Baby-led weaning is a method of introducing solid food to babies whereby purées and spoon-feeding are skipped entirely in favor of finger foods that a baby self-feeds.
Coined by Gill Rapley, a former public health nurse in the U.K., baby-led weaning (or baby-led feeding as it is sometimes referred to) offers parents a way to bypass the idea of baby food entirely. Growing in popularity, baby-led weaning is particularly popular with parents who want to avoid raising picky eaters, as well as parents who subscribe to Montessori-type philosophies of child-rearing where children are encouraged to be self-sufficient.
At its core, baby-led weaning emphasizes independence of the baby. A parent is to wait for their baby to show signs of readiness for eating and to follow the baby’s cues in all matters of introducing solid food. Babies are brought to the table for family meals, encouraged to pick up food with their own fingers, and trusted to eat as much or as little as they need. Babies introduced to solids with baby-led weaning also continue breast or bottle feeds and are permitted to determine when those milk feeds should be reduced.
Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning
Research studies are just beginning to analyze the impacts of baby-led weaning, but we know there are many benefits to letting your baby self-feed.
Of primary importance is fostering independence: with baby-led weaning, your baby will learn to eat on their own and have control over what—and how much—they eat. Our experience is that babies who are given this control over what they eat early on are less likely to become picky eaters in the toddler years and beyond. With baby-led weaning, food is less likely to become a lever for control or power in the child-parent relationship because the child is in control from day one of starting solids.
Other benefits of baby-led weaning include the opportunity for your baby to practice critical motor and oral skills. Self-feeding a variety of food consistencies and textures enables your baby to work on tongue movements, jaw strength, and swallowing as well as the fine motor skills required to pick up different sized pieces of food with their fingers.
Lastly, current research shows that babies who are started on solids with finger foods (or “baby-led weaning”) are no more likely to choke on food than babies who are spoon-fed.1
In terms of benefits to the parents, the most obvious perk is that baby-led weaning is often easier than spoon-feeding purées.
Benefits of Letting Your Baby Self-Feed
- Independence: Baby learns to eat independently and is in total control.
- Development: Baby practices critical motor and oral skills.
- Appetite Control: Baby is in charge of how much to eat and learns to stop when full.
- Ease: Baby (mostly) eats what you eat. Less special meals!
- Variety: Baby can eat a variety of textures and flavors, which may reduce picky eating later on.
- Less Expensive: Baby eats real food. No pricey jars, pouches or blenders required.
- Family Meals: Baby is part of your family meal, eating with you.
- Dining Out: It’s easier to eat in restaurants as baby can eat whole food.
- Fun! Babies enjoy touching, inspecting, and tasting a different flavors and textures.
While our preferred mode of introducing solids—Finger Food First—builds on the wisdom of baby-led weaning, it offers a bit more flexibility. For example, with a finger food first approach, you can employ a combination of feeding methods, with an emphasis is on letting your baby self-feed a variety of textures and flavors.
Hungry for more? Head over to our comprehensive video library with topics from how to get started with baby-led weaning to how to prevent picky eating.
- Arantes A et al. The Baby-led Weaning Method (BLW) in the Context of Complementary Feeding: A Review. Revista Paulista de Pediatria 36, no. 3 (2018): 353–63.