What You Need to Know About Baby-Led Weaning

Chances are, you’ve read somewhere about how great baby-led weaning is when starting solids and how well it’s working for other families. Is baby-led weaning right for you and your family?

5 month old reaching for avocado

Baby-led weaning is when you introduce solid foods to your baby, skipping any purees or mashes and going straight for finger foods (typically around 6 months of age). While many people think this makes starting solids a lot easier on Mom and Dad—because you’re not having to puree or mash foods and you can give your baby the same foods you’re eating right away—that’s not always the case. Even if you’re skipping purees, it is still important to introduce soft, age-appropriate finger foods.

9 month old eating spaghetti
  • Give your baby a seat at the table. Whether your child is being spoon-fed or taking the traditional baby-led weaning route, they need to sit in a highchair at the table or counter (without distractions, such as the TV, a phone or tablet, or toys) when it’s mealtime.
  • Feed your baby what you’re eating. Although they may not be able to eat everything just as it is on your plate, you should try to offer them the same foods. If carrots are on the menu, yours may be raw but theirs will need to be cooked until soft.
  • Offer nutrient-dense foods. Offer foods packed with nutrition, such as soft-cooked veggies, ripe and soft fruits, easy-to-chew proteins and whole grains. As the parent, your job is to offer and provide the healthy foods, and it’s your baby’s job to decide what and how much to eat.
  • Offer a variety of foods. Exposing your baby to a variety of healthy foods with new textures is important to help build up their tiny taste buds and help them make nutritious choices. Think about introducing new foods every 2 to 3 days in a rainbow of colors.

7 month old coughing
  • Baby readiness. If your baby is developmentally ready for solids at 6 months but still can’t get the hang of picking up food and feeding themself, it’s perfectly all right to start with a spoon and some purees. As they learn the ropes and can pick up food and feed themself you can make the jump to true baby-led weaning.
  • Gagging. When your baby makes gagging sounds, it can be scary, but it’s a completely normal part of your baby’s reflexes when they're trying new foods. Gagging involves things like spitting, sputtering or coughing up food. It’s OK to comfort baby, but don’t put your fingers in their mouth because you could actually push the food back down and cause them to choke.
  • Choking. Choking is different than gagging. If a baby is choking they will be unable to cry, cough, make any other noise or breathe. This requires immediate attention. To learn how to properly react if your child is choking, we recommend taking an infant first aid and CPR class. To find a class in your area, check with your birthing hospital, visit the Red Cross website or call 800-RED-CROSS (800-733-2767).

Even though baby-led weaning is more of a hands-off approach, it’s still important to keep a close eye on your little one whenever they are eating.

At around 6 months of age, babies start to lose some of the iron they’ve stored since birth. Offering easy-to-chew proteins can help them get the iron they need. Here are some foods to consider:

  • Cooked dark meat skinless chicken
  • Ground beef or turkey meatloaf, small meatballs
  • Ground meats
  • Beans
  • Tofu
  • Hard-boiled egg (yolk only)
  • Fully cooked baked fish (such as salmon or canned chunk light tuna packed in water)

If you need some help with offering a variety of healthy foods, here are some great options:

  • Soft-cooked and peeled sweet potato wedges
  • Soft-cooked and peeled acorn or butternut squash
  • Soft-cooked peas
  • Soft, ripe fruit (bananas, peaches, pears, avocados)
  • Cooked brown rice or quinoa
  • Easy-to-chew proteins
  • Thinly sliced vertical strips of cucumber (also great for teething babies!)