Does baby-led weaning increase the risk of choking?
No. A randomized control study, often referred to as the “BLISS study,” demonstrated that babies were no more likely to choke when self-feeding safe finger foods than babies who are spoonfed.1 It is our strong opinion that babies who learn to self-feed a variety of textures early on become more skilled eaters and are less likely to accidentally choke or struggle with food as they grow older and begin to eat more challenging foods. Just like practice walking builds babies’ balance over time, we believe that trying to eat a wide variety of foods builds their chewing skills over time.
At what age can my baby start baby-led weaning?
Six months old is usually the marker when a full-term, healthy baby is developmentally ready to eat solids. Around this age, babies are able to sit unsupported, control their head movement, show attentive interest in the activity, and able to bring food to their mouths accurately. Each baby develops along his or her own timeline, but it is rare to see 4 or 5 month old babies who show all these skills.
Can you do baby-led weaning with purées?
Baby-led weaning is a way of introducing solid food by skipping purées and mashes and going straight to finger foods. However, our opinion is that babies who are self-feeding benefit from a wide variety of textures and food consistencies, including the occasional purée or pouch now and then. Even adults eat purees and soft foods like hummus and yogurt! If you choose to give your babies a pouch, you can encourage self-feeding by letting them hold it by themselves.
My baby vomited after eating some food. What do I do?
First, check with your pediatrician to make sure the reaction doesn’t indicate a bigger issue, such as reflux. Some vomiting after gagging is normal, particularly with babies who are just starting solids. At the next meal, wait at least one hour after breast or bottle feeding your babies before offering solid foods. If it seems like your babies are throwing up a lot while eating or if anything concerns you, talk to your pediatrician.
I’ve read footplates on high chairs are a must for baby-led weaning. Why?
Have you ever tried to eat from a bar stool with no footrest? With your legs just dangling? Apart from being uncomfortable, dangling legs impact a baby’s core stability. Core strength gives your babies the stable platform they need to focus on developing dynamic and complex movements in their fingers and tongue as they learn to self-feed. Proper positioning while eating—sitting totally upright, hips at a 90 degree angle, feet supported—will not only increase the amount of time your babies are willing to stay seated in their high chair, but should decrease the risk of choking as well.
What is the best high chair for baby-led weaning?
The most important things to look for in a high chair include an upright position—no leaning or tilting back whatsoever—and an adjustable footplate that supports your baby’s feet and legs so that their hips are at a 90 degree angle. It is also important to have a detachable tray so you can pull your baby’s chair up to the table.
What are the best foods for baby-led weaning?
In general for 6- to 12-month-old babies, you want to focus on foods that are packed with iron, protein, and are nutrient-dense. It’s also important that the food is able to be prepared or modified in a way that is easy to hold and safe to consume at this age. Check out our Guides for the best and worst foods for babies.
For more information on age-appropriate food sizes and how to modify foods for babies to safely self-feed, check out our section on Food Sizes & Shapes for Babies.
Can you use pouches when doing baby-led weaning?
As long as you prioritize self-feeding, it is our opinion that babies benefit from a wide variety of textures and food consistencies, including the occasional purée or pouch. If you choose to serve a pouch at mealtime, you can encourage self-feeding by letting your babies hold it themselves.
Do babies need teeth to eat real solid food?
No. It is a misconception that babies need teeth to eat. Did you know that the teeth that we actually use to chew (our molars) don’t come in until well after the first birthday? Babies can munch and grind food with their gums. Be sure to check out the foods that are not safe for babies before the age of one as well as common choking hazards.
Does baby-led weaning prevent picky eating?
We believe that it does. The more babies are empowered to self-feed without pressure from caregivers to eat a certain food or to eat in a certain way, the more accepting they will be to new foods. Baby-led weaning builds a strong foundation for eating. It is not a magic potion against picky phases, which many babies go through around 18 to 36 months of age, but the eating habits (for child and parent) developed in those early days of starting solids help families navigate them quickly.
How do you know when a baby is ready for solids?
