The Ultimate Guide to Baby-Led Weaning
Your baby deserves the best. From tasting rockstar flavors to protecting him or her against any diseases, you want what's best for your little one, am I right? But, no matter your intentions, you've reached the point when weaning spoons and purees are old news. So, you're flirting with the idea of heading straight for solids while passing by the puree stage.
But, in the back of your mind, you conjure up images of messy high chairs and food chaos. Who said this is the only way? Baby-led weaning is here to awaken your baby's innate sense of hunger and offer you a smooth transition to solids. So, here is the ultimate guide for baby-led weaning to break your way into a hassle-free introduction to solids.
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Even though it's not an entirely hands-off approach, baby-led weaning is an alternative way of feeding. It revolves around the idea of your baby making all food choices for him or herself. In fact, baby-led weaning(1) (BLW) refers to infants skipping runny and thin purees or weaning spoon feeding and head straight to solid foods.
Of course, this transition occurs after you place soft-cooked, age-appropriate food in front of your baby to pick up and eat. From then on, your little one decides what he or she is going to eat, how much and how quickly.
The philosophy behind this feeding approach is simple. Babies learn to do anything (crawling, walking, talking) at their pace. So, why not learn what and how much to eat when they feel like it? Rather than having us forcing them to eat what WE want them to eat, the baby-led weaning approach suggests we allow babies to take the initiative and blaze their trail when it comes to food.
When to Start Baby-Led Weaning?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO)(2) growth standards, infants should breastfeed exclusively from birth until they turn 6 months old. At that age, babies are usually double in size and weight and not only are they more active, but they can also sit up straight by themselves and grab things around them. So, exclusive breastfeeding is not enough to meet all their energy and nutrient needs. So, baby-led weaning can make up the difference.
At 6 months of age, the digestive system of babies is also mature enough to process protein, fat, and starch. And let's not neglect the fact that infants between 6 and 9 months old are perfectly capable of holding semi-solid foods in their mouth rather than pushing them out with their tongue (tongue-thrust reflex).
15 Tips to Start Baby-Led Weaning
Ready to learn what it takes to let your baby lead the weaning process like a boss? The following 15 tips will make baby-lead weaning a breeze.
- Let Your Baby Take His/Her Time
Even though some 6-month old babies are ready to self-feed, it doesn't mean that yours may be one of them. Each infant is different, and some take more time to do things at their pace. In fact, the chewing skills of some babies ae not fully developed until they turn 9 months old. So, wait until your little one is ready before you start with baby-led weaning.
- Don't Give Up On Breastfeeding or Formula Just Yet
Just because baby-led weaning made the scene, it doesn't mean that breastfeeding or formula are out of the picture. The breast milk nutrients still make up the most substantial part of a baby's nutrition until the age of 1. In fact, one study(3) suggests that baby-led weaning infants are more likely to consume more saturated fat and less iron, Vitamin B12, and zinc than traditional spoon-feeding babies. So, it's vital you continue with breastfeeding or formula.
- Opt for Soft Foods at First
To ease the transition to solid foods, it's best you opt for soft and easy-to-chew foods. Think ripe fruit (bananas), cooked pasta, easy-to-chew egg yolks, cooked diced veggies, etc.
- Avoid Hazardous Foods
Even if your baby can sit up straight and the tongue-thrust reflex is a thing of the past, you shouldn't rest on your laurels. There is still chance your little one chokes on potential choking hazards such as grapes, raisins and sticky snacks such as nut butter. So, always make sure you put out the right foods in front of your baby and always keep a close eye on him/her while eating.
- Mess is Part of the Deal
Did you think that the little ones would let us slide with this one? Well, no, they are not that gracious! So, be prepared for lots of floor food and cleaning. To minimize the mess, props such an easy-to-clean high chair, bibs with long sleeves and wipe-clean mats under the high chair are all great ideas.
- Don't Cram Your Baby's Food Tray
Make sure you don't overwhelm your baby with too many bits of food. Instead, put two or three varieties of foods at a time on the high chair tray, and your little one will take it from there. Your only concern is to offer a variety of feeding options. So, don't recycle the same foods rather than experiment with multiple variations each time to find out what your baby likes and dislikes.
- Who Said Spoons Are Not Allowed?
Lots of parents mistakenly think that baby-led weaning is all about getting rid of spoons and going ape-style with hands. But, this is not the case. Giving your baby a soft spoon to use helps them practicing self-feeding by putting it into their mouth. To add a nutritional twist, you can load it with yogurt now and then.
