What is Baby Led Weaning and how does it compare to traditional weaning?

babyled weaning

Last Updated December 20th, 2021

What is baby led weaning?

Baby led weaning is a method that allows babies to feed by themselves without any assistance from adults. Health visitor Gill Rapley was the first person to use the term in 2003 and subsequent research has shown that this method is an effective way to allow babies to control their own food intake.

The method is a part of the concept of ‘responsive feeding’ which allows the baby to respond to hunger and satiety in her own way. The method encourages parents to forget about purees, baby food and the use of spoon in feeding the baby. Just like traditional weaning, the method is suitable from the age of six months. This method is about giving your baby the total control of what to put as food inside the mouth. Presently, this method is quite popular in the US and the UK.

Baby led weaning is best practiced during family mealtimes when everyone is sitting together. Since babies like to copy others, they are more likely to put food in their mouths when everyone is doing the same. It is also more effective for the second or third children who can imitate their siblings at the dinner table.

In general small chunks of soft food that are usually consumed by the family are put in the baby’s plate. This gives the baby the freedom to explore new foods and tastes as per her own will, without being pressurised to consume a specific kind of food. While the process can help in the overall development of the baby and promote a healthier rate of weight gain, there have been some concerns about the nutritional aspects of this method. Some researchers have pointed out that this method can lead to the baby becoming underweight and further to an iron deficiency due to the lack of a balanced diet.

Traditional weaning versus baby led weaning

The traditional process of weaning generally follows a set of processes where the baby is introduced to solid food at around the age of four months. Different foods are introduced gradually and smooth purees are the first item that is offered. Gradually the sizes of the solid materials in the food are increased. While the method offers a safe and predictable approach, it takes more time and effort.

The range of food that can be offered to the baby is also limited. Baby led weaning bypasses this traditional approach and provides more freedom both to the parents and the baby. In this process, you offer the baby soft finger foods that are easy to hold and let her choose from what is offered. It is also suggested that the baby should be allowed to enjoy the real taste of food and the flavours, even the bitter ones and flavours should not be disguised.

There are concerns in some parents who think that baby led weaning can lead to less energy consumption for the baby, thereby affecting the growth patterns. But research has indicated that the total amount of fat and saturated fat consumed by a baby during this process is more than traditional methods of spoon feeding.

The total energy intake is also the same for both the processes and the baby led weaning method indicated no adverse effects on the overall growth rate of the baby. However, more effective research is necessary in this regard to obtain conclusive evidence.

When to start baby led weaning

As per experts in the American Academy of Pediatrics, the best time to start baby led weaning is from the age of six months. At this age, most babies have the necessary physical development that allows them to sit upright and grab hold of the food items by their fingers.

By this time, they can also use tongue-thrust to eliminate objects from their mouth and their digestive system is sufficiently developed to digest semi-solid food. At this period, the baby can also show interest in picking up the food items from other plates and put them in her mouth.

At first the baby might just grasp the food items by her fist and suck on them. With time the pincer grip will develop and will lead to better consumption of the food. To get the best judgement on the subject, you can also consult your paediatrician, who can provide the right set of guidelines to help you start the process.

How to start with baby led weaning

It is important to choose the food of the right size and texture that will help the baby to adopt more easily to the practice. It will also help in avoiding any problems and safety concerns that can come up while the bay is feeding own her own. Cutting the food into small-sized chunks that are easy for the bay to hold are good options.

It is also important to feed iron-rich food to the ay which include items like eggs, fish, beans, and leafy greens. Some other food items that are good choices are avocado, steamed broccoli, ground nuts and seeds, baked potatoes, skinless oranges and smashed berries.

Chopped and minced pieces of the food that the family is consuming can also be used for the process. You can place small amounts of a variety of food items in front of the baby during mealtime and allow her to bring it up to her mouth.

Three main benefits of baby led weaning

Various experts have pointed out multiple benefits of baby led weaning and some of them are discussed below.

