FAQs: Baby-Led Weaning

For an in depth overview on how to introduce real food to babies starting solids, see our See our Starting Solids video course or check out our Starting Solids bundle.

Does baby-led weaning increase the risk of choking?

No. A randomized control trial 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 The study also confirmed that choking risk decreases when a baby self-feeds, which has been deeply researched in the adult population.2 3 4 In our extensive clinical experience, we have seen 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 with less and less supervision.5 Just like practice walking and climbing 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.

I’m starting solids late. Can I do baby led weaning?

Yes. While technically the term “baby-led weaning” refers to starting solids with finger food and self-feeding, all babies must transition to chewable food at some point during their weaning journey. So even if you begin with a spoon feeding approach, your baby must learn to eat table food independently. The safest way for a baby to consume table food is via self-feeding (choking risk increases when caregivers put finger food or table food directly in baby’s mouth) so when baby transitions to table food or finger food, it’s important to let baby take the lead and feed themselves. Once you start finger foods (regardless of baby’s age), you may consider beginning with the 6+ month presentations as these are easier for novice eaters to get to the mouth and begin to manipulate. (See our free First Foods® database for details). Also, check out our on demand Spoons to Fingers webinar for more tips with this transition. 

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 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. Read about our recommendations in our Ultimate Guide to High Chairs or watch our video here for the lowdown on high chairs.

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 9-1-1 or local emergency services 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 9-1-1 or local emergency services 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.6 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. 

Should I offer a breast or bottle feed before or after solid food?

Timing breast or bottle feeds around solid meals largely depends on baby’s age and how long they’ve been eating solids. 

Many 6-8-month-old babies first starting with solids do well with a brief breast or bottle feed before and after a solid food meal. This prevents them from getting overly hungry or frustrated at the table and helps fill their belly after working hard to explore and learn about eating solid food. However, if baby is quick to gag, spit up, or throw up, hold the pre-meal snack and offer a post-meal breast or bottle feed about an hour after the solid food meal.

Around 8-10 months old and after practicing eating solid foods for 2-3 months, most babies no longer need a breast or bottle appetizer before a solid food meal. At this age and stage, most babies are ready for a hunger-drive motivation to explore and eat at the table. A post-meal breast or bottle feed may still be helpful though.

As baby reaches 12 months of age, allow at least an hour between breast or bottle feeds and solid meals to encourage more intake of solid foods at the meal. 

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.

Is my baby eating too much solid food?  

No. Babies come in all shapes and sizes and with a wide range of appetites. Trust that your baby will eat when hungry and stop when full. If you have any concerns about your baby’s weight or growth, check in with your child’s medical provider. The beauty of finger food first, however, is that your baby is self-feeding, and therefore learning how to recognize hunger and fullness cues on their own.

Is my baby having too much milk?

The simple answer is no. Parents occasionally misinterpret a baby’s cries 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, and offer milk feeds as baby is interested. A baby will rarely overeat.

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, to 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. Read more in our post on throwing food.

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.7 8 9

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.10 11 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.12

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. 

I’ve heard I shouldn’t share utensils or food with my baby due to the risk of bacteria spread/cavities. 

We are aware of the concern of the risk of sharing bacteria when sharing utensils and food with your baby or toddler, though we do find that many parents will still often share utensils and food even just culturally. We see a gentle balance between sterility/safety and the importance of modeling and teaching an infant or child to feed themselves. That being said, we always encourage families to make the best decision for what feels right to them personally, and to have your own risks versus benefits discussions with your pediatrician, and even pediatric dentist as helpful resources. 

Is it safe to feed a baby when they have hiccups?

It depends. Hiccups can be very distressing for some babies, and not a bother for others. Because hiccups can be distracting and bothersome, it may be best to take the food away for a moment and take a break while baby is actively hiccupping. For many individuals, sucking and swallowing or burping can help tame hiccups, so offering a pacifier, the breast/chest, or bottle, or patting the child’s back may help the hiccups go away and then you can return to the meal. If you have continued to offer food while baby has hiccups, don’t worry: there is no evidence-based correlation between hiccups and choking risk, but the most conservative recommendation is to pause for baby to recover, then return to the meal when the hiccups have stopped so they are not distracted while eating. 

