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Your baby can feed themselves.
What?! I know, it seems unbelievable. But it’s true: modern science has shown us that babies can learn to self-feed when they’re ready and that it’s more beneficial for them to do so than traditional spoon-feeding.
How? Baby-Led Weaning (or BLW).
If you’re new to the idea of baby-led weaning (BLW) or would just like an essential guide on how, when and what you should feed your baby, then this post is for you.
I’ll start with a brief summary of BLW, followed by the three different ways to offer food to your baby, before ending with some of my favorite first foods for your baby to start with.
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning is a method moms use to introduce their babies to new foods. The main principle of baby-led weaning is to allow your baby to self-feed.
When using the BLW method parents offer their baby age-appropriate and safe foods, then the baby is the one who is in control of their meal.
They decide what they want to eat on their plate, how much, and when they’re done. They are the ones who pick the food up and bring it to their mouth.
Contrary to the more traditional approach of solid food introduction that uses pureed baby foods and consists of the parent (or caregiver) spoon-feeding the baby.
What Are The Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning?
There are TONS of benefits when choosing baby-led weaning as your baby’s method of solid food introduction. This is one of the reasons self-feeding or baby-led weaning is becoming so popular!
Some of the benefits include:
- Promotes self-feeding
- Promotes developmental skills
- Develops healthy eating habits from the first bite
- Encourages weaning on their own time
- Mealtime is easier
- Baby gets to eat with the rest of the family
You can check out more about the benefits of baby-led weaning here.
When Can You Start Baby-Led Weaning?
You can start baby-led weaning when your baby is meeting all 6 developmental signs of readiness for solid foods. These 6 signs of readiness for solids include:
- Great head/neck control
- Sits up on their own or with little support
- Reaches for objects when placed in front of them
- Brings food or objects to their mouth
- Opens mouth when offered a spoon
- Shows interest in the food you’re eating
Most babies will meet all 6 developmental signs by 4-6 months of age, with most around the 6-month mark. Age is not an accurate cue that your baby is ready for solid foods, so make sure to pay attention to these signs.
3 Ways to Offer Your Baby Food Using Baby-Led Weaning
The main concept of baby-led weaning is to allow your baby the opportunity to self-feed. Rather than offering pureed foods and spoon-feeding them into their mouth, you’re preparing food in a way that is safe to offer to your baby and promotes self-feeding.
There are 3 main ways that you can offer your baby food to promote self-feeding:
#1: Pre-Loaded Spoons
You can offer your baby mashed foods on a spoon.
The difference between loaded spoons and spoon-feeding is that with loaded spoons you are going to offer your baby the spoon where they grab the spoon from your hand and they are the ones to bring it to their mouth.
You can also place a loaded spoon on their tray so they can pick it up and feed themselves.
This can be a bit tricky for babies just starting out with solid foods. I use these NUK self-feeding spoons because they hold the food a lot better while your baby tries to figure utensils out.
#2: Scoop With Their Hands
Another way to offer your baby mashed or chopped food while still promoting self-feeding is to allow them to scoop up the food with their hand. You can place the mashed food directly on their tray or a bowl that suctions to their high chair tray works great too.
I like adding quinoa, brown rice, oats, or chopped whole-grain pasta to mashed fruits or veggies for a nutrient-dense scoopable meal.
#3: Finger Foods (or Whole Foods) for Baby
Finger foods for babies are likely what you think of when we are talking about baby-led weaning. This involves serving foods in sticks or spears and allowing your baby to self-feed.
A few tips for finger foods with your baby:
- Educate yourself on the age-appropriate way to serve these foods to minimize the risk of choking and promote the development of fine motor skills and feeding skills
- Make sure food pieces that could break off are soft enough for you to mash between two of your fingers (soft fruits that are suuuper ripe are easy to serve)
- The sticks or spears you serve should be about the length and width of two of your fingers
- If a piece of food breaks off from the stick or spear allow your baby to opportunity to push it out of their mouth before intervening
You should serve food in all 3 of these ways to your baby throughout their entire solid foods journey. It’s important for your baby to receive a wide variety of foods in their diet. That includes the different textures of foods and the way they are prepared/offered to your baby.
Once your baby develops their pincer grasp (where they pick small objects up with their index finger and thumb) you can start to offer small pieces (bite-sized pieces) of food. This is usually around 8-9 months of age.