Baby led weaning can promote better motor skill development in the baby. These include better hand-eye coordination, chewing skills and more dexterity. This may lead to faster development in writing and drawing skills at a later stage. The learning process of grasping semi-solid food and putting it in the mouth is quicker for the babies who learn through this process.

Baby led weaning can lead to good eating behaviours and habits. The process allows babies to play an active role in the process of eating rather than being a passive receiver of food items. Studies have indicated that the process allows babies to recognise the feeling of hunger and fullness more effectively at an early stage. This makes the baby eat food when they are actually hungry and not just because the food items are within reach.

With the ability to recognise fullness, there is a lesser chance of the baby to develop obesity- related problems. Independence in eating can lead to effective self-regulation, which can have a positive effect on the overall eating habits of the baby in the future. The process allows the baby to stop eating at their own will and prevents the chances of overfeeding which may happen when they are spoon-fed. Studies have shown that babies practising this method of feeding are more likely to have their weight within the normal range.

Some other benefits of baby led weaning

Apart from the main ones, here are some other advantages of bay led weaning.

  • While handling their own food, babies also gain more confidence in their own abilities. The act of putting her own food in the mouth allows her to enjoy the taste, which is a kind of instant reward. This also allows her to discover the various tastes and her own preferences. This can also help the parents in choosing the right range of food for the baby. The process is also helpful for the baby to recognise various types of food based on their looks and tastes. It is often claimed that exposure to a wide variety of food can led to less picky eating behaviours.
  • For many parents, spoon-feeding the baby is a tiring process that may not end successfully. The process of baby led weaning does not depend on persuasion and respects the baby’s decision to choose the type of food that she wants to eat. So it need not involve any games or tricks to make the baby eat the right kind of food and is an easier process for the parents.
  • The overall process of baby led weaning is more enjoyable than the traditional methods. It makes the best use of the baby’s natural tendency to explore and learn and lead to happy and stress-free mealtimes. The method also allows the baby to participate more effectively in the family meals. It also allows the babies to learn about food at their own pace and develop a positive outlook towards food. At the same time the method also generates lower level of anxiety among the mothers.
  • Feeding family food to the baby also exposes her to a number of allergens. This allows the identification of any food allergies at an early age.

The disadvantages of baby led weaning

teething

Since the baby has all the freedom to play with the food, the process can be messy. But most babies learn quickly and in general, the messy period does not last long. At the same time, the process of spoon-feeding can be messy too.

  • Babies can get iron-deficient at this point in time and that can be a downside of this process. In many cases, the paediatrician can add an iron supplement to the diet of the baby to reduce such risks.
  • Many parents can have doubts regarding the safety aspects of this method as it might lead to choking. But studies have shown that baby-led weaners do not have more choking rates than the babies who are being spoon-fed. It may be noted that there is a difference between choking and gagging and gagging is quite common when the baby is learning to eat solid food

The right steps for effective baby led weaning

This process is simple and there is not much that you need to do as a parent to get your baby started. The baby should be able to sit upright unassisted at this stage and you should settle her in a comfortable place. This is best done during dinner time when the entire family is sitting together. Now you need to offer a variety of finger foods that include fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates and fats to pick and choose from.

While the baby chooses naturally from this variety and you can observe her feeding patterns to plan the next range of foods to offer. The parents should also have some knowledge about the choice of healthy food and nutritional education to ensure that they choose a balanced dirt for the baby.

Tips for successful baby led weaning

The following tips will help in delivering the best results from the process.

– Wait for your baby to develop the necessary muscle skills before starting the process.

– Breastfeeding should be continued as it is the baby’s biggest source of protein.

– Choose the right shape of foods so that your baby can pick easily.

– Give the baby the same kind of food the family is having during dinner time.

– Introduce new foods at a minimum interval of four days to recognise allergic reactions if any.

– Stay with your baby during the process and avoid foods that can increase the risk of choking.


Each baby is different and there is no single formula that will be equally effective for everyone. Eating is a natural process and it should be enjoyed by the baby and hence it is best that you do not coax and force your baby to eat. Baby led weaning puts your baby in charge of the eating process while you can enjoy the show from the side lines.

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