Starting Solid Foods With Baby-Led Weaning

A way to move from the bottle or breast to solid foods

Hungry baby sitting on high chair reaching for slice of fruit from mother's hand
d3sign/Moment

For the first six months of your child’s life, you’ll breastfeed, or give your baby breast milk or infant formula in a bottle. After the first six months, experts recommend the continuation of breastfeeding, breast milk, or infant formula for a year or longer, but with the addition of solid food. Traditionally, when babies were ready to start solids, parents would begin with purees and a spoon. But, now, more and more families are taking a different approach called baby-led weaning.

What Is Baby-Led Weaning?

When a baby is ready to wean from breastfeeding or infant formula to solid foods, it doesn't mean the baby is ready to stop taking the bottle or the breast.

Weaning is moving or progressing from one type of feeding to another, and it's a gradual process. The change from breast milk or formula to full-solids can take months or even years. 

Baby-led weaning is one way to add solid foods to your child's diet. Instead of the starting rice cereal and purees between four and six months of age, with baby-led weaning, you start when your child is six months old and skip right to foods your baby can feed herself. 

Benefits

Baby-led weaning is becoming popular for many reasons. Here are some benefits to skipping purees and going straight to letting your baby feed himself finger foods. 

It Helps Your Child's Development

Self-feeding helps to develop the child's motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and agility.

It Teaches Self-regulation

Parents sometimes force a child to eat more than they need. Self-feeding lets the baby eat as much or as little as he wants and learn when he's hungry and full. It may also help to prevent overeating and obesity later on in life. 

It's Easier for Parents

Since you can give your child baby friendly varieties of the food that your family eats, there is no need to make your own baby food by mashing up foods or using the food processor. You also don't have to deal with jars of store-bought purees in interesting flavor combinations that do not look or smell appetizing.

It's Good for Your Baby

Baby-led weaning can decrease the chance your child will be a picky eater and encourage healthy eating habits in the future. 

It Lets the Child Participate in Family Meals

The baby can sit at the table and eat with the other children and adults. He can eat the same meal as the rest of the family as long as the food is baby friendly and not too hot, too spicy or a choking hazard. 

It Saves Money

Baby food is expensive. So, when your baby can eat many of the foods that you and family eat, it can save you a bundle on all those little jars of baby food. 

It Saves Time

If you were planning on making your own purees, this saves time in the kitchen preparing and freezing batches of food for your child. Plus, even though you still have to be there to watch, letting your child feed himself frees you up to eat your meal, help another child, start cleaning up, or just sit down and take a quick break. 

It Encourages Better Family Eating Habits

When you're stocking up on healthy finger foods for your baby, the rest of the family will have those healthy finger foods to grab as snacks instead of reaching for junk food, chips, or other alternatives. 

Getting Started

Baby-led weaning can begin when your child is about six months old. You'll want to wait until your child is ready to start self-feeding. By six months, most babies can sit up on their own, pick up pieces of foods, and try to eat. However, some babies need a little more time and aren’t quite ready to feed themselves until seven or eight months. Your child may also need more time if he was born prematurely.

In the beginning, the baby may not eat very much. It’s OK. Remember, breast milk or formula is still your child’s main source of nutrition through the first year. It won’t take long before your baby gets the hang of it and is eating more and more. 

You can start with finger foods such as: 

  • Cheerios
  • Baby snack puffs
  • Small pieces of bread
  • Cut-up chicken, meat, and fish
  • Pieces of cooked eggs
  • Diced cooked vegetables
  • Small pieces of soft fruits
  • Diced up soft cheese
  • Cut-up cooked pasta
  • Teething biscuits
  • Infant cookies and crackers

Gagging and Choking 

New parents are often nervous about starting finger foods because they worry that it will cause their child to gag and choke. Gagging is a natural reflex, and your baby will gag. Baby’s gag when they take a bottle, when they suck their fingers, and when they start solid foods.

