November 07, 2023 10 min read

What is Baby-led Weaning

Baby-led weaning (BLW) is a method of adding complementary foods to a baby's diet of breast milk or formula that encourages babies to self-feed solid foods instead of receiving purees via spoon. The concept of BLW is not about giving up breast milk or formula but is about complementing it with solid foods. It emphasizes the importance of family meals and allows babies to explore food at their own pace and according to their interests.

The approach was attributed to Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, who promoted the idea that allowing babies to participate in family meals, offering them pieces of food that they can grab and eat themselves, would support their development and help them learn to regulate their food intake. This method is believed to foster a positive attitude towards food and eating.

The Origin of Baby-led Weaning?

BLW became more popular as a response to the rigid feeding schedules of the 20th century, which often led to low milk supply and the early introduction of purees. The term and practice have been popularized by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett.

When to Start Baby-led Weaning?

BLW typically begins around 6 months of age when babies are developmentally capable of self-feeding. They should be able to sit up with little or no support and have good neck strength.

Safety Tips and Foods for BLW:

Initial foods should be soft enough to chew on with bare gums, such as lightly cooked vegetables. Foods are presented in shapes and sizes that the baby can handle. Parents are advised to avoid choking hazards and to ensure that babies are seated upright during feeding.

Medical Views on BLW:

There is limited scientific research on BLW, but some studies suggest it may lead to a lower BMI and a preference for healthy foods like carbohydrates. However, there are concerns about the risk of choking and ensuring nutritional adequacy, especially for infants who develop more slowly.

Medical professionals generally support methods that respect the baby's appetite and developmental stage, but they also emphasize the importance of meeting nutritional needs, particularly for iron and zinc. It's recommended to continue breastfeeding or formula feeding alongside the introduction of solid foods.

Important tips for Parents Interested in BLW:

  • Offer a variety of nutritious foods and let the baby try what they choose.
  • Allow the baby to decide how much to eat without pushing them to eat more.
  • Avoid hurrying the meal and let the baby explore the food at their own pace.
  • Ensure that the baby is part of family mealtimes to learn by mirroring behaviors.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Baby-led Weaning

Advantages of Baby-led Weaning:

  • Promotes Motor Development: BLW supports the development of oral motor control, hand-eye coordination, and dexterity.
  • Encourages Independence: It allows babies to be in charge of their eating, which can foster independence and confidence.
  • Facilitates Learning: Babies learn through exploration and handling food, which can be an enjoyable and educational process.
  • Positive Attitude Towards Food: Early exposure to a variety of tastes and textures may decrease picky eating behaviors later in life.
  • Family Meals: It encourages participation in family mealtimes, which can help develop social and language skills.

Disadvantages of Baby-led Weaning:

  • Risk of Choking: There is a potential risk of choking, especially if proper precautions are not taken with the size and shape of food.
  • Nutritional Concerns: There may be concerns about whether babies can obtain enough nutrients, particularly if they develop more slowly and are less able to self-feed effectively.
  • Messiness: BLW can be much messier than traditional spoon-feeding, which might not be convenient for all families.
  • Requires Diligence: Parents must be diligent in offering a variety of foods to ensure a balanced diet and avoid potential nutrient deficiencies.
  • Learning Curve: There might be a learning curve for both the baby and the parents in terms of recognizing hunger cues and amounts of food consumed.

It's important to note that while BLW has been gaining popularity, it is not without its critics and should be approached with consideration of the individual baby's needs and the family's situation. Consulting with a healthcare provider can help ensure that the method is applied safely and effectively.

What are the main criticisms of baby-led weaning?

The main criticisms of baby-led weaning (BLW) include:

  • Nutritional Concerns: Some experts worry that BLW might lead to nutritional problems, especially for children who develop more slowly. There is a concern that these children might not be able to self-feed effectively enough to meet their nutritional needs.
  • Choking Risk: There is an ongoing concern about the risk of choking with BLW, as babies are allowed to control their solid food consumption by self-feeding from the start. Parents following BLW are advised to avoid classic choking hazards, but the risk cannot be entirely eliminated.
  • Research Limitations: Very little scientific research has been conducted regarding BLW. This means that many of the claimed benefits of BLW do not have a strong evidence base, and more long-term studies are needed to assess its effects on nutrition adequacy and safety.
  • Transition to Chewing: Some professionals argue that learning to ingest purees does not prepare a baby for chewing, which is a necessary skill for eating most solid foods. There is a belief that delayed experience with eating lumpy foods leads to poor food acceptance in later years.
  • Practicality and Mess: BLW can be messy and may not be practical for all families. It requires a significant commitment from parents to provide appropriate foods and to manage the increased mess that comes with allowing infants to self-feed.
  • Mixed Messages: The approach of BLW may give mixed messages, as it is sometimes suggested to combine self-feeding with spoon-fed purees, which could potentially confuse infants about feeding methods and self-regulation.
  • Family Diet Adaptation: BLW assumes that the family's diet is suitable for the infant, which may not always be the case. Families may need to make significant adjustments to their meals to accommodate BLW, which can be challenging.

