Baby led weaning (BLW) is an approach to introducing solids which encourages babies to self-feed.
The baby led weaning method fosters the development of crucial eating and self-feeding skills, including picking up food, bringing food to the mouth, chewing, and swallowing. With baby led weaning, your baby has more autonomy over their food choices, portion sizes and eating pace, allowing them to respond to their own hunger cues.
Breastmilk or infant formula remains the main source of nutrition during this time and should always be offered first at feeding time.
What is baby led weaning?
Baby-led weaning (BLW) is a self-feeding approach to introducing solids to your baby. Instead of spoon-feeding purees, you offer appropriately sized finger foods directly on the tray or table, allowing your baby to explore and feed themselves. With BLW, your baby takes the lead, choosing what to eat and setting their own pace. It's called "baby-led" because your baby has the freedom to pick up food and eat independently.
According to advocates, there are many benefits of using the baby led weaning approach to starting solids:
Eating skills. Learning how to chew first and then swallow.
Foodie in the making. Exposure to a wide range of foods leads to a greater acceptance of flavors and textures
Healthy weight. Reduced risk of childhood obesity by allowing the child to self-regulate how much food is “enough”.
Fine motor skill development. Eating finger food develops hand-eye coordination and dexterity, and encourages babies to utilize the pincer grip that is necessary when picking up food to bring it to their mouths.
Convenience. Since there is minimal preparation needed, baby led weaning can relieve stress around mealtimes.
Family bonding. When possible, your whole family can eat the same foods at the same time as your baby.
A few words of caution regarding baby led weaning:
It’s a mess. It takes time for babies to learn how to pick up food themselves, and longer for them to do it without squishing and throwing it everywhere.
Don’t forget iron-rich foods. Whether BLW or spoon-feeding purees, it’s important to introduce iron-rich foods, such as red meat, from six months. For more information about this, please refer to our article: Introducing solids to your baby.
Some families exclusively use baby led weaning, while others try a combination of spoon feeding and BLW. Your family is unique — try and see what works for you.
When should I start baby-led weaning?
All babies are different and will reach developmental milestones in their own time. While most infants are ready for solids at around 6 months of age, it’s important to look for cues that your baby is ready for the big leap to starting solids.
These cues include:
Good head control: Your baby should be able to hold their head steady and upright without much wobbling before starting baby led weaning.
Sitting with support: Your baby should be able to sit upright with minimal assistance. This is important for safety and to ensure they can manage and explore solid foods effectively.
Loss of tongue-thrust reflex: The tongue-thrust reflex, where babies automatically push food out of their mouths, usually diminishes around 4-6 months. This is a crucial milestone before starting solids.
Showing interest in food: If your baby starts displaying curiosity about what you're eating, reaching for your food, or showing eagerness to join mealtime, it could be a sign that they are ready for baby led weaning.
Ability to grasp objects: Your baby should be able to grab and hold onto objects, as this skill is essential for self-feeding when starting BLW.
Remember, every baby is different, and it's important to consider these signs along with your pediatrician’s guidance to determine if your baby is developmentally ready for baby led weaning.
Why can’t we offer BLW first foods before our baby reaches these milestones?
Your baby’s digestive system may not be mature enough to digest the BLW foods if solids are introduced too early, and there may be an increased risk of choking if your baby is not yet able to sit unsupported.
Only start baby led weaning when your baby is showing signs of readiness. Focus on the developmental stage, rather than the physical age of your baby when determining if they are ready to begin solids using the BLW approach.
How do you start baby led weaning?
Always offer breastmilk or infant formula first at each feeding, as these remain the main source of nutrition during baby led weaning.
Safety first. Your baby needs to have a safe place to eat solids and needs to be supervised when eating. Have your baby sitting upright in a highchair with a tray when eating.
Read the room. Only offer your baby solids when they are alert, comfortable and sitting upright. Avoid offering your baby solids when they are very hungry, distressed or tired, as this creates a less enjoyable and successful experience of baby led weaning.
Choose appropriate BLW foods by age. We have a guide below!
Squishy foods in big shapes and sizes. Offering large strips or sticks make it easier for your baby to pick up the soft foods. A good guide for safety is to offer well-cooked food cut into sticks or strips that are at least as long as their fist.
Serve it up. Place the food directly on the table or tray in front of your baby and encourage exploration.
Be prepared for a mess. Large bibs and a mat under your baby's highchair makes cleanup a little easier.
Offer a small amount each day. Follow your baby’s cues through baby led weaning — they are leading the process, after all. As they progress with their eating skills, your baby will begin to increase the amount they eat. It can be a slow and messy process, so be patient!
What are the best BLW first foods?
One benefit of baby led weaning is it encourages babies to join in with family mealtimes and eat a wide range of family foods early on.
When starting solids, it’s important to prepare age appropriate foods that have the right texture, consistency, and size for your child’s development stage.
When first starting BLW, it’s important to offer large pieces of soft finger foods. Before you begin, try putting BLW first foods through the "squish test" by checking whether you can easily squish it on the roof of your mouth with your tongue. If it doesn’t smoosh, don’t give it to your baby yet.
Plenty of foods will pass the test. Here are some of our favorite BLW first foods:
Meat, fish and tofu — Homemade balls and tofu cut into sticks makes a great squishy finger food.
Eggs that have been well-cooked as an omelette and cut into strips.
Nut butters with no added salt or sugar, spread thinly on a finger sized strip piece of toast are also good for BLW.
Avocado — Messy, smooshy green goodness. Cut into adult finger sized strips.
Other BLW first foods that are rich in good fats include
full fat cheese
Well-cooked vegetables — Squishy sweet potato, pumpkin, broccoli and carrot can be offered as key BLW first foods. Colorful vegetables contain a huge array of nutrients like antioxidants and vitamin A, essential for vision and the immune system.
Fruit — Soft fruits such as bananas and very ripe stone fruits can be cut up into large pieces and offered as BLW first foods. You might also like to offer your baby peeled apples that have been cut into wedges and cooked until completely soft.
When moving on after BLW first foods, start with large pieces or strips of food that are the size of your baby's hand. Small squishable foods like beans and lentils can be introduced as the pincer grip develops and your baby is able to pick up smaller pieces of food.
For more food ideas, read the Breastfeeding and family food information from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
What foods are unsuitable for baby led weaning?
While it is best to offer a wide variety of BLW first foods, there are some foods to avoid for safety.
Some foods pose a choking risk including:
- Hard foods like raw apple or carrot, whole nuts and popcorn
- Round or coin-shaped foods like grapes, raisins or cherry tomatoes.
Who shouldn’t try baby led weaning?
The baby led weaning approach to feeding may not be appropriate for some babies, such as those who:
Have developmental delays, such as premature babies or those with a disability.
Have oral or digestive problems, such as tongue tie, reflux or palate problems.
Are not showing signs of readiness.
If this is your baby, talk with your healthcare professional about the best approach to starting solids.
There are many factors to consider when introducing solids to your baby. Choose the approach that best suits you and your family, be patient, and your baby will be taking to solids in no time.
For more information, see our tips on Introducing solids to your baby and learn more from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) articles linked below: