Have you decided that you want to follow the baby-led weaning approach but don’t know where to start? This guide has you covered. Learn all about baby-led weaning (BLW), how to know your baby is ready for BLW, first food ideas and how to prepare them.
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning (or baby-led feeding) is a style of feeding that involves bypassing traditional purees in favour of foods prepared in a size and shape that can be handled easily by a baby.
Babies sit with the rest of the family at mealtimes, are encouraged to explore food and feed themself, rather than being spoon-fed by someone else.
Although the practice of Baby-led weaning has probably always existed, the theory of why and how it works was developed by Gill Rapley, a British nurse who specialises in infant feeding and child development.
When to Start Baby-Led Weaning
Your baby should be six months of age before starting baby-led weaning. However, age is just one of the factors to consider. Your baby should also be able to;
- sit up unsupported or with little support
- hold their head upright and steady
- reach out to grab objects and easily take them to their mouth
Their thrust instinct should be diminished (does not push the food out of their mouth with their tongue) and they should also be showing an interest in food (watching you eat, mouthing for food, grabbing for food)
Getting Ready for Baby-led Weaning
When it comes to starting solids, safety is essential. Learn how to safely prepare food, what foods to avoid and educate yourself on what to do if your baby chokes on something. (take CPR / first aid course)
You don't really need to buy special equipment for baby-led weaning although there are some items you may find beneficial.
- HIGHCHAIR: Look for a fully upright highchair with a footrest. A detachable tray is great so your baby can eat at the table with you.
- BIBS - Baby led weaning is messy. Invest in a large bib or just strip your baby down to their nappy (diaper) if warm enough.You may wish to put a drop cloth under the highchair too.
- SELF FEEDING SPOONS - Self feeding spoons are great, always have two on the go to begin with. (Preload one spoon and give to baby, as your baby is eating have a second spoon ready for when your baby is done. Repeat so there is always a spoon available to stop frustration). Don’t worry about bowls or plates at the start, they will probably end up on the floor, instead just pop the food straight onto the highcair tray / table.
- CRINKLE CUTTER - useful when preparing slippery foods to add more grip.
- STEAMER: If you don't already have one they are great for preparing vegetables.
Once your baby is approaching six months you may wish to sit them at the table during family mealtimes so that they can become familiar with mealtimes.
Advice in the past was to feed your baby one food at a time and wait several days before introducing a new food. It was also advised to delay allergens. This has now changed.
It is important to offer your baby a variety of foods. This not only provides your baby with a range of nutrients but also gives your baby an opportunity to experience a range of tastes and textures. You want to focus on foods that are packed with iron, protein and are nutrient-dense.
It’s also important that the food is prepared in a way that is easy for your baby to hold and safe to consume.
Previous advice was to delay introducing common food allergens but the recommendation now is to introduce allergenic foods as early as possible and continue to offer them often.
(If you have a baby at risk of developing food allergies (those with pre-existing allergens or severe eczema then talk to a health professional before introducing allergens.)
When introducing allergens...
- START SMALL: Start with small amounts and if there is no reaction gradually increase the amount over the next couple of days.
- ONE AT A TIME: You should introduce allergenic foods one at a time. This way if there is a reaction you are able to easily identify what food was responsible. A few days of consuming a food is usually enough time to determine if a food is tolerated.
- A WELL BABY: Always make sure your baby is well (no fever, runny nose, cough, etc) when introducing a new food. This ensures allergic symptoms are not being masked due to illness.
- INTRODUCE IN THE MORNING: It is best to introduce allergens early in the day This gives you the opportunity to observe your baby throughout the day and to make it easier for you to contact your doctor if needed.
The top 10 food allergens in Australia are wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, eggs, milk, fish, soy, sesame seeds, lupin but any food can be a potential allergen. See links below for more information on food allergies in my top 3 readership areas.
- USA - https://www.fda.gov/food/food-labeling-nutrition/food-allergies
- UK - https://www.allergyuk.org/
- AUS - https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/fast-facts/food-allergy
How to Prepare Foods For Baby-Led Weaning
Baby-led weaning first foods should be a shape, size and texture that is easy to pick up and safe to eat.
- To start with, your baby will use their whole hand to grasp things so the food should be long (around 1.5 - 2 times the size of your baby’s fist.) This will make it is easier for your baby to hold and get to their mouth.
- When your baby gets going with BLW and has developed a pincer grasp they can start to experiment with smaller pieces of food. Start by offering them alongside the larger pieces, this will allow them to experiment without frustration
- Of course, some foods are obviously too small and can’t be served in finger form (e.g. lentils, rice etc). Serve these foods in piles and allow your baby to scoop up into their mouth (very difficult to start with). You can also mash and clump together or mix with something that liked mashed avocado or yogurt and serve on loaded spoons.