Your baby is ready to start solids when they are able to sit upright with minimal support, control their head movements, apply their motor skills to accurately bring food to their mouth, and express an interest in self-feeding. These development milestones are usually reached around 6 months of age. The best way to “know” is to start bringing your babies to the table when they hit the 5-month mark and let them sit in your lap as you eat. If your babies can hold their heads up the whole time, watch you eat, and attempt to grab at the food, this tells you that they are probably ready to start solids!
How do I know if my baby is choking?
First, it is important to distinguish the difference between gagging and choking. True choking is when the airway is obstructed and your babies are having trouble breathing. Signs of a baby choking include an inability to cry, difficulty breathing, lungs pulling inward, high-pitched sounds, or turning blue. If you suspect your baby is choking, call 911 immediately and conduct age-appropriate CPR.
Is there a difference between gagging and choking?
Yes. True choking is when the airway is obstructed and your baby is having trouble breathing. Signs of a baby choking include an inability to cry, difficulty breathing, lungs pulling inward, high-pitched sounds, or turning blue. If you suspect your baby is choking, call 911 immediately and conduct age-appropriate CPR.
Gagging is a protective reflex that results in the contraction of the back of the throat. It is a natural function and protects from choking. When this happens, it’s important to let your baby work the food forward on their own and to refrain from sticking your finger in their mouths, which can make the situation worse.
How do I know if my baby is getting enough food to eat?
Generally speaking, babies are getting “enough” to eat when they are able to sustain consistent periods of being content, alert, and playful; peeing several times a day; pooping daily or every few days; energetically exploring their environment; learning new skills; and steadily growing.
In the first year of life, the primary source of nutrition should be breast milk or formula, which can be complemented by nutrient-dense solid food at around 6 months old. During this phase, remember that learning to eat solid foods takes time and babies will often continue to eat around the same volume of breastmilk or formula. Just as we would not expect a baby who is learning to walk to be able to hike alongside us, we should not expect an infant who is just learning to taste, explore, and chew solid foods to actually eat those foods (at all or at least efficiently) at first. Babies are incredibly good at regulating their appetites and communicating cues to parents that they are hungry or full.2 As long as you are offering your baby solid food two to three times a day (and after 12 months old, moving to three meals + two snacks a day) and continuing to offer breastmilk or formula feeds until around 12- to 15-months old, your baby should be getting enough to eat. If you have any concerns about your baby’s weight or growth, check in with your pediatrician.
My baby spits out most of the food. Why?
Babies are born with a tongue thrust, which means their tongues push things like food forward and out of their mouths. They also have spent the first several months of their life moving their tongue forward and backwards as part of breast and bottle feeding, so those mouth muscles are quite strong! As babies learn to chew and swallow, they begin to exercise different muscles—the ones that move their tongues to the side of their mouths. Around the 6- to 7-month mark, the tongue thrust begins to disappear, and with some practice, babies develop new tricks to break down the food and move it backwards to swallow. At this stage, it’s very common for babies to spit out food that is too big to swallow or not chewed enough. They’re learning—and this is a good thing that you may even want to coach your baby to do so that they become more comfortable with eating.
If you have any concerns about how your baby is eating or swallowing, make an appointment with your pediatrician.
Can a baby eat too much? My baby won’t stop eating!
No. Babies come in all shapes and sizes and with a wide range of appetites. Never restrict food or milk from your baby. Parents occasionally misinterpret a baby’s cues as signs of hunger when they may just be fussy because they are bored, frustrated, tired, etc. It’s okay to try other ways to soothe your baby, such as rocking, singing, or playing. Experiment to see if these alternatives work but always trust your instincts and your baby. If you have any concerns about your baby’s weight or growth, check in with your pediatrician.
How many meals a day should my baby eat?
