FAQs: Baby-Led Weaning

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?

6 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 their 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 an allergic reaction, FPIES, or reflux. Other reasons for why babies may vomit during or after eating include being too full when they started the meal (for example when the solids meal is too close to a breast or bottle feed), or after gagging. If you suspect that baby may have thrown up from being too full of milk, wait at least one hour after breast or bottle feeding your baby before offering solid foods. If it seems like your baby is throwing up a lot while eating or if anything concerns you, talk to your pediatrician. For more on gagging, what it looks like and what it’s not, see our Gagging page or our video on gagging and choking.

I’ve read footplates on highchairs 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 highchair for baby-led weaning?

The most important things to look for in a highchair 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. Watch our video here for the lowdown on highchairs.

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, or dive right in to our free First Foods® database.

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 developmental 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.

For more information see our Safety section and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards. Also, read up on gagging to understand the difference between choking and gagging.

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 changing color, often a blue, purple or ashen hue. 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.

For more information on choking, visit our section on gagging and choking or watch our video on the difference here, and familiarize yourself with the list of common choking hazards.

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 breast milk 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 breast milk 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 has undigested food in their poop. Is this normal?

Yes, it is actually quite common (and completely normal) to see partially digested bits of food in your baby’s poop! Solid food can pass rather quickly through a baby’s digestive tract. The faster the food travels, the less time it has to be fully digested. Certain other factors like juice and antibiotics can cause food to move rapidly through the intestines as well, leading to very loose poop with bits of food in it. Also, remember that your baby is developing chewing skills at this age. This can also result in seeing pieces of carrots, broccoli, blueberries among others in the poop. In general, as long as your baby is thriving, this is not worrisome. If you consistently see undigested food in your baby’s poop and/or your baby is having difficulty gaining weight, we strongly suggest that you check in with your child’s health care provider.

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.

Why does my baby spit out same-textured food?

So with the spitting of the same texture, it’s common and normal like it’s normal for some kids to skip crawling or to be less athletic or slower to grasp reading (all fine but may put your babe at a small health or life disadvantage and suggests they need a little support in this area). It’s normal but not an ideal response and that small “preference” can snowball into a distinct problem over time. As a caveat, therapists really like to call this abnormal and often scare parents by saying their kid may have sensory processing disorder. Yes, they *might* and it’s also a symptom associated with autism, but on its own, it’s not really indicative of anything and can just be part of natural differences in a person’s nervous system which can be outgrown with time and patience. More on spitting here.

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.

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. Our round-up of iron-rich foods might give you some ideas for what to offer baby for their next meal.

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. 

Do babies still get the nutritional benefit of food if they swallow it before properly chewing it?

It’s important to remember that chewing is a learned behavior. While it is true that adults generally chew their food more completely than infants or toddlers, this does not mean that young eaters are not absorbing adequate nutrients. There is no evidence to suggest that infants who follow baby-led weaning or a finger food first approach weigh less than spoon-fed babies, nor do they face an increased risk of nutritional deficiencies.3 4 5

When an infant first begins their finger food journey, the goal is not the consumption of solid food but rather the development of oral-motor skills and exposure to a wide array of smells, textures, and tastes. Human milk or formula is the primary form of nutrition while infants develop these skills.

Developing the skills for chewing is a lot like developing the skills for walking. When children learn how to walk, they go through a series of developmental milestones before walking—pulling to stand, walking with support, and falling—before they are successful. Each of these milestones is an important building block to master walking. The same goes for chewing; we cannot expect an infant or toddler to know how to chew without practicing first.

Are babies’ digestive systems able to handle finger food? I’m told they can only handle purees.

