Infant cereals and pureed fruits or vegetables have been a baby’s typical first foods since the introduction of commercial baby food in the 1920s. In contrast, the baby-led weaning method encourages parents to give their child larger pieces of soft table foods as their first exposure to solids.

The idea of serving “grown-up” foods from the start can seem a little frightening or strange, but allowing your child to feed themselves at an early age can bring many benefits.

Here is some basic information about baby-led weaning that can help you decide if it might be a good fit for your family. For more details and some ideas on how to get started, don’t miss my beginners guide to baby led weaning.

How is Baby-Led Weaning Different Than a Traditional Approach to Solids?

Self-feeding gives your child the chance to learn how to chew and move food around in their mouth before they swallow. Since cereals and purees don’t require any chewing, the traditional method teaches your baby to swallow first. Chewing and manipulating food comes later with the introduction of chunky purees or finger foods.

As opposed to being passively fed, baby-led weaning gives your child the chance to enjoy some independence as they learn how to feed themselves and decide how much of each food they want to eat. Self-feeding also allows your child to set the pace and follow their body’s natural fullness cues.

Who May Want to Try Baby-Led Weaning

Always consult your baby’s healthcare provider before introducing solid foods. If your child has any developmental delays or neurological challenges, your provider may feel that traditional purees are a safer choice.

Be alert for these signs that your child might be ready to try baby-led weaning:

  • Sits in a high chair independently.
  • Shows interest in solid foods.
  • The protective tongue-thrust reflex of early infancy has significantly diminished or disappeared.
  • Moves jaw in imitation of chewing.

What You Might be Able to Expect

A mess! Especially at first, your baby will likely be more interested in exploring their food with their hands than their mouth. Expect to spend some time after each meal wiping down your baby’s eating area as well as their ears, hair and between their fingers.

Your baby will learn from your example. After watching you eat a piece of steamed broccoli, your baby has the chance to imitate your actions. Your child may also be more likely to enjoy a wider variety of foods if they get to see you enjoying them first.

Small meals at first. It may seem as though your baby is eating very little or no food at all during those early meals. While this can be a little concerning for a parent to watch, remember that breastmilk or formula should make up the bulk of your baby’s calories for their entire first year.

Your baby may also be ingesting solids more than you think. If food is smeared on their face, there’s a good chance some also made it into their mouth.

As long as your baby is meeting their growth targets and producing adequate wet and dirty diapers daily, continue offering a variety of foods at each meal and try to keep eating fun.

More prep work in the beginning. Even though letting your baby self-feed will eventually mean less work for you, be prepared to make a significant investment of time and energy in the early days. Washing, cutting and cooking fresh food takes effort, and cleaning up after your baby’s meal requires additional time. However, baby-led weaning pays off when you don’t have to shop for or prepare separate food for your baby and your entire family can enjoy a meal together.


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Ideal First Foods

Fruits and vegetables are great choices for baby-led weaning. These foods are high in nutrients, give your baby the opportunity to experience a variety of textures and can help your child develop a taste for natural, healthy food from the start.

Cook vegetables until they are soft enough to easily smash but are still firm enough for your baby to hold. Long stick shapes and coins are usually easier for your baby to grip.

Try introducing some of these vegetables:

  • Sweet potato
  • Zucchini
  • Carrots
  • Green beans
  • Broccoli

As long as they are very ripe, soft and peeled, you can serve many fruits raw. Try slicing these fruits into wedges:

  • Avocado
  • Peaches
  • Pears
  • Melon
  • Mango
  • Bananas

What to Watch For

As your baby learns to eat, it’s likely that they will gag on their food at least a few times. Gagging is a protective mechanism that allows your baby to move food forward in their mouth and can help prevent choking. While this may look terrifying, do your best to remain calm. Your baby will follow your cues and they could get scared if you panic.

Giving your child larger pieces of food as opposed to purees does carry a higher risk of actual choking. However, keep in mind that you would still face the same danger with a traditional approach when you introduce finger foods. You can help reduce the risk of choking by preparing your baby’s food properly, giving your baby your full attention at mealtime and knowing basic first aid.

Each family has a unique blend of circumstances, needs and preferences. While baby-led weaning may be a perfect choice for some, it may not work well for others. By learning some basic information about self-feeding and considering your individual situation, you can make the decision that works best for your family.            

About the author

Mel is a former health care professional who is now a mom of two. They keep her busy but she wouldn’t swap this big adventure for the world. She loves the friends she’s made along the way enjoying nothing more than swapping tips with other moms as they share their parenting journey.

She’s had a passion for writing since she was in her teens and is also a self-confessed geek. She decided to combine all her loves and produce a blog where she shares her experiences and tips in the hope she can make life just that little bit easier for other moms.