- When your baby first starts food you want to be able to smoosh the food between your fingers so they can mash with their gums.
- Some foods can be very slippery to handle (mango, avocado, kiwi etc) and your baby can get frustrated. Use a crinkle cutter or coat in a dusting of flaxseed etc to provide more grip.
- Babies don’t need to be given bland food. Herbs and spices are great for adding flavour and babies can handle all kinds of spices from the beginning. Just avoid salt. Read more on introducing herbs and spices to babies.
How Much and How Often to Feed Your Baby
At the very start of baby-led weaning breastmilk/formula milk will still be the primary source of your baby's calories. You should keep breastfeeding on-demand or bottle-feeding according to your schedule.
It is best to give a milk feed before, or close to, solids meals so your baby is not hungry at the table. (Hungry babies can be fussy and not good learners, you want them to come to the table happy and able to learn about eating.)
You can start including your baby in meals whenever you eat. (As long as baby isn't tired or hungry.) It is a good idea to give plenty of opportunities to practise but it doesn't matter if you miss meals at the beginning. To begin with, you may wish to start with one or two meals a day and then gradually increase to three meals.
Remember, variety is key and you do not need to stick to one food at a time (apart from allergenic foods). I liked to offer three different foods choices at a meal in very small amounts. I always included a vegetable and an iron-rich food (such as beef, chicken, tofu, hummus)
Start with offering a small amount of food (e.g one piece of each food) but have more available if needed. You don’t want to overwhelm your baby by offering too much.
When it comes to feeding your baby, your job is to decide what food to serve, when to serve it and where. It is up to your baby to decide how much they eat from the food you serve. You shouldn't restrict or pressure them to eat more. The chances that your baby will eat anything in the first few meals are very slim. They will be learning and exploring but may not be eating much.
Foods to Avoid / Be Careful With
There are a few foods that we should avoid giving a baby altogether and some that we need to be careful with to ensure they are served in a safe way. Foods that you should avoid giving your baby include...
- SUGAR/SUGAR FOODS - Sugar is not reccomended to be added to babies' foods and added sugar should be kept to a minimum. Hard/sticky lollies/sweets/candies can also be a choking hazard.
- SALT/SALTY FOODS - Salt isn't good for developing kidneys. Avoid adding salt to meals and try to keep salt intake as low as possible. Check labels on packaged goods (such as bread, crackers, stocks etc)
- HONEY - Honey may contain a bacteria that could be dangerous for an immature immune system. It should be avoided completely before 1. Read more about honey for babies.
- UNPASTURISED DAIRY - Only offer pasturised, plain dairy products to babies. Unpasturised means it hasn't been treated and can contain bacteria that can be harmful for babies and toddlers. Also avoid mould-ripened cheeses and soft blue cheeses.
- UNDERCOOKED/RAW FOODS like eggs, meat and shelfish -These should be avoided due to the potential risk of food poisining.
- HIGH MERCURY FISH - Fish such as swordfish, shark and marlin can be high in mercury, which can affect your baby's developing nervous system.
There are many other foods that are choking hazards but there are ways to give them to you child in a safer way.
- HARD & ROUND FOODS (e.g grapes, cherry tomatoes, large berries, candy, popcorn). - Cut the grapes and tomatoes in quarters and the berries in halves / quarters depending on size. Avoid popcorn and candy altogether.
- HARD SNAP-ABLE FOODS (e.g apples, carrots, celery) - You should cook these until soft or offer them grated.
- FRUITS WITH MEMBRANE SKINS - (e.g oranges, mandarins) - Remove all membrane
- FRUITS WITH PITS/STONES: Stones should be removed and fruit should be ripe.
- WHOLE NUTS / LARGE PIECES NUTS - Avoid, they can get lodged in a babies windpipe. Chop very finely.
- STICKY FOODS (Nut butters, candy, gummies, dried fruit) Gummies and candy should be avoided altogether. Sticky purees, such as peanut butter, should never be offered on a spoon. Always spread thinly on toast. Dried fruit should be finely chopped)
- FISH - Remove bones carefully
Gagging and Choking
One of the main worries parents have about baby-led weaning is choking. Often worries about choking are based on seeing babies gagging on food.
Gagging is a normal part of your baby's feeding journey. It is a built-in protective mechanism to remove any food that isn't ready to be swallowed. Over time, the gag reflex starts to lessen. Exposure to various textures can help your baby to learn how to cope with different foods better and in turn, can lessen the gag response.
Tongue will thrust forward
Baby's skin may turn red
You may hear spluttering / coughing / gagging
Babies usually recover fairly quickly, and you may see the food come forward in their mouth. During this time, watch closely and let your baby work it out. Try to stay calm and try not to intervene, as this can make it worse.
