Baby Led Weaning: How to Feed Your Baby Whole Food from the Start 9


If you’re a mom, you might have heard of a style of infant feeding called Baby Led Weaning. I first learned of this approach in my Pediatric Nutrition course while working on my Master’s and it seemed like something I wanted to try with my first born. The idea is that instead of feeding your baby pureed solids, you offer them whatever you’re eating.This allows your little one to experience a variety of textures as well as flavors of food, and rather than being spoon fed they can regulate their own intake. This may mean they are less prone to overeat later in childhood*. Babies have the ability to regulate their food intake based on physical hunger cues, something that becomes increasingly more difficult as we get older. Perhaps the longer we allow them to do that, and to experience food in that way, the better. 

You might be wondering…if she’s a proponent of Baby Led Weaning (BLW), then why are there recipes for pureed baby foods on this site? I’m a strong believer that you should do what works for you in parenting. If you feel that you might better nurture your child by offering pureed foods, or if the BLW approach makes you nervous, you should trust your instincts. Neither method is the “right” way, they are simply different and may benefit your baby in different ways. In fact, many moms (including me!) choose to do a bit of both with their children. There are some foods, like yogurt, that offer great nutritional value for your infant (protein, probiotics), but at 6-12 months of age, your baby likely can’t handle a spoon just yet, so spoon feeding them might be handy. Or you might believe, as so many moms do, that your baby sleeps better with a full tummy. While there is no research to support this, I say do whatever works for you! 

If you think BLW is right for you, here are some FAQ’s answered so you can get started today!

When can I start BLW with my child?
What sort of foods should I be offering?
When should I be feeding my baby solids? Do I still offer breast milk/formula?
But, my baby has no teeth…how can she chew?
What about choking?

When can I start BLW with my child?

I (and the American Academy of Pediatrics) don’t recommend offering your baby any solids (pureed or not) before 6 months of age. The majority of infants are not ready to eat solids before then, and there is evidence that it could result in the development of allergies since their digestive systems are not fully developed yet. 6 months is a general recommendation, and of course there are some babies who are ready earlier, and some who might even take a bit longer. All of this should be determined by you and your pediatrician, but generally a baby is ready to go if he/she:

  •  Shows interest in your food at meal times by leaning or reaching for it
  • Can sit up unaided
  • Has head and neck control
  • Has lost the tongue-thrust reflex, and does not push food out of his/her mouth but is willing & able to swallow

What sort of foods should I be offering?

You can offer your baby almost anything you’re eating with a few exceptions.

For a list of starter foods and how to prepare them, click here.

Be sure any food offered does not have too much salt or added sugar. Too much salt can overwhelm their tiny kidneys and added sugar offers no nutritional value, it just adds empty calories.

Do not offer:

  • Honey to children under 1 year of age. Honey can contain botulinum toxin which can cause botulism in infants.
  • Cow’s milk to children under 1 year of age. Babies can’t handle the proteins in cow’s milk before 1 year of age, however yogurt and cheese made from cow’s milk are acceptable since the proteins in these food have been partially broken down.
  • Small, hard foods like whole nuts, popcorn and peanut butter (on its own) can all be serious choking hazards and should not be offered to infants.

Limit the following:

  • Bread (limit to one slice a day since it tends to be high in salt/sugar and may cause constipation)
  • Fish high in mercury content such as tuna, mackerel, or swordfish (limit to two servings per week to be safe)
  • Processed foods like potato chips, canned soups/sauces, condiments and fried foods tend to be loaded with salt & sugar and offer little to no nutritional value.

Proceed with caution:

  • If there is history of food allergy in your family, or you have reason to believe your infant might be prone to food allergies, you may want to introduce foods one at a time to be sure there is no adverse reaction. This is not necessary for everyone, but you may want to be cautious with the following foods that cause the most common allergies: Eggs, Peanuts/Tree Nuts, Milk, Fish/Shellfish, and Soy.
  • The following foods can be a choking hazard and should be sliced up before offering to baby: whole grapes, bony fish, fruits with pits (cherries, olives, etc.)

