Learn the basics of how to do the feeding approach known as “baby led weaning” and the best first foods for baby to make starting solids easy and fun. Plus: Learn why it’s perfectly okay to use a combined approach of blw and purees.
Baby Led Weaning
The feeding approach known as “baby led weaning” or “BLW” for short, is a style of feeding infants that allows them to feed themselves right from the start. The food is offered in thick finger-size pieces and is soft and easily squishable between your fingers. This way, the food is both easy to hold but has a low risk of choking.
TIP: This method became popular about a decade ago after the publication of the Baby Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Food by UK author Gill Rapley.
One of the many reasons that people are starting to opt for this style of feeding more and more is simply that it’s easy. In many cases, you can modify foods you’re already making to share with your baby and there’s not always a lot of separate cooking involved. It also allows a baby to have control over what goes into their mouths, which sets a good precedent for letting them eat intuitively from the start.
What age should I start baby led weaning?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, a baby is ready to start solids with baby led weaning when:
- They’ve doubled their birth weight (at least).
- They can hold their head up well and are starting to sit up unsupported.
- They show signs of being interested in food (watching you eat, reaching for food when you’re eating, etc).
- When you feed them, they are able to move the food around in their mouths—rather than spit it right out.
TIP: Look for a highchair that allows a baby to sit up relatively straight so they can have good posture and better control over their arms and hands.
How to Start Baby Led Weaning
The first time you offer solids is such a fun milestone, so you’ll be ready once you follow these simple steps.
- Make sure baby has hit the milestones to let you know that he’s ready to start.
- Get the highchair ready and adjust the straps and foot rest as needed.
- Plan to introduce water when you start solids. I recommend a trainer cup.
- Choose one food to start with and plan to offer only one food at a time.
- Stop when baby starts to fuss, turns his head away, or shows any other signs of not wanting to continue. It’s usually fairly obvious!)
First Foods for Baby
All of that said, baby led weaning and purees are both perfectly acceptable ways to introduce a baby to solid foods, but the topic gets heated among moms—and many of us feel the need to insist that there’s just one right way to approach this milestone. I’m here to say that you can do one or the other, or combine the two to make it work for your family. It’s all good!
Remember, the goal with first foods for baby is that they’re introduced to flavors, nutrients, and foods they can easily eat or suck on. It should be an enjoyable milestone for all involved.
TIP: Listen to a recent podcast episode to hear about some of the basics of BLW with our guest Megan McNamee, MPH, RDN, CLT, and a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist specializing in pediatric nutrition who runs Feeding Littles.
Tips for Starting Baby Led Weaning
- Understand the gag reflex. Gagging is different than choking though and is most often a sign that baby is learning to move food around in their mouths—and to get it out of their mouths, which is a skill you want them to have!
- Brush up on the basics of how to know when baby is ready to start solids.
- Set them up for success with a highchair that allows them to sit up straight and has foot support.
- Sit with them as you offer food.
- Check your own expectations of what will happen and simply allow your baby to take the lead.
- Start with one new food a day or every few days.
- Vary the textures of foods you offer to start exposing baby to many right from the start.
- Remember that breastmilk or formula will continue to satisfy baby’s hunger for the first few months of eating solids. Do not expect solids to replace milk feedings at this age.
Best First Foods for Baby Led Weaning
Here are some of our favorite first foods to offer baby led weaning style. You want foods to be finger sized so they are large enough that baby can’t force the whole piece into their mouth, and a shape that’s easy for a 6 month old to hold with their chubby little hands. These are some of our favorites.
- Roasted sweet potato wedges
- Roasted apple wedges, skin on to help them hold together
- Roasted or steamed broccoli florets (big enough for baby to hold)
- Melon slices
- Banana with some of the peel still on
- Toast sticks with mashed avocado
- Avocado spears
- Lamb, on the bone or a large piece for baby to suck on
- Dark meat chicken, on the bone or a large piece for baby to suck on.