Choking is less common and happens when there is a blockage of the upper airway. It prevents the baby from breathing properly and requires quick intervention.
Baby is quiet or silent
Baby's face will start to go blue
Baby is unable to cry / cough
Your baby may become unresponsive or lose consciousness if the food is not cleared. Shout for help and start first aid to try and dislodge the food.
To prevent choking it is important to be as safe as possible
- ENSURE BABY IS READY FOR BLW: See section above "When to Start Baby Led Weaning"
- FEED BABY SAFELY: Your baby should always be fed in an upright position (not in recliner, bouncer, car seat etc) and should never be fed while on the go (crawling, walking).
- ALWAYS OBSERVE: Sit next your baby evertime they are eating.
- PREPARE FOOD CORRECTLY: See section above "How to Prepare foods for Baby-led weaning"
- AVOID CHOKING HAZARDS: Some foods can be a choking hazard if not prepared properly. See section above "Foods to Avoid/Be Careful With"
- MODEL: Sit with your baby at meal times and show them how to bite, chew and swallow foods.
- TAKE A CPR/FIRST AID COURSE
First Month of Baby-led Weaning - A Food Diary
I have compiled a list of everything that my youngest ate during his first month of baby-led weaning. (with links to some of the recipes/cooking instructions). I introduced several allergens in his first month (wheat, peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, milk, fish, sesame seeds)
This is by no means a list of foods that you should feed your baby during their first month, this is simply a record of the food Rory tried in his first month of solids.
Fruit and Vegetables
- Apples - pan fried (until soft) cinnamon apples, Apple puree (served in yogurt on loaded spoon)
- Avocado - wedges , mashed (on pre loaded spoon)
- Banana - spears, with skin handle, mashed on toast, banana pancakes.
- Berries -(raspberries, strawberries, blueberry) - smaller berries slightly squashed, larger berries halved / quartered
- Eggplant/Aubergine - skin removed, cut into fingers and pan fried.
- Grapes - cut into quarters.
- Green Beans -steamed.
- Kiwi - long slices / wedges (cut using crinkle cutter)
- Melon - (ripe) long slices
- Pears - (very ripe) half / wedges
- Bell Peppers (capsicum)- roasted skin removed and cut into strips
- Stone fruits (ripe mango, peach, nectarine, plum) stone removed & cut into wedges.
- Tomatoes - peeled and cut into wedges
- Asparagus - roasted, steamed.
- Broccoli - steamed, roasted broccoli,
- Butternut Squash - roasted.
- Carrots - cut into finger sized pieces and steamed, thicker version of carrot fries, carrot potato mash
- Cauliflower - steamed, pureed cauliflower (on loaded spoon)
- Courgette /zucchini - sliced into fingers and roasted, zucchini fritters.
- Cucumber - cut into finger sized pieces, topped with hummus
- Parsnip - roasted parsnips
- Turnip - steamed fingers, mashed
- Beans and chick peas - hummus, carrot hummus, white bean spread, white beans mashed and formed into finger (see above picture)
- Beef - strips of steak cut along the grain, chilli, bolognese.
- Chicken - strips cut along the grain, drumsticks, shredded chicken.
- Egg - hard-boiled, omelette strips, fritatta strips, fruity egg muffins.
- Fish (salmon, cod) roasted and flaked, mixed with mashed potato
- Lentils - mashed together with avocado and offered on pre-loaded spoons, lentil curry, lentil bake
- Peanut Butter - thinly spread on toast fingers
- Tofu - cut into strips and seared in pan
- Bread - fingers of toast, eggy bread fingers. (make sure bread is not too soft and gooey)
- Oats - porridge fingers,(pictured above), banana porridge (pre loaded spoon)
- Pasta - cooked and served plain, served with lentil pasta sauce, vegetable pasta sauce.
- Potatoes - boiled, mashed and mixed with cooked vegetables/fish
- Quinoa - Quinoa balls, mixed with avocado and offered on loaded spoon (pictured above)
- Rice - boiled and clumped together into finger shape
- Sweet potatoes - sweet potato wedges, mashed on pre loaded spoon, sweet potato pancakes
- Plain Yogurt - loaded spoons / mixed with fruit/vegetables
- Cheese - cheddar grated, cream cheese spread on toast fingers
Still Unsure what feeding method is best for you and your baby? Have a read of Baby-Led Weaning vs Purees.
What foods did your baby eat in their first month? Please leave a comment with some other suggestions.
**This post was originally published in May 2015. Originally it was just a food diary and has been updated to include more information on baby-led weaning.
Disclaimer: This guide is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace the personalised care and advice given to you by a health professional. You should never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read or seen here. Please refer to our full disclaimer for more info.