My baby grunts for more when they still have food on their plate.

It’s a common behavior for babies to ask/grunt for more even with some still on their plate. If this is happening frequently, you could always switch things up and remove the family-style portions from the table. You could also serve them a bit more if you feel inclined, or simply bring their attention back to their food on their plate by picking up what they have there for them, or using a utensil, pointing, etc. Some babies just want to share the food from your plate as well, so try to place a piece from your plate on to baby’s if you’re comfortable with that, or even reach for the food on your baby’s plate and take a bite to show your interest in their food. This can all re-engage your baby a bit more in what they have in front of them.

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. 

Are weaning tables good for babies and toddlers?

Weaning tables or low-rise tables made specifically for toddlers can be a great way to build independence, provide a safe place for a child to sit for play activities, and serve as an age-appropriate place for meals for kids older than 18-24 months who understand basic safety rules (i.e., Food stays at the table.).

While weaning tables are suitable and can be safe, they can also prevent valuable modeling that happens at the family table; consider reserving toddler tables for snack time and keep primary meals at the family table. Opportunities to sit independently during the day may be enough for a climbing or wiggly toddler to sit happily in their seat for family mealtimes. Check out our High Chair Transitions guide for more in-depth guidance.

My toddler stopped eating meat. How can I get them to eat meat again?

First off, try not to label the behavior too quickly. Many toddlers will put meat in their mouth, chew it briefly, and spit it out. This is NOT a sign of dislike. Since many meats are challenging to chew, it is more likely a sign that they do not yet have the skills or endurance to thoroughly break down the food. This is especially true if you see the meat in the front of the mouth and it never moves to the molars or back of the mouth for thorough chewing. Offering large pieces of meat can offer the toddler opportunities to practice taking bites and chewing a challenging texture. Think whole spare ribschicken drumsticks, lamb chops on the bone, etc.

If your toddler seems hesitant to even try the meat, you can try offering it in different presentations: meatballs, shredded, big and on the bone, etc. You can also add meat to dishes like polenta, mashed potatoes, or scrambled eggs, but NOT in order to hide the meat. Make sure your toddler knows it is in there, because breaking the child’s trust could worsen food refusal. Try offering meats early in the day, not after a long day of daycare/school or when the child is tired. And finally, you can think about setting up situations where hunger drives exploration: offer meat alongside another less-preferred food every once in a while and don’t offer a backup food. Do not force or encourage, but remind your child that they can eat if they are hungry, and if they are not, that’s okay too, another meal/snack will be available in a few hours. If you’re really struggling, check out our guide: 25 Ways to Help Kids Taste Proteins & Vegetables for a ton of ideas. 

Ready to dive in? See our Starting Solids video course or check out our Starting Solids bundle.

  1. Fangupo, et al. (2016). A Baby-Led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking. Pediatrics, 138(4), e20160772. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2016-0772. Retrieved October 8, 2021.
  2. Shune SE, Moon JB, Goodman SS. (2016). The Effects of Age and Preoral Sensorimotor Cues on Anticipatory Mouth Movement During Swallowing. J Speech Lang Hear Res, 59(2), 195-205. DOI: 10.1044/2015_JSLHR-S-15-0138. Retrieved October 8, 2021.
  3. Sakamoto, M., Watanabe, Y., Edahiro, A. et al. Self-Feeding Ability as a Predictor of Mortality Japanese Nursing Home Residents: A Two-Year Longitudinal Study. J Nutr Health Aging 23, 157–164 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12603-018-1125-2. Retrieved October 8, 2021.
  4. Smith, et al (2014). An Observational Study of Adults with Down Syndrome Eating Independently. Dysphagia 29, 52–60. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00455-013-9479-4. Retrieved October 8, 2021.
  5. Simione M, Loret C, Le Révérend B, Richburg B, Del Valle M, Adler M, Moser M, Green JR. (2018). Differing structural properties of foods affect the development of mandibular control and muscle coordination in infants and young children. Physiol Behav, 186:62-72. DOI: 10.1016/j.physbeh.2018.01.009. Retrieved October 8, 2021.
  6. 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
  7. 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
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. 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
  11. 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
  12. 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