What is baby led weaning?
- Baby led weaning is a way to introduce your baby to solids.
- Baby led weaning may help with developing hand-eye coordination and chewing skills.
- You could try introducing your baby to solids between four and six months.
- Every baby is different, so be sure to speak to your health professional if you have any questions or concerns.
Time flies during those first few months with a newborn. Life becomes a flurry of feeding, burping, changing nappies and washing spew-covered clothes (the baby’s and yours). And just as the newborn fog starts to lift, it’s time to introduce solids!
If you’re not keen on purees and spoon feeding, you may have heard of the alternative – baby led weaning. But what exactly is baby led weaning?
Baby led weaning is letting your baby feed themselves finger food from around six months of age.
Dr Jill Gamberg, GP offers some suggestions on baby led weaning to help you decide whether it may work for you and your baby.
Why choose baby led weaning?
“Baby led weaning supports the development of hand-eye coordination, chewing skills, dexterity and healthy eating habits,” explains Dr Jill, “It offers babies the opportunity to explore the taste, texture, smell and colour of a variety of foods. And it might help them learn to stop eating when they feel full.”
According to Australia’s Department of Health’s “Introducing solids” guidelines, “experiences with eating early in life can affect attitudes and habits later on, as well as influence health.”
When could you start baby led weaning?
You could try introducing your baby to solids between four and six months of age. “But it’s crucial that parents wait until their baby is ready,” says Dr Jill.
You can start your baby on purees anytime after 4 months, but before you start baby led weaning, your baby should:
- be able to sit in a highchair unassisted
- have good neck strength and head control
- be able to chew and move the food around in their mouth
“And remember, even though it's called baby-led weaning, or introduction of solids, breastmilk or formula should continue as one of the main sources of nutrition until 12 months of age,” says Dr Jill.
Remember, if you have any questions or concerns about introducing your baby to solids, be sure to contact your health professional for guidance.
How do you start baby led weaning?
First foods should be smooth, mashed or in soft pieces. You may then progress to minced foods and chopped foods. Many parents like to start with cooked vegetables and soft fruits.
Dr Jill’s top tips for starting baby led weaning include:
- always stay with your baby while they’re eating
- complete a baby first aid course so you know what to do if your baby chokes
- offer each food to your baby a few times and look out for allergic reactions
- start including iron-rich foods (meat, chicken, lentils) by six months as babies requirements for iron start to increase at that age
- give your baby many different foods to try
- ensure food is the right texture for your baby’s age and stage
- prepare yourself for a mess
How to prepare food for baby led weaning
As you know, every baby is different. So, the process of baby led weaning may vary between children. If in doubt about anything food related for your baby, be sure to discuss options with your medical practitioner.
Some first finger foods could include avocado, banana, steamed broccoli, baked sliced apple (peeled), poached salmon, pasta or soft chicken. Remember to cut food into appropriately sized pieces so they don’t present a choking hazard to your baby.
“All babies should try foods that are potentially allergenic foods like egg, nut (pastes), wheat, fish, soy, dairy (yogurt) from around six months of age,” says Dr Jill, “If you have a baby with high allergy risk or any concerns, speak to your GP before you start introducing these foods.”
Foods to avoid
Baby led weaning means your baby can eat a wide variety of foods, but the following aren’t recommended until they’re a little older:
- honey until 12 months old
- full fat cow’s milk as a main drink until 12 months old (breastmilk or formula are the recommended milk until 12 months old)
- runny or undercooked eggs until 12 months old
- whole nuts until at least 3 years old as they’re a choking hazard
And make sure to always cut spherical foods, like grapes in half.
You’ve got this!
Starting solids may be a stressful time for parents, but you don’t have to go all-in on baby led weaning if you don’t wish to.
“Do both,” advises Dr Jill, “Spoon feed purees initially, and from six months let them eat with their hands and explore utensils like plastic bowls and baby spoons.”
Your little baby is growing up, and baby led weaning is an amazing way to introduce your child to the wonderful world of food.
And of course, be sure to contact your health professional if you have any questions or concerns about introducing your baby to solids.
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Dr Jill Gamberg is a General Practitioner and one of the first Australian Lifestyle Medicine Physicians whose goal is to help prevent disease and maintain wellness with evidence-based practice, and to passionately improve health literacy.
Reviewed by the healthylife Advisory Board September 2021.