17 Best First Foods for Baby-Led Weaning
You can’t really go wrong when it comes to what foods you should start with. Obviously, those first few foods introduced shouldn’t be a top 9 allergen. I’d also stay away from offering meat for the first few foods.
Other than that all other foods are fair game. You can start by offering food you’re already making once a day to your baby.
If you want more specific recommendations here are the 17 best foods for your baby-led weaning beginning – in my opinion!
Oats are a great energy-dense food for your baby since they are a source of healthy carbs. They are also rich in fiber, folate, choline, iron, magnesium, and selenium.
You can make oatmeal with breast milk, formula, or water. Let your baby scoop the oatmeal with their hands or offer a loaded spoon to your baby.
You can mash fruits or veggies into the oatmeal for a variety of tastes and an added nutrient boost!
Apples are packed with fiber, vitamin C, vitamin B6, and antioxidants.
Steam the apple until it is soft enough to mash between your two fingers. Then cut it in half and remove the stem, core, and skin. Serve the steamed apple half to your baby.
You can also mash the steamed apple to make applesauce. Add cinnamon or nutmeg for added flavor.
Nectarines are a great source of fiber but are also high in vitamins A, C, and E.
Before serving a nectarine to your baby make sure to cut it in half and remove the pit. You can leave the skin on if you are comfortable with it! The skin can help your baby grip onto the fruit and they aren’t able to bite through the skin without teeth just yet!
Peaches have the same nutritional makeup as nectarines – rich in fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E.
You can serve up a peach to your baby the exact same way as a nectarine. Cut in half with the pit removed. It’s up to you if you want to remove the skin or not. If you do remove the skin try rolling in infant rice cereal or ground oats to help your baby grip the fruit.
Pears are a great source of fiber, vitamin C, copper (which helps your baby absorb iron), and antioxidants for your baby.
You can serve a raw pear if it is SUUUUPER ripe – soft enough to smash between your fingers. If not you can cut the pear in half, remove the core, and cook until it’s soft enough to mush between your fingers.
You can leave the skin on if you’re comfortable with it!
Plums are great for constipation. Serve in moderation to avoid causing diarrhea. They are also high in potassium and vitamins A, C, and K.
You should stew, halve, then remove the pit and skin before serving to your baby. Fresh plums are okay, but make sure they are SUUUPER ripe – soft enough to mash between your fingers.
Avocado is a great source of healthy fats that your baby needs for growth and brain development. They are also high in fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E, and zinc.
Before serving avocado to your baby ensure it’s soft enough to smash between two of your fingers. Then you can cut it in half or into large spears. Try rolling it in infant rice cereal or ground oats to help your baby grip the fruit.
Bananas are an excellent source of potassium. They are also high in healthy carbohydrates providing a great source of energy for your baby. They are also high in folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin C.
You can serve a banana to your baby in a number of ways:
- Peel the banana and cut it in half lengthwise
- Split into three spears lengthwise – watch this easy hack here!
- Mash and serve it on a loaded spoon
- Mash and mix into other foods – like oatmeal or pancakes
Be careful with serving a lot of bananas to your baby daily because it can cause constipation. I’d stick to no more than 1 banana a day – maybe less if you notice your little one’s stool becoming harder!
Broccoli is a superfood for your baby. It is rich in vitamin A, vitamin B6, folate, fiber, and phytochemicals.
A whole, steamed broccoli floret is a GREAT first food for your baby-led weaning beginner. Serve upside down with the stem up for your baby to grab and munch on.
Cucumbers are a great option for a hydration food – they are 95% water!
Serve in long spears on long thin strips. Leaving the skin on usually prevents your baby from breaking off pieces.
#11: Green Bean
Green beans are packed with vitamins A, C, and K!
Cook and serve the whole bean pod to your baby.
Carrots are packed with fiber, vitamin B6, carotenoids, and vitamin A.
Peel and clean your whole carrots. Then steam until they are fork-tender. Cut in half lengthwise or mash before serving your baby. I’d avoid using baby carrots or matchstick carrots until your baby is a bit older – a choking hazard.
Never serve a whole pea to your baby – it’s a choking hazard! Instead, try one of the following – or both!
Blend and spread on a teething cracker or thin piece of toast.
Mash and serve on a loaded spoon.
#14: Sweet Potato
Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A, vitamin B6, and beta-carotene.
