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Baby-Led Weaning

Traditionally, babies have been introduced to solid foods in a puréed or mashed form. Baby-led weaning is a different approach where a baby is offered finger foods and allowed to self-feed from the very beginning. The definition of baby-led weaning varies, but, generally, parents/caregivers do very little or no spoon feeding.

Despite its name, breastfeeding or fomula feeding continues when introducing solid foods by baby-led weaning. They will still get most of their nutrition from breastfeeding until feeding with solid foods is well established and baby is eating 3 meals per day and 2-3 snacks per day.

Exclusive breastfeeding* is recommended for the first six months.1 Baby-led weaning is not recommended until a baby is about six months old and showing signs of readiness.2 There is not enough evidence to recommend one approach to starting solid foods and many parents/caregivers do a combination of traditional spoon feeding and baby-led weaning to make sure their baby gets all the nutrition they need in a safe manner.

 

Advantages of Baby-Led Weaning

Many parents/caregivers feel that baby-led weaning is a more convenient, less stressful and healthier approach to introducing solid foods as they can feed the baby foods from the family meal.2 Baby-led weaning may also help babies learn to listen to their hunger and fullness cues. Family meals are an important part of baby-led weaning and may help your baby accept a greater variety of foods and be a less picky eater.2

Disadvantages of Baby-Led Weaning

There may be an increased risk of choking with baby-led weaning due to the different shape and textures of foods offered.2 Babies may also not get all the nutrition they need, especially iron and energy, for healthy growth and development.2 The amounts and types of food a baby is able to feed themselves is limited. Like any approach to introduce solid foods, baby-led weaning requires parents/caregivers to plan healthy meals and snacks for their babies.

 

How do I know if my baby is ready for baby-led weaning?

Exclusive breastfeeding* is recommended for the first six months. Breastfeeding should continue until 2 years or as long as mom and baby desire, along with solid foods.1 Babies are usually ready to start solid foods at about six months when they are showing the following signs of readiness:2

  • Able to hold their head up
  • Able to sit up in a high chair
  • Able to open their mouth to accept food, close their mouth around a spoon and refuse food by turning their head away
  • Able to pick up food and put it in their mouth

Being able to sit upright independently in a high chair is especially important with baby-led weaning to ensure the baby’s safety.

How do I safely and nutritiously start baby-led weaning?

  • Continue to breastfeed regularly on demand. Baby requires a vitamin D supplement of 400 international units (IU) until they are two years of age and getting vitamin D in their diet.1
  • A parent/caregiver should always supervise all of baby’s meals and snacks.
  • Offer baby soft-cooked, cut up finger foods that can be easly grasped in their fist.2
  • Baby’s first foods should be iron-rich, such as poultry, meat, fish, tofu and beans.1
  • The parent/caregiver decides which foods to offer and when and where meals/snacks are served. The baby decides which foods to eat and how much to eat. At first, baby may just play with foods or eat very little.2
  • Offer nutrient dense foods, like fish, eggs, beans, cheese, avocado, sweet potatoes, and bananas. Include a variety of foods, including meat and alternatives, milk products, whole grain products, and vegetables and fruits.
  • Wait until 9-12 months to introduce cow’s milk. Milk products, like cheese and yogurt can be introduced after six months. Avoid honey until after 1 year of age.1
  • Avoid high-choking risk foods, like whole nuts, whole grapes, whole hot dogs, popcorn, hard candies, whole cherry/grape tomatoes and sticky foods. Foods, like grapes and cherry/grape tomatoes, can be cut into quarters and served safely.1
  • Baby can also be offered some traditional puréed foods. One feeding approach does not have to be chosen over the other. In fact, Health Canada recommends introducing a variety of textures after six months, including pureed, minced, mashed, lumpy and finger foods.1
  • Some sample food ideas:2
    • Wedges of hard boiled eggs
    • Strips of chicken or tofu
    • Pieces of cooked fish
    • Pieces of soft fruit, like banana, canned pear packed in juice, and avocado
    • Whole grain toast with thinly spread peanut butter
    • Strips or spears of soft-cooked vegetables, like broccoli, sweet potato, carrots and green beans
    • Shredded cheese

Regardless of feeding approach, baby should be about six months of age and showing signs of readiness to begin solid foods.1 More research is needed to determine the safety of baby-led weaning and any effects on long-term growth and development. Talk to your healthcare provider or a Registered Dietitian about introducing solid foods and whether baby-led weaning is right for your baby.

*If you have made an informed decision to offer infant formula to your baby, the recommendations for offering complementary (or solid) foods are the same as for babies who are breastfed.

 
Date of creation: December 23, 2017
Last modified on: February 7, 2020
 

References

1Health Canada. (2015, January 19). Nutrition for healthy term infants. Recommendations from six to 24 months. Retrieved from
https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/food-nutrition/healthy-eating/infant-feeding/nutrition-healthy-term-infants-recommendations-birth-six-months/6-24-months.html
2Dietitians of Canada - UnlockFood. (2018, July 25). Should I use baby-led weaning to start my baby on solids? Retrieved from
http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Infant-feeding/Should-I-use-baby-led-weaning-to-start-my-baby-on.aspx