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Baby-led weaning is a way of introducing solid foods by letting your baby choose what they eat and feed themselves when they are ready. Baby-led weaning (BLW) means forgetting purees and spoons, and simply letting your baby feed himself.This means it is more likely to tie in with their ability to take food into their mouth, move it around and swallow safely. Although it can be messier at first, parents often say that babies who can choose what to feed themselves have wider food tastes. If you would like to try BLW, offer your baby a selection of nutritious finger foods suitable for his age, speak to your health visitor for more information on suitable foods. The best time to do this is when you and your family are eating. It's a great way for them to join in at mealtimes.

The easiest finger foods for young babies are those that are chip-shaped, or have a natural handle, such as cooked broccoli florettes. This is because when your baby first tries solids, he won't yet have developed a pincer grip. The pincer grip enables him to pick up food between his thumb and forefinger, and he'll develop it in the next few months. But for now, he can only clasp foods in his fists.

At first, your baby may just play with the food. He may grab pieces of food with his fist and start to suck on them. Carry on giving your baby breastmilk or formula milk in between mealtimes. As your baby gradually eats more solids, the number of milk feeds will start to decrease.

The benefits of Baby Led Weaning

BLW gives babies the chance to explore foods for themselves. It means they can cope with different food textures from the beginning of weaning. Parents who have tried BLW are generally passionate about its benefits. They say their babies will eat anything and everything, which helps to take the worry out of starting solids. But although there's plenty of anecdotal evidence about BLW, not much formal research has been done.

However, one study did find that babies who are allowed to feed themselves from the beginning of weaning are more likely to join in with family mealtimes and eat a wide range of family foods early on. Another study found that BLW encourages babies to choose healthier foods, which could protect against obesity in childhood.

We do know that, as long as your baby is ready, it's important to give him foods with soft lumps for him to chew. Babies who are given lumpy food later on, after they're 10 months old, are more likely to reject the food. They may be less open to trying new textures and tastes as they grow.

BLW will save you preparation time too. You won't have to spend time making up purees.

Disadvantages of BLW

  • The process is messy (only at the beginning)
  • There can be a lot of waste. Just offer small amounts, you can always give more
  • There is a limit to the amount of nutrients a baby gets from BLW
  • Some babies can find it hard to chew on some finger foods such as well cooked meats which are a good source of iron. But they can suck it.
  • Puréed or well-mashed food is an obvious bridge between liquid and solid foods. It's easy for you to see how much your baby is eating if you spoon-feed him.

By six months, babies can take food off a spoon using their upper lip, rather than sucking the food off. By eight months, babies can chew and swallow foods with lumps. The official advice is to give your baby well-mashed or pureed foods at the beginning of weaning, as well as finger food. Then quickly move on to lightly mashed and finger foods. The Department of Health  and the World Health Organisation both recommend this. Dieticians also tend to think it's important to give your baby a variety of textures, which includes sloppy foods as well as finger foods.

Are there any reasons not to try Baby Led Weaning?

Talk to your Health Visitor or GP before trying BLW if any of the following apply to you:

  • you have a family history of allergies, digestive problems or food intolerances
  • your baby has special needs and can't chew very well or has difficulty picking up food and moving it to his mouth
  • your baby was born prematurely