- Adjust the Foods to Your Baby's Grip
The point of baby-led weaning is that babies learn to grab the food and feed themselves. So, this is where you step in. Cut, slice and chop the foods to make them easy for your baby to handle. So, opt for diced or coin-shaped bites and long, thin strips by using a crinkle cutter.
- Relinquish Control to Your Baby
That is an aspect of baby-led weaning most parents find difficult to deal with. Truth be told, it's hard to step back and let your little one do something on his/her own for the first time. However, it's important to have faith in his/her abilities and don't intervene if you think they aren't eating enough. Baby-led weaning is all about allowing babies to experiment with food. After all, they get enough nutrients from breastfeeding or formula.
- Identify Potential Allergies
Baby-led weaning is an excellent way to pinpoint whether your baby is allergic to certain foods(4). So, don't be afraid to expose the little one to new foods every four days to determine whether allergies are lurking in your baby's system.
- Don't Rush Your Baby's Meal Time
Let your baby take as much time as necessary to eat how much he/she wants. So, be ready to accommodate a 15-minute munching session, to say the least. Your little one needs time to feel, taste and become one with the food.
- Timing is Everything
If we -moms- know a thing or two about babies, it's that whenever they don't feel good, they'll find unlikely and most of the times unpleasant ways to show it. So, trying to make baby-led weaning happen when your little one is tired or upset is likely to end up in a disaster. Choose a more appropriate time when your baby is in a good mood but also a bit hungry.
- Be Patient and Persistent
Not every baby is quick to react the way we want. In fact, some infants prefer purees over a head-on transition to solids. Some others may not find it that easy to learn how to self-feed while in some of the cases we, as parents, need to expose the little ones to certain foods often enough for them to pick up.
- Make Your Baby A Regular Member of Your Dinner Table
Family mealtime is the perfect time to encourage your little ones to experiment with new flavors and foods. Between bite-sized treats straight from your plate and snacks you've prepared earlier that day, baby-led weaning is as easy as ABC.
- Make Runny Foods Thicker
The whole point of baby-led weaning is for the little ones to use their hands to explore new foods and learn how to self-feed. So, solid food is a requirement. Rather than purees, go for a thicker consistency in your baby's meals so that he or she can be able to use their hands to eat.
6 Frequently Asked Questions About Baby-Led Weaning
Taking the step from breastfeeding to introducing solids to your baby can be intimidating. Not because there's something to worry about, but mainly because we don't know how to coordinate the process sufficiently. To help you get past that, here are the answers to the 6 most frequently asked questions about baby-led weaning.
No 1: Which are the Best First Foods for Baby-Led Weaning?
Since baby-led weaning is all about our little ones breaking their way into the solid food world, we got a duty as "cool moms" to hit them with the best and most exciting flavors with safety as our No 1 priority. With that in mind, the following suggestions make up an ideal list of first baby-led weaning foods:
- Steamed Broccoli
- Your Meal (Minus the Salt)
- Ripe Melon
- Cooked Carrots
- Boiled Peas or Sweetcorn
- Steamed Zucchini
- Cooked Pasta or Rice
- Ripe Bananas
- Cooked Egg Yolk
- Ripe Peaches
- Soft-Cooked Apples
No 2: What is the Safest Way to Approach Baby-Led Weaning?
Although baby-led weaning promises you more hands-free time and your little one some independence, there are still a few things which require your attention when it comes to safety. The first and foremost concern revolves around choking. So, it's important to never leave babies unsupervised during their munching sessions.
However, you need to distinct the difference between choking and gagging. By gagging, your infant's body tries to push forward pieces of food stuck in the throat so that they can be chewed. According to Gill Rapley(5), the nurse who brought the necessary attention to the matter, gagging plays an important role in baby-led weaning.
In fact, gag reflex teaches babies how to chew and swallow out of instinct. Of course, that doesn't mean we should ignore when our little ones are choking. On the flip side, choking is not as innocent as gagging. So, we need to understand the signs and react accordingly.
No 3: What Do I Do When My Baby Doesn't Eat Much?
As mentioned earlier, you shouldn't stop breastfeeding or formula just because baby-led weaning is in the picture.
Breast milk and formula make up for the majority of a baby's nutrition until they are ready to start eating only solids. In fact, baby-led weaning is just a way for your little one to experiment with new flavors as well as learn how to chew and swallow.
So, there's no need to worry if your little one doesn't eat enough solids as he/she gets all the necessary nutrients through breastfeeding or formula. Also, you need to trust your baby as they tend to stop when they feel full.
No 4: Should I Be Worried About Iron Deficiency?
