with diced tomatoes and cheese
- Mashed sweetpotato with butter and mashed black beans
- Full fat Greek yogurt with cinnamon and choice of fruit
Introducing your baby to solids can be a fun journey, no matter how you do it. Enjoy introducing your baby to new flavors, textures and foods.
Sarah Schlichter, MPH, RDN is a media and freelance dietitian, recipe developer writer, speaker, and podcast host. She owns and writes the popular blog, Bucket List Tummy, which focuses on family-friendly recipes and taking away the stress around meals. Sarah has three young kids of her own and enjoys cooking with them in the kitchen. Sarah has written for and been recognized in national publications, such as Well & Good, Eating Well, Eat This Not That, Cooking Light, Food Network, Runners World, Womens Health and more.
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