An infant’s digestive system is incredibly dynamic and undergoes several changes after birth and throughout the first year of life and beyond; however, it is not fully understood.6 7 In general, digestion starts in the mouth, continues in the stomach and small intestine, and concludes in the colon. There is no research to support that infants or young children can only digest pureed foods. While it has been shown among adults that purees and juice formations of the same food digest faster than the same food in solid form, even when chewed properly, this does not directly translate to improved nutritional absorption or outcomes.8

When an infant first begins their finger food journey, they swallow a minimal amount of solid food as they develop their oral-motor skills and remain nutritionally supported by human milk and/or formula. Regardless of how solid food is introduced (purees, finger foods, or a combination of both), we know it challenges the infant’s digestive system, as evidenced by the change in color, smell, and stool texture. To this end, caregivers should not become instantly alarmed if they see a small chunk of undigested carrot, a hull of corn, or flaxseed in their child’s stool as long as the child is growing appropriately. To date, there is no research to suggest that infants who follow baby-led weaning or a finger food first approach are more likely to experience symptoms suggestive of digestive problems such as increased reflux, abdominal discomfort, diarrhea, food allergies, or poor weight gain.

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.

Baby keeps rubbing food on face, nose, and eyes 

When babies rub their eyes, it can be an indication that they are simply tired, or, in more rare situations, that they are feeling itchy from an allergic reaction. If you feel like you’ve got their feeding schedule right and ruled out sleepiness, have a look at our page on symptoms of allergic reactions and consider checking in with your pediatrician. Though it can be difficult to watch, the mess is actually an important part of learning to eat. Babies learn through exploration, and getting messy with food is one of the many important sensory experiences from which they learn. Feign indifference and try not to react or get angry, and avoid wiping your baby clean constantly throughout the meal as this can cause a baby to associate feeding with this often negative sensation. Using a pitcher filled with warm water to wash hands, arms, face, feet, and lower legs after each meal can make clean-up fun. Check out our blog on Minimizing the mess or watch our video for more strategies. Lastly, if the rubbing is causing any skin irritation, consider consulting with your baby’s pediatrician to discuss any skin barrier cream that might be beneficial. 

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. Car 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. 

  1. Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, A Baby-led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking
  2. 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
  3. Taylor, R. W., Williams, S. M., Fangupo, L. J., Wheeler, B. J., Taylor, B. J., Daniels, L., Fleming, E. A., McArthur, J., Morison, B., Erickson, L. W., Davies, R. S., Bacchus, S., Cameron, S. L., & Heath, A. L. M. (2017). Effect of a Baby-Led Approach to Complementary Feeding on Infant Growth and Overweight. JAMA Pediatrics, 171(9), 838. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.1284
  4. Martinón-Torres, N., Carreira, N., Picáns-Leis, R., Pérez-Ferreirós, A., Kalén, A., & Leis, R. (2021). Baby-Led Weaning: What Role Does It Play in Obesity Risk during the First Years? A Systematic Review. Nutrients, 13(3), 1009. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu13031009
  5. Daniels, L., Taylor, R. W., Williams, S. M., Gibson, R. S., Samman, S., Wheeler, B. J., Taylor, B. J., Fleming, E. A., Hartley, N. K., & Heath, A. L. M. (2018). Modified Version of Baby-Led Weaning Does Not Result in Lower Zinc Intake or Status in Infants: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 118(6), 1006–1016.e1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2018.02.005
  6. He, X., McClorry, S., Hernell, O., Lönnerdal, B., & Slupsky, C. M. (2020). Digestion of human milk fat in healthy infants. Nutrition Research, 83, 15–29. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nutres.2020.08.002
  7. Wahbeh, G. T., & Green, N. (2021). Basic Aspects of Digestion and Absorption. Pediatric Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease, 11–23.e3. https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-323-67293-1.00002-5
  8. Krishnasamy, S., Lomer, M. C. E., Marciani, L., Hoad, C. L., Pritchard, S. E., Paul, J., Gowland, P. A., & Spiller, R. C. (2020). Processing Apples to Puree or Juice Speeds Gastric Emptying and Reduces Postprandial Intestinal Volumes and Satiety in Healthy Adults. The Journal of Nutrition, 150(11), 2890–2899. https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxaa191