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Considering the baby-led weaning approach
May 14, 2024
Baby smiling at mom with avocado on highchair try

    When and how to let baby take the lead

    Parents often wonder how and when to introduce solid foods in their baby’s diet. One approach is baby-led weaning. Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Wolf answers common questions about what it is, why some parents choose it, and more.

    What is baby-led weaning?

    Weaning refers to gradually transitioning from a diet consisting completely of breast milk or formula, to one that involves solid foods. Baby-led weaning involves watching for signs that baby is developmentally ready for foods the rest of the family is eating and allowing them to feed themselves. It’s different from the common approach of feeding babies purees by spoon.

    How can I tell if my baby is ready for solids?

    Signs of readiness for solid foods usually occur around 6 months and include:

    • Being able to sit by themselves or in a high-chair with good head control
    • Showing interest in parents’ or siblings’ food
    • Outgrowing the reflex to push food out with their tongue (tongue thrust reflex)

    What are the benefits of baby-led weaning?

    Proponents of baby-led weaning point to several potential benefits. These include:

    • Allowing babies more control over what and how much they eat
    • Offering a greater variety of flavors and textures, setting babies up to be more adventurous eaters
    • Providing opportunities to build fine motor and oral motor skills
    • Introducing the concept of family mealtime at an early age and allowing babies to mimic the chewing, swallowing and social interactions of those around them

    How can I help my baby feed safely when eating solid foods?

    • Babies should be seated upright and be well-supported
    • Babies should be supervised at all times
    • Parents should avoid distractions such as smart phones and TVs
    • Parents should strongly consider taking an infant CPR course that covers what to do if your baby is choking

    What kinds of foods can I offer my baby in the baby-led weaning approach?

    The great news is that babies can eat many of the same foods the rest of the family is eating. They just may need to be cooked longer or cut smaller. Make sure foods that are offered are soft enough to mash on the roof of the mouth with the tongue, such as:

    • Spears of soft ripe fruits such as bananas or avocados
    • Strips of soft roasted or steamed veggies like carrots, sweet potato and squash
    • Ground or shredded cooked meat
    • Scrambled eggs

    You could also offer some foods with normally pureed textures, like applesauce, yogurt or oatmeal. If baby has trouble at first, try loading the spoon and handing it to them to bring to their mouth.

    Important: Avoid foods that are choking hazards such as nuts, hot dogs and raw vegetables.

    Is there anything else important to know before I start baby-led weaning with my little one?

    Don’t worry if not much food makes it into baby’s mouth at first. Most of their nutritional needs are met with breast milk or formula in the beginning, so they can focus on exploring and practicing with solid foods. Be prepared to embrace the mess – and grab your camera for the adorable photo-ops.

    Some babies thrive with this approach, while others aren’t ready to take the lead until they’re a bit older. Your pediatrician is a great resource if you have questions about what’s best for your baby.

    Keep up with the latest health information for your growing family on our blog.

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