It's important to note that while these criticisms exist, many parents and some health professionals find BLW to be a positive approach to introducing solids. As with any feeding method, it is essential for parents to consider their child's individual needs and consult with healthcare providers to ensure a safe and nutritious weaning process.

Top Foods Recommended for Baby-Led Weaning:

  • Avocados: They are nutritious and easily mashable, providing healthy fats, fiber, potassium, folate, copper, and vitamin E. For 6–8-month-olds, cut a ripe avocado into slices about the width of an adult finger for easy gripping. For 9–12-month-olds, cut a ripe avocado into small cubes or chunks.
  • Yogurt: Unsweetened whole milk yogurt is beneficial for its calcium, protein, and probiotics, which support digestive health. It's a mess-free option that can be introduced early.
  • Eggs:Full of protein, vitamins D and A, and choline, eggs are essential for brain and eye development. Ensure they are fully cooked to avoid Salmonella exposure. Serve as quarters or strips for younger babies and diced or scrambled for older infants.
  • Carrots: Rich in carotenoids for vitamin A, carrots support the immune system and vision. Serve steamed or boiled carrot sticks for younger babies and soft chunks for older ones.
  • Tofu: A soft, plant-based food rich in calcium, tofu is great for bone development. Serve as wide sticks for younger babies and bite-size cubes for older ones.
  • Meat and Fish: Provide essential nutrients like iron, vitamin A, B vitamins, and zinc. Serve fully cooked, soft, finely shredded or ground meat or small pieces of fish.
  • Apples: High in vitamin C, apples aid in iron absorption. Serve cooked and soft for younger babies and peeled, shredded raw apples for older infants.
  • Sweet Potatoes: A source of fiber for healthy digestion, sweet potatoes can be served as strips or small chunks depending on the baby's age.
  • Oats: A whole grain that's rich in fiber and nutrients like copper and selenium. Serve as baby oatmeal mixed with breast milk or iron-fortified formula for younger babies, and as oat muffins cut into bite-size pieces for older babies.
  • Nut Butters: Introduce potential allergens like peanut or almond butter early to reduce allergy risks. Mix with yogurt or oatmeal for younger babies and spread thinly on toast for older ones.

Foods to Avoid During Baby-Led Weaning:

  • Honey and Corn Syrup: Can be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum, which is harmful to infants under one year.
  • Unpasteurized Meats and Dairy Products: May carry harmful bacteria like Listeria.
  • High Mercury Fish: Such as swordfish, shark, and orange roughy, which can harm a baby’s developing brain and nervous system.
  • Choking Hazards: Avoid sticky foods like marshmallows, round or coin-shaped foods like whole grapes, hard-to-chew foods like popcorn, and raw hard vegetables like whole carrots.
  • Cow’s Milk: Not recommended for children under 12 months due to potential difficulties in processing its mineral and protein content.
  • Juice: Delay offering juice until after 12 months to prevent tooth decay.

Remember to prepare and cut foods properly to ensure safety and to monitor for any signs of food allergies. Always consult with a healthcare provider for personalized advice and to address any concerns about introducing new foods to your baby.

How to Start Baby-led Weaning?

  1. Ensuring Your Baby is Ready: Look for signs like sitting with minimal assistance, good head and trunk control, bringing hands and toys to their mouth, and showing interest in food.
  2. Preparing Yourself: Know infant CPR, understand the difference between choking and gagging, and be ready for a mess.
  3. First Foods: Start with simple, soft foods like ripe fruits and soft-cooked vegetables. Cut them into stick-shaped pieces to make grasping easier.
  4. Feeding Responsively: Follow your baby’s cues and let them decide whether or not to eat and how much to eat.

Sample Feeding Schedules for BLW:

For 6 – 7 month-olds:

  • Start with 1-2 meals a day, maintaining the same amount of formula or breast milk feedings.