When an infant begins to take solids, he has to get used to chewing and eating. Gagging helps prevent food from getting stuck in the back of his throat. The baby will gag if he starts finger foods at six months or if he starts them later. It’s a little scary for parents, but it’s a normal part of learning how to manage the food in the mouth. So, you will notice gagging at first, but you'll see it less often as your child gets the hang of eating. However, if the baby is gagging excessively and not getting the hang of eating, you should discuss it with the doctor.

Choking is different from gagging. A baby chokes when something gets stuck in the back of the throat and blocks the baby’s breathing. You can tell your baby is choking if he cannot breathe, cough, or cry.

Choking is different from gagging. A baby chokes when something gets stuck in the back of the throat and blocks the baby’s breathing. You can tell your baby is choking if he cannot breathe, cough, or cry.

To prevent choking, stay with your child while she eats, and let her feed herself at her own pace. It’s also a good idea for all parents to learn infant CPR, whether they choose baby-led weaning or not. 

Dangerous Foods for Infants and Toddlers

Some snacks and foods that adults have no problem chewing and eating can be dangerous for babies and young children. When foods are hard or big and chunky, they can get stuck in a baby's throat, cut off the air supply, and make it difficult to breathe. Here's are some of the choking hazards for little ones. 

  • Raw vegetables
  • Whole grapes
  • Popcorn
  • Nuts 
  • Raisins
  • Dried Fruit
  • Hot dogs
  • Lollipops
  • Hard candy
  • Gum

Tips for Success

Your baby may try to grab food off your plate before you’re ready to start her on solids. Or, she may have no interest in picking up anything you put on the tray of her high-chair even after she turns six months old. Every child is different. With baby-led weaning, you let your child take the lead. Here are some tips to help you and child get off to a good start with baby-led weaning. 

Don’t Start Too Early

Wait until your child is ready to feed himself. He should be able to sit up on his own in the high chair and bring the food to his mouth. 

Start With Something Easy

Soft, shredded, and easy to eat foods that are just right for beginners include puffed cereal, soft shredded meat, ripe fruit, cooked pasta, and cooked veggies in bite-size pieces. 

Cut Everything Up

Make sure everything is small enough to pick up with tiny fingers and not too big to chew. Just makes sure the pieces aren’t too small since her dexterity isn't well developed.

Choose Nutritious Foods

Choose whole foods over processed foods and healthier foods over snacks. Cheerios are fine, but if you start only with cookies and crackers your child may not accept healthier foods when you offer them

Add New Foods Slowly

This should be done every few days, just like with purees. If an allergy develops, it’s easier to tell which food caused it if you add them one at a time. If there is a food allergy that runs in your family, be cautious with that specific food. You may also want to watch your child carefully after introducing peanut butter, shellfish, and other foods that commonly cause allergies.

Always Supervise Your Child

In the beginning, your child may need a little help with getting the food into his mouth. He may even gag or choke a little. Even as your child gets more and more comfortable, she still needs supervision and your company. Stay with your child to help if needed. 

Don’t rush meals

Let your child take his time eating. Especially in the beginning, when he’s learning how to do it. It can take a while to get through the meal. 

Let Your Child Get Messy

Your child may miss his mouth or play with the food. It may end up all over the chair, in his hair, and on the floor. But, he’s learning, and learning is not always neat. 

Continue With Breastmilk or Formula Until at Least 12 Months

After a year, your child can continue with breast milk, infant formula, or cow’s milk. Talk to your baby’s doctor for a recommendation.

A Word From Verywell

Baby-led weaning doesn’t have to be an all or nothing method of weaning. It’s OK to spoon feed your child purees for some feedings and let her feed herself finger foods for others. Since every child is different, what works for one child doesn’t always work for another. Some babies want to be spoon fed. Others are more independent and prefer to eat themselves. As long as your baby is getting the nutrition that she needs and growing in a healthy way, you can choose the method or combination of methods that works best for you and child.

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