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A guide to baby-led weaning

Baby-led weaning lets your baby feed themselves from the very start, exploring foods and textures as they go. You will give your baby whole foods rather than purees – the chunkier the food the easier it is to handle.

Be prepared! There will be a lot of mess to start with as your baby develops their skills, but things will improve. Just don’t expect any table manners at this stage!

Benefits of baby-led weaning

While the mess may not be ideal there are several benefits to allowing your baby to get hands-on at mealtimes:

  • They learn to handle food in a safe manner.
  • They learn to chew food from the start of weaning.
  • They experience textures, tastes and a wide range of food which can lead to them being less fussy with foods later.
  • They regulate the amount of food that they eat. Some underweight babies have shown an increase in weight through this style of weaning.

Signs that your baby is ready for child-led weaning

Before starting with baby-led weaning, there’s a few things to look out for to see if your child is ready to start:

  • Can they sit up unsupported?
  • Have they lost the tongue-thrust reflex which makes them push food out of their mouths?
  • Can they pick up food with their hands and fingers and put it in their mouth?
  • Can they chew, even if they only have a few or no teeth?

If the answer is yes to all of these,  you and your baby are ready to go.

Gag reflex vs choking

One of the main concerns parents have with baby-led weaning is the fear that their child will choke. It’s important to know that there is a difference between the gag reflex and choking (where the airway is blocked). Your child will gag from time to time as they practise moving food to the back of their throat. Don’t panic and just make sure you never leave your baby alone with food.

To prevent the risk of choking, make sure that grapes and cherry tomatoes are always cut in half and bananas are sliced lengthways rather than into discs.

Tips for baby-led weaning

  • Don’t use bowls or plates – they’ll just get thrown off the table. Place food directly onto a large tray or mat in front of your baby.
  • Parboil or cook harder foods like apples and carrots to give your baby a softer texture to chew on. Chip-sized portions will make it easier for them to grasp.
  • Introduce a few pieces of food at a time to avoid overwhelming your baby and to let you monitor them for any reactions.
  • Offer cool, boiled water in between milk feeds and mealtimes.
  • Offer your baby a milk feed about an hour before giving them any solids so they are not eating on a completely empty stomach.
  • Always test the temperature of food to make sure it’s not too hot. Avoid heating food in a microwave as this can produce hotspots in food even if it feels cool on the outside.
  • Some great baby-led weaning meals to get you started include fish pie bites, chicken meatballs, broccoli, chicken and potato bites, fish fingers, sweetcorn pancakes, mini quiches, vegetable fritters, berry smoothie and almond butter toast.

Whether you decide to choose baby-led weaning, traditional spoon-feeding or a mix of the two, N Family Club is here to support you. For more information on baby weaning including foods to about read our guide to weaning your baby.