Baby Led Weaning Banana
To serve a banana to a baby, wash it well, then slice it in half. Cut off an inch or two of the peel, but leave the rest of the peel on so it’s not slippery for baby to hold. They’ll suck on the top part.
Foods to Avoid Serving While Doing BLW
You want any foods you offer to a baby while doing baby led weaning to be soft enough to squish between your fingers. Plan to avoid:
- Anything hard, sticky, or crunchy.
- Foods with obvious pieces that could break off and get stuck in baby’s mouth.
- Added salt
- Cow’s milk
- Added sugar
- Super slippery foods that would be hard for baby to hold
How to Cut Foods for BLW
Baby Led Weaning and Choking
There are many parents who dislike this method of feeding because it often sounds like a baby is choking. And while there are surely some incidences of choking, what’s more likely is that a baby will occasionally gag on a piece of food that gets into their mouth that they weren’t expecting.
But remember: Gagging is a sign that baby is doing what she needs to in order to move the food around in their mouth as they learn to eat. It usually sounds more dangerous than it actually is.
TIP: If the sound of gagging really freaks you out, you’re not alone. Consider offering more preloaded spoons with purees to start your journey more slowly.
Will my baby actually eat much food with BLW?
Probably not at first. There will likely be more tasting of the food than eating of it and that is totally fine. They will still rely on breast milk or formula at this age for their main nutrition, so don’t expect them to suddenly start eating full meals. (They’ll get there in a few months, but it takes time!)
Do babies need teeth for baby led weaning?
No! Gums are super strong and front teeth aren’t used for chewing—that happens when the back molars come in. Teeth really have nothing to do with whether or not a baby can eat solids.
Can you mix baby led weaning and purees?
Absolutely! I think it’s a great idea to mix the two methods simply because it gives you many more options for foods and allows the baby to experience more textures. I recommend allowing babies to feed themselves preloaded spoons so they still have control over what goes into their mouths.
TIP: Feeding some purees is also helpful if you’ll be sending food with a baby to daycare since the care provider may not have experience with blw.
Best First Foods for Baby: Purees
Here are some of our favorite purees to start offering baby when they’re ready to start solids. Remember: There’s no evidence that says that you need to start with vegetables versus fruits, so go with something that tastes good to you. Start with single foods pureed smooth and offer just a little at a time on a spoon.
- Mashed roasted sweet potatoes
- Mashed avocado
- Mashed banana
- Applesauce, unsweetened
- Mashed butternut squash
- Mashed peas
How to Let Baby Self Feed Purees
I love offering purees on a preloaded spoon. To do this, the parent, puts some of the food on the spoon and hands it to baby. Then baby can bring the food to their mouth all by themselves. This gives you some of the same advantages of baby led weaning, but can be more comfortable for many parents.
Remember, you can mix what you offer, going back and forth between purees and blw finger foods, so you can offer the same food two different ways to let baby explore. The main goal is to avoid forcing baby to take more bites than they want to, which can sometimes happen with purees.
When to Introduce Potentially Allergenic Foods
In recent years, guidelines have been updated on when to introduce potential allergens including peanuts, eggs, and shellfish, so unless you have a family history of a food allergy, you can go ahead and introduce them soon after baby starts eating solids. In fact, research is showing that introducing these foods early can actually protect baby from developing an allergy. Talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns.
TIP: Thin unsweetened peanut butter with water to form a very thin paste until it’s about the consistency of regular yogurt and offer a very small amount on a spoon.
How do I know when baby has had enough?
If your baby is eating and then starts to turn her head away or just refuses to open her mouth, she’s done! Babies may also start to fuss if they’ve had enough. Learning this new skill takes time and babies can become tired fairly quickly into the process, so don’t expect them to always eat very much or to last very long at the table. This stage is about exploration!
Recipes for Every Stage of Starting Solids
If you’re ready to start solids with baby, or you’re just curious what it looks like to do a mix of baby led weaning and purees, check out my Yummy Baby Food cookbook. It goes stage by stage with specific foods to start in each, with simple recipes and easy feeding tips.
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