Given the importance of iron nutrition during the first year of a baby's life, most parents are concerned whether opting for baby-led weaning foods instead if iron-fortified infant cereal is a good choice. And to answer your question, there's absolutely no reason for moms to have second thoughts about iron deficiency and baby-led weaning foods. That's because one study(6) suggests that babies satisfy all their iron needs through breast milk. So, problem solved.
No 5: Which Foods Should I Avoid at First?
According to the BLISS study(7) (Baby-Led Introduction to SolidS), it's only wise to avoid foods that may result in choking for babies over 6 months old. Think nuts (especially whole nuts), grapes, apples, cherries and under-ripe fruit or fruit with skin which is hard to chew, honey, raw veggies, citrus fruit and food shaped like coins such as sausage.
No 6: Will My Baby Get Enough to Eat?
Even though baby-led weaning starts off at a young age, many babies only take to solid foods when they turn one year old. During this time, most parents are worried that their babies don't get enough to eat. But, don't worry. Infants eat enough to feel full. It's the hunger instinct doing its job.
At the same time, breastfeeding or infant formula provides all the necessary nutrients. So, between the gradual withdrawal of the tongue-thrust reflex, a steadier grip and lots of patience, your little one will start eating more in due course.
15 Baby-Led Weaning Recipes
A baby's first baby-led weaning meals can be a challenging and time-consuming affair. But with a little planning, not even zero cooking skills will stop you from preparing the healthiest and most delicious baby-led weaning snacks for your little one. Breakfast banana toast? Sweet potato ravioli for lunch? Or perhaps some salmon pasta for dinner? Baby-led weaning, we love you already!
5 Easy Baby-Led Weaning Recipes for Breakfast
- 1 banana, preferably ripe
- 60 ml of milk (breast milk, formula, cow's milk)
- 1 slice of bread, cut into small pieces
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Add the milk, banana, and cinnamon into a bowl and mash until smooth.
- Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium heat.
- Dip the bread bits into the mixture and cook until they turn golden.
Scrambled Eggs, Avocado and Black Beans
- ½ tbsp of milk
- 1 tsp of butter
- ½ ripe avocado
- 1 egg, beaten
- 2 tbsp of black beans, boiled
- In a bowl, add the egg and milk and whisk well.
- Heat the butter in a small frying pan.
- Add the mixture and cook for 3 minutes as you whisk.
- Cut the avocado into small cubes for your baby to manage.
- Serve with boiled black beans.
Chocolate Coconut Porridge
- 3 cups of milk (breast milk, cow's milk, formula)
- 1 tbsp of cocoa powder
- 2 cups of rolled oats
- 1 tbsp of coconut, shredded
- Heat a pan over low-medium heat.
- Add all the ingredients and cook until the milk soaks the oats enough and the are ready.
- Transfer to a bowl and sprinkle with shredded coconut.
- 1 egg
- 1 ripe banana
- 2/3 tbsp of butter
- In a bowl, beat the egg.
- Mash the banana, add it to the egg bowl and mix.
- Heat the butter in a frying pan over medium heat.
- Using a tablespoon, pour the mixture into the frying pan and fry in batches.
- Fry each pancake until it turns brownish.
- Serve with fruit.
Peachy Cheese Toast
- ½ peach
- 4 oz of cottage cheese
- 1 slice of whole-wheat bread, toasted
- Remove skin from the peach, cut into cubes and simmer until it turns soft.
- In a bowl, mash the peach and add the cottage cheese while stirring.
- Spread the mixture on the toasted bread and cut into small squares.
5 Easy Baby-Led Weaning Recipes for Lunch
1. Roasted Vegetables
- 1 medium zucchini
- 1 medium carrot
- 2 tbsp of coconut oil
- 1 bell pepper
- 1 sweet potato
- Salt and pepper, for seasoning (Optional)
- Rinse, peel and chop the vegetables.
- Heat coconut oil slightly over low heat in a pan.
- Coat the veggies with the oil and transfer to a tin-foiled baking pan.
- (OPTIONAL STEP) Season with salt and pepper.
- Bake for approximately an hour at 350 degrees F.
2. Chickpea Bites:
- 1 carrot, chopped
- ½ onion, chopped
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- ¼ cup of mushrooms, chopped
- 400g of tin chickpeas
- 1 celery stick, chopped
- 1 tbsp of flour
- 2 tbsp of oats
- 1 zucchini, chopped
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp of freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1 tbsp of mayo
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
- Add all the vegetables in a food processor and blend until finely chopped.
- Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat and saute the chopped vegetables until soft.
- Add the chickpeas, mayo, orange juice, oats, and flour in a food processor and blend until chickpeas are finely chopped.