Cook the sweet potato until it is soft enough to smash between two of your fingers. Then cut into a large spear. You can also mash the sweet potato and let your baby scoop it with their hand from their tray or a suction bowl.
#15: Butternut Squash
Butternut squash is high in vitamins A, B, and C – plus fiber!
You can serve butternut squash the same way you prepare and serve sweet potato! One of my baby’s favorite meals is mashed butternut squash, chopped pasta (the size of rice kernels), and a dash of nutmeg!
#16: Yellow Squash
Yellow squash – also called summer squash – is high in vitamin C, beta-carotene, fiber, B vitamins, and choline.
Cook the yellow squash until it’s soft enough to mash between your fingers. Then cut into large spears. It’s okay to leave the seeds in – they’re not a choking hazard!
Zucchini is rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, folate, vitamin K, and copper – plus a ton of beta-carotene.
Zucchini can be served and offered the same way I have mentioned for yellow squash. I like to grate raw zucchini and serve it in cooked foods – like muffins, pancakes, or omelets.
Note About Food Allergies
None of the top 9 food allergens are included in my list of 17 best first foods for your baby. The top 9 allergenic foods should be introduced in a small amount starting at 6 months of age and continued exposure throughout the first few years (if no allergic reaction is noted).
The top 9 allergens include:
- peanuts (and peanut butter)
- tree nuts
If your baby is at high risk for a food allergy (eczema or immediate family history of a food allergy) then make sure to consult with their pediatrician before introducing any potential allergenic foods.
You can learn more about how to introduce common allergens to your baby in my Navigating Solid Foods Guide.
3 Tips To Get Started With Baby-Led Feeding
Getting started with baby-led weaning (or self-feeding) can be overwhelming, especially for first-time moms. The BLW approach is much different than the more traditional spoon-fed (or pureed foods) method of introducing complementary foods. So here are some tips that should help you get started:
#1: Keep your baby’s milk feeds the SAME!
You will notice with BLW your baby isn’t likely going to be ingesting much food at the beginning. This is okay because the majority of your baby’s nutrition is still going to come from breast milk and/or formula.
The main focus when starting solid foods using the self-feeding method is to allow your baby to explore and experiment with their food. We aren’t super focused on getting them to actually eat a certain amount.
So ensure to keep their normal feeding schedule.
#2: Chose one meal a day to offer your baby food
When starting out with solid foods your baby only needs one solid food meal per day. Chose a mealtime that is easiest for you to prepare their food as well.
I really like dinner time because it’s often the only meal when we are all home and sit down to enjoy a meal together. Family mealtime is extremely important for your child’s growth and social development. It also helps to build a healthy relationship with food.
#3: Plan for your baby’s meal around the food you are already making
One of the great things about BLW is you can offer your baby the food you are already making. Of course, you may need to make some adjustments to seasons or the way you may cut the food and serve it to your baby. But how easy is it to just offer what you’re already making?
For example, if you’re making chicken breast with mashed potatoes and carrots you could offer your baby any of the 3 choices:
- A thick slice of chicken breast
- Steamed carrot cut lengthwise
- Mashed potatoes
You don’t have to make a separate meal for your baby nor do you have to spend extra money at the grocery store on store-bought baby food.
Still unsure or nervous about starting your baby on solid foods? Check out my Navigating Solid Food Guide to help you gain the confidence you need to help your baby tackle solid foods like a pro!
In A Nutshell
I hope this article has given you a clearer picture of what BLW is, and how you can use it to introduce your baby to solid food in a natural way that’s best for them.
Remember the 3 ways you can offer your baby food using BLW:
- loaded spoons
- scoop with their hands
- finger foods for baby
Need more help with solid food introduction? Check out my Navigating Solid Foods guide!
But what do you think of baby-led weaning? What questions do you still have? What tips would you add? Leave me a comment below and let me know. I look forward to hearing from you!
Here’s to raising tiny foodies!
Disclaimer: This blog post is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not medical or healthcare advice. The information presented here is not intended to diagnose, treat, heal, cure or prevent any illness or medical condition. Kayece Flood is providing services only in the capacity as a nutritionist, not as a licensed medical or healthcare professional. Working with Raising Tiny Foodies is not a guarantee of any results. Raising Tiny Foodies owns all copyrights to the materials presented here unless otherwise noted.