Baby-Led Weaning: When to Start and Foods to Try
Introducing solid foods to your baby is an important milestone in their development. This is an exciting time for you and your baby, as they begin to explore new tastes and textures. But as a parent, it can also be intimidating. Our expert pediatrician, Amy L. Silverio, DO, answers all the questions you may have about baby-led weaning and how to do it safely.
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is a way of introducing whole mashed pieces of food to infants and allowing them to feed themselves, skipping spoon-feeding with purees/mashed foods. This approach has become very popular and has led to parents asking if this is the best way to introduce solids.
The theory behind this method is that babies will listen to their hunger cues, try new and diverse foods and develop a healthy relationship with food. Suggested benefits of baby-led weaning include:
- Optimal growth
- Reduced obesity
- Improved coordination/motor control
- Improved speech
- Less picky eating
However, there are also several concerns of baby-led weaning, including:
- Increased choking risk
- Increased risk of food aversion due to gagging on whole food pieces
- Insufficient food intake
- Low iron intake (limited meat and lack of iron-fortified cereals)
There is a lack of robust evidence and clinical guidelines to support baby-led weaning. There are not enough studies to prove that there are benefits of baby-led weaning over spoon-feeding purees/mashed foods. A study by the AAP determined babies are not at higher risk of choking from baby-led weaning when compared to traditional purees. The most important takeaway is that choking hazards need to be avoided and infants should only be offered food that is soft enough to mash on the roof of their mouths.
When should I start introducing my baby to solids?
The introduction of solids can start anytime between 4-6 months of age. Allergists and immunologists strongly recommend starting solids closer to 4 months old, especially if there is a strong family history of food allergies, eczema or asthma. There are several studies, including the LEAP (Learning About Peanut Allergy) Study which have shown that offering highly
allergenic foods early during infancy has significantly decreased the incidence of developing food allergies in the future. There are ongoing studies, including the iREACH study being conducted through the Center for Food Allergy & Asthma Research (CFAAR) at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, which is a study aimed at decreasing the incidence of peanut allergy by the time a child turns 2.5 year old.
Which solid foods should I introduce first?
There are currently no guidelines on which foods should be introduced first. Most parents like to start with oatmeal cereal, offering a consistency comparable to formula or breast milk and then increase the consistency, as tolerated. Purees of a single ingredient are usually offered, allowing at least 3 days of offering the same ingredient before going on to the next one, to make sure there is no allergic reaction.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the introduction of semisolid, pureed or mashed foods starting at 6 months with a gradual increase in food consistency and variety. The goal is that by 8 months of age, infants can eat finger foods and, by 12 months of age, they can eat the foods prepared for their family. This is the traditional approach to starting complementary foods.
What should parents keep in mind when introducing solids to babies?
- Always keep close supervision of baby when they are eating.
- Make sure baby is upright when eating.
- Make sure to provide foods that your baby can mash on the roof of their mouth with their tongue.
- Avoid high-choking risks (e.g. nuts, grapes, crackers, raw fruits or vegetables, sausages, hot dogs or other foods cut into rounds).
- Offer iron-rich foods at each meal (e.g. beans, lentils, eggs, fish – only offer red meats and poultry when babies can tolerate fibrous foods).
- Offer a wide variety of foods and at least one high-energy food at each meal (e.g. avocado, full-fat cheese, plain yogurt, nut butters).
- Avoid processed foods and food with added salt and/or sugar.
- Pay attention to hunger and satiety cues.
For more information from our pediatric experts, visit our Newborn Resources page.
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