It depends on your baby’s age:3
6 to 7 months old: Give your babies breast milk or formula as their primary source of nutrition while you begin to introduce one to two meals of solid food each day. Eating at this stage will mostly be for practice, so don’t worry about consumption. You may find it works best to offer a bit of breast milk or formula as an appetizer, followed by solids, and then more breast milk or formula as a dessert. This way your babies won’t be overly hungry or too full to eat. Try offering breast milk or formula in an open cup or a straw cup at this time.
8 to 9 months old: At this stage, breast milk or formula becomes a complement to solid food. Depending on your baby’s ability to eat and swallow, you may be able to drop the “appetizer” of breast milk or formula and go straight to serving solids at mealtime with breast milk or formula for dessert. Continue to also offer breast milk or formula in an open cup or straw cup at mealtimes, alternating between open and straw cups for practice. Your baby may still want to breast milk or bottle-feed before bed as well.
9 to 12 months old: Offer two to three meals of solid food each day along with a serving of breast milk or formula immediately after meals. Continue offering breast milk or formula in an open cup or straw cup with meals, alternating between open and straw cups for practice. As you approach the 12-month mark, aim to have your babies eating three meals of solid food each day.
12 months old and up: At this point, your babies should be eating three meals of solid foods each day along with two snacks (one a couple of hours after breakfast and one a couple of hours after lunch). After your baby’s first birthday, limit consumption of milk (breast milk, formula, or cow milk) to 16 ounces a day so that it does not take the place of solid food, which supplies your babies with iron, zinc and other essential nutrients for their growth. Don’t worry if your baby needs more time to reach this stage; all babies develop on their own timeline, and some won’t quite be ready to decrease their breastmilk or formula until closer to 15 months.
My baby is low on iron. What foods should I offer?
Iron deficiency—which is serious—is quite common in babies and toddlers. To help your baby boost their iron reserves, serve foods like red meat, liver, and sardines. You can also serve plant-based sources of iron such as lentils and chickpeas alongside foods that are high in vitamin C, such as strawberries, will aid iron absorption.
My baby is throwing food. What do I do?
Don’t worry! It’s normal. Many babies—especially those who are younger than 12 months old—have not developed the dexterity to hold onto their food, so naturally their food falls to the floor as they learn how to grip. After the 12-month mark, babies start to learn that they can throw food to assert their independence or get attention from you. Don’t react in a negative way; simply offer the food to them one more time. If they throw it again, try applying a little tough love: “I see you are throwing your food. Okay, breakfast is over. We’ll have more to eat at snack time.” Then remove the meal. During this phase, if you have a family dog, consider moving the pet outside or into a separate room at mealtimes to limit your babies’ temptation to drop or throw food for the fun of watching the dog react.
What if my baby doesn’t want to eat?
Appetites vary from baby to baby. It is totally normal for babies to skip a meal now and then. When they’re starting solids, some babies do not understand what they are supposed to do with the food, and it’s natural for parents to interpret their behavior as disinterest in food. Try a little show-and-tell: if you pick up the food and start eating it yourself, your baby may follow your lead. As you and your babies get further into their eating journey, check with your pediatrician if you have any concerns about their weight or growth.
When can my baby eat in the stroller?
Eating while moving dramatically increases the risk of choking and therefore should be avoided. We know that snacks have to be eaten on the go from time to time. If you do offer snacks in a stroller, wait until your baby is at least 18 months old, and only offer snacks that are a low choking risk. Also be sure to position their stroller so that your babies are sitting upright and not leaning back. If there were ever a time for meal pouches, this is it.
Is it safe for my baby to eat in a car seat?
No. Cars seats are reclined in a way that is not safe for your babies to eat. To make matters worse, it is difficult to quickly extract your baby from a car seat for emergency assistance when you are in a moving vehicle.
- Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, A Baby-led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking
- McNally J., Hugh-Jones S., Caton S., Vereijken C., Weenen H., and Hetherington M., Communicating hunger and satiation in the first 2 years of life: a systematic review. Maternal Child Nutrition. 2016; 12(2): 205-228. doi: 10.1111/mcn.12230
- Healthy Children, Starting Solids. [website] Retrieved December 18, 2019.