- Combine the two mixtures and form small balls.
- Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until they turn brownish.
Sweet Potato Ravioli
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cooked
- ½ cup of flour
- ½ cup of semolina flour
- 1tbsp of olive oil
- Pinch of ground ginger (optional)
- In a bowl, combine the two types of flour and gradually add 1/3 cup of hot water and olive oil. Mix using an immersion blender until dough is formed.
- Knead the dough and divide into two pieces. Keep kneading and form two separate thin spreads.
- Mash the sweet potato and add ginger (optionally).
- Spread one dough sheet in a baking pan.
- Spoon small portions of sweet potato along with the pasta sheet.
- Spread the other pasta sheet on top and press down to form sweet potato “mounds”.
- Separate the ravioli using a knife.
- Transfer them to a pan with boiling water and cook until they rise to the surface.
Egg and Avocado Sandwiches
- ½ ripe avocado
- 1 slice of whole wheat bread
- 1 hard-boiled egg yolk
- Separate the egg yolk from the egg white.
- Mash well along with the avocado.
- Spread the mixture on the slice of bread and cut into small square pieces.
Cheese and Broccoli Muffins
- 1 cup of broccoli, steamed
- 4 eggs
- ½ cup of Cheddar cheese, grated
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Chop broccoli and add into a bowl along with eggs and grated Cheddar cheese. Mix well.
- Pour the mixture into muffin tins.
- Bake for approximately 15 minutes.
5 Easy Baby-Led Weaning Recipes for Dinner
Minced Chicken Nuggets
- 3 cups of minced chicken
- 1 large egg, beaten
- 3/4 cup of Cheddar cheese, grated
- 3/4 cup of breadcrumbs
- 1 clove of garlic, grated
- 1 tbsp of mayo
- Salt, for seasoning
- Extra breadcrumbs, for coating
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a bowl, add the chicken, Cheddar cheese, garlic, breadcrumbs and salt and combine.
- Using your hands, form small nuggets.
- Dip the nuggets in the egg mixture and coat with extra breadcrumbs.
- Spread on a baking pan and oven-bake until they turn golden.
Mini Yorkshire Puddings
- 1/2 cup of flour
- 2 eggs
- 2/3 cup of milk
- 2/3 cup of water
- 1 tbsp of whole wheat mustard (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 430 degrees F.
- In a bowl, add al the ingredients and combine well. Let the mixture rest for 15 minutes.
- Pour the mixture into muffin tins and bake for approximately 20 minutes.
- 2 cups fresh sweet corn kernels, cut from the cob
- 1 red onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup of flour
- 1 tsp of baking powder
- 2 eggs
- A handful of coriander, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp of virgin olive oil
- In a food processor add all the ingredients and blend well.
- Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat.
- Spoon the mixture into the pan and fry until each patty turns to gold.
- 1 small salmon fillet, without bones
- 1/2 small leek, finely diced
- 3 tbsp of Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1/4 cup of broccoli, finely chopped
- 1/4 cup of baby pasta, cooked
- 5 tbsp of milk
- 1 tbsp of virgin olive oil
- 4 tbsp of creme fraiche
- Check the salmon for flakes and bones.
- In a heat-resistant bowl, add the salmon and 2 tablespoons of milk and microwave for 2 minutes.
- Cook pasta according to the package instructions.
- Meanwhile, steam the broccoli until soft.
- In a pan heat the olive oil over medium heat and cook the leek until soft.
- Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of milk and cook for 5 more minutes.
- Add the salmon and poach for 4 more minutes.
- Add the Parmesan cheese and pasta and stir until melted.
- Stir in the creme fraiche.
- Mash to the desired consistency.
Cheesy Cod with Sweet Potato
- 1/3 cup of cod fillet
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into pieces
- 1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, grated
- 30 ml milk
- 1 butter knob
- Simmer the sweet potato until soft.
- In a heat-resistant bowl, add the cod, milk and butter knob, cover with tin foil and microwave for approximately 2 minutes or until cooked.
- In a bowl, add all the cooked ingredients and stir in the grated Parmesan cheese.
- Optionally mash to desired consistency.
Final Thoughts on Baby-led Weaning
So long to the days when baby purees and weaning spoons ruled every mom's kitchen! Baby-led weaning is here to save moms everywhere from nerve-racking feeding sessions. But, knowledge is power. It's best to know everything there is about this feeding approach and spare yourself the worries.
This ultimate guide to baby-led weaning will make each step much less intimidating. By the way, do you have any baby-led weaning stories to share with us? If you do, why not share them along with this guide with fellow moms on social media? Until then, let the baby-led weaning begin!