Baby Eating Pasta

Ideas for First Foods:

  • Steamed Broccoli Florets
  • Steamed Carrots (larger pieces not baby carrots because they can choke on those)
  • Cavatappi (or other “curly” pasta, like fusilli)
  • Sweet Potato “Fries” (just cut sweet potatoes into long sticks and bake until cooked but not too soft or they’ll crumble in baby’s hand)
  • Avocado cut into long pieces
  • Pears, apples, cucumber, peeled & cut into long pieces 
  • Canned/jarred mandarin wedges in water (I recommend these over fresh because there are no seeds)
  • Toast strips with hummus spread
  • Cheese sticks
  • Banana with peel as a handle (see picture below)
  • Fish fingers (tilapia works really well simply breaded)
  • Chicken (cut into strips)



When should I be feeding my baby solids? Do I still offer breast milk/formula?

Breast milk/formula should still make up the majority of baby’s diet until 1 year of age. Babies’ tummies are very small, and breast milk/formula is much more nutrient rich than any food. It provides them with everything they need for the first year. You may have heard this saying before, “Food before one is just for fun!” It’s true, breast milk/formula offers all the nutrition your baby needs until 1 year of age. The introduction of solid foods before 1 year is a “bonus”, may help avoid the development of allergies and allows them exposure to various flavors and textures. 

To be sure your baby is getting enough nutrition from milk, I recommend nursing/offering a bottle before each “meal” of solid foods. This will also assure that your baby is in a good mood and doesn’t get frustrated while trying to eat.

Baby Led Weaning

But, my baby has no teeth…how can she chew?

It’s true, many babies have no teeth at 6 months (my little girl still doesn’t have any and she’s 8 months!) but babies’ gums are incredibly hard and actually allow them to chew pretty well.  Babies (breastfed babies especially) develop the muscles in their mouth necessary for the chewing motion very early in infancy and the more they practice the better they get. Take a look at my daughter Monica munching on some breaded tilapia at just 7 months old…

What about choking?

First of all, it is very important that you know the difference between gagging and choking (but also know infant CPR). It is totally normal for your little one to gag a bit as they are learning to eat. It takes a while for them to learn the proper way to move food around their mouth. Here is an example of a baby gagging, the best I could find via youtube. I have a video of my daughter doing it somewhere, but it has gotten lost in the epic photo/video archive of her life so this will have to do! 

Basically, if baby gags but keeps on happily eating and shows no signs of distress, everything is fine. You will know if she’s choking because her eyes will get wide, she won’t be getting any air and she will stop eating. This NEVER happened with with my daughter, and is highly unlikely with Baby Led Weaning. Because baby is deciding how much food to take in rather than being fed off a spoon, and because BLW encourages chewing rather than sucking in food, you’ll find babies eat more slowly and very small bits at a time. Offering bigger pieces can help avoid choking, too. In the unlikely event your baby is actually choking, call 911 immediately and be prepared with infant CPR techniques.

For everything you need to know about Baby Led Weaning, check out Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods-and Helping Your Baby to Grow Up a Happy and Confident Eater by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, the “creators” of Baby Led Weaning. I write that in quotations because they write in their book that parents have been doing this for a very long time, they just gave it a name and came up with tips, tricks and guidelines.

BabyLedWeaning_Book

Do you think this is something you might try? Have you already done it with your child? Post about your experience/opinion in the comments!


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9 thoughts on “Baby Led Weaning: How to Feed Your Baby Whole Food from the Start

  • Toni Ann

    Love this post!! We’ve been doing a bunch of BLW, too. Recently found a great all natural teether option. We got some of those dried sliced peaches from Trader Joe’s and put them in the fridge. Our little one just loves chomping on them and they last a while!!!