For 8 – 9 month-olds:

  • If not already eating 2 solid meals a day, increase to twice a day.

For 10 – 12 month-olds:

  • Baby should be getting 3 meals a day, with formula or breast milk reduced to 4 feedings per day.

What is the 4 day rule for baby led weaning?

The 4-day rule is a common practice recommended during the introduction of new solid foods to an infant, which can be applied in both traditional weaning and baby-led weaning approaches. The rule suggests that when you introduce a new food to your baby, you should give them that same food for four consecutive days before introducing another new food. Here's why this practice is recommended:

  • Allergy Identification: It allows parents to monitor their baby for any adverse reactions or allergies to new foods. If an allergic reaction occurs, it is easier to identify the culprit food if only one new food has been introduced.
  • Digestive Tolerance: It helps to ensure that the baby's digestive system can handle the new food. Some foods may be harder to digest, and a gradual introduction helps to identify any foods that may cause digestive upset.
  • Taste Development: Repeated exposure to the same food can help the baby to develop a taste for it. Babies often need to try a new food several times before they begin to accept it.
  • Nutritional Balance: By introducing foods one at a time, parents can make sure that their baby is getting a balanced diet and is not missing out on any nutrients.

It's important to note that while the 4-day rule can be a helpful guideline for many parents, it is not mandatory, and some healthcare providers may recommend different approaches based on the latest pediatric nutrition research or the individual needs of the baby. Always consult with a pediatrician or a pediatric nutritionist when making decisions about introducing solid foods to your baby.

What are some popular alternatives to BLW?

Here are some scientifically backed alternatives to baby-led weaning:

  • Breastfeeding: It is recommended as the optimal source of nutrition for infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continuing for at least one year. Breast milk is known to prevent anemia, obesity, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and promotes digestive health, immunity, intelligence, and dental development.
  • Formula Feeding: For those who cannot or choose not to breastfeed, infant formula is an acceptable substitute. It is important to use iron-enriched formula to prevent anemia. Special formulas are available for infants with lactose intolerance or allergies.
  • Introduction of Solid Foods: Solid foods should be introduced around six months of age when the infant's digestive system is more mature. Iron-rich foods are recommended as the initial solids because infants' iron stores start depleting around this age. Iron-fortified infant cereals are traditional, but there is a growing suggestion that iron-rich whole foods might be a better choice.
  • Vitamin Supplementation:Exclusively breastfed infants may require supplements for vitamins D and B12, depending on the mother's intake. After four months, an iron supplement may be necessary as breast milk alone may not provide sufficient iron.
  • Feeding Frequency and Amount: The frequency and amount of feeding vary based on the infant's age and development. Newborns typically need to be fed every 2-3 hours, with the amount gradually increasing as they grow.

These alternatives focus on ensuring that infants receive the necessary nutrition for healthy growth and development, whether through breastfeeding, formula feeding, or the careful introduction of solid foods. It's important for caregivers to consult with healthcare providers to determine the best feeding practices for their individual infants.


Baby-led weaning is a child-centric approach to introducing solids that can offer numerous developmental benefits and foster a positive relationship with food. However, it requires careful consideration of safety practices, nutritional balance, and readiness of both the baby and the family. As with any dietary approach, consultation with healthcare professionals is essential to tailor the process to the baby's individual needs. BLW is not a one-size-fits-all solution, but for many families, it provides a joyful and engaging way to transition to solid foods.

Baby-led Weaning FAQs

What is Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)?

  1. Baby-led weaning is a method of introducing solid foods where babies feed themselves with no need for spoon-feeding or purees. It's a practice where babies start off eating many of the same foods that the rest of the family is eating.

When is a Baby Ready for BLW?

  1. Babies are typically ready for BLW around 6 months of age when they show signs like sitting with minimal assistance, good head and trunk control, bringing hands and toys to their mouth, and showing interest in food.

What are Some Safe First Foods for BLW?

  1. Soft and ripe fruits like bananas or avocados, or soft-cooked vegetables like sweet potatoes or carrots, are good first foods. These should be cut into stick-shaped pieces to make grasping easier for the baby.

What Foods Should be Avoided in BLW?

  1. High choking risk foods should be avoided, such as hard, raw fruits and vegetables, whole nuts, large chunks of meat, and hard candy. Honey should also be avoided until 1 year of age due to the risk of botulism.

How to Start BLW?

  1. Begin with 1-3 foods at a time, ensuring the baby is seated safely in a highchair. Follow the baby's cues and allow them to determine whether or not to eat and how much to eat.