  • Tiffany

    I want to try this with my 6.5 month old but I’m so nervous. So the apples you feed them are not boiled? And I don’t understand how they chew cchicken.

    • Dana Simkins Post author

      Hi Tiffany- Thank you so much for your questions. You can offer your baby raw apples, but I would suggest peeling them. You can slice them too if you wish, or just offer the whole apple. The peel can get stuck to the roof of their mouth causing them to gag. If you’re more comfortable baking or steaming the apples that’s also an option. In response to your concern about how they can “chew” chicken…baby led weaning isn’t necessarily about the baby consuming large amounts of food. In the beginning, it is more about allowing your child to discover new flavors and textures and while they may consume a bit of the food, it’s likely a lot of it will wind up on the floor. Your baby will likely “gnaw” more than “chew” the chicken, and may manage to break off tiny pieces or just suck on it for a while and that’s okay. From 6-12 months the primary source of nutrition for your baby is formula/breast milk, food is mostly for fun and exploration! Hope that helps and best of luck on your BLW journey!

  • shawna

    I tried baby led weaning with my third and loved it, though we didn’t really start her until about seven months. My fourth just hit the six month mark and seems to be extremely interested (obsessed!) with food so I think we’ll be starting him soon. I love how non – stressful this technique is.

  • Brittany

    Hi. You mentioned you can do a little of both puréed and BLW. I’m confused since I heard elsewhere that you cannot do both or transition from purée to BLE bc it’s dangerous. Not sure if you can speak to that? I’m looking into BLW and just confused by the amount of information I’m reading! Thanks

    • Dana Simkins Post author

      Hi Brittany- Sorry for the delayed response. I’ve been busy with a newborn lately! Thanks so much for reading. There are conflicting opinions on purees and BLW, it’s true. Some people are “purists” about BLW and say that any purees are off limits. Others (like me) see a place for both in the diet. In my opinion, BLW is all about exposing your child to a wide variety of tastes and textures and pureed foods are one more texture! I mean, we eat mashed potatoes as adults right? There will likely be some pureed foods in his adult diet, so why eliminate them from his diet in infancy? There is no evidence to support the idea that offering purees and true solid foods together promotes any more instances of choking. There is a place for both. Hope this helps! Feel free to reach out with more questions via my contact page here: http://www.familystylenutrition.com/contact/. Good luck and have fun!

  • Becky

    I would really like to try this with my son who is 6.5 months. He has very little interest in puréed food or being spoon feed, but constantly tries to grab at anything I am eating. I am absolutely terrified of the idea though. My first son had oral development delays. He could eat nothing but purées and very soft steamed food until he had months of “oral therapy” right after his first birthday. Is there a limit to gagging? Like maybe it’s not for him if he’s constantly gagging? What is a good food to “test” the process with?

    • Dana Simkins Post author

      Hi Becky- Sorry for the delayed response, I’ve been busy with a newborn of my own! Thanks so much for reading and congratulations on your second child! In answer to your question, I would first make sure you chat with your pediatrician about starting solids with your son. You want to be sure there are no developmental issues or dietary restrictions that would mean BLW is not for him. If the doc gives you the okay, it’s time to have some fun! Check out my post on starter foods here: http://www.familystylenutrition.com/baby-led-weaning-starter-foods/ for some great ideas on first foods and how to prep them. From what you are saying about his reaching for your food, it sounds like he’s more than ready to begin! Totally understandable that you are nervous about gagging, but I think you will find it happens much less often than you might expect. If it is a constant issue, you might want to consider softer foods (banana, avocado..) for a little while until he gets used to it. Also make sure you are offering larger pieces of food rather than tiny cut up pieces, then your child can regulate his intake by gnawing at it rather than sucking it back into his throat. Hope this helps and feel free to reach out with more questions via my Contact page here: http://www.familystylenutrition.com/contact/. Good luck and have fun!