Weaning – It’s one of those stages which can seem daunting & complicated, but it doesn’t have to be!

For this article the lovely Gill Rapley & Tracey Murkett have teamed up with our own local babies to tell you all about baby-led weaning.  If you want to know more – read on!  If you’re past that stage, maybe you’d just like to play ‘spot the baby’ & see how many of our local baby-led weaning babies you can recognise.  Answers on a postcard please – or maybe in the comments box.

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What is Baby-led Weaning?

We’re all used to the conventional image of introducing solid foods: Mum or Dad loads up a spoonful of pureed mush and tries to persuade the baby to eat it. Maybe the baby will try to grab the spoon, or close his mouth and turn away to avoid it. Or he’ll happily eat smooth purees, only to struggle with lumpy foods a few months later. Either way, it tends to be the parents who make the decisions and set the pace.

Baby-led weaning (BLW) gives control to the child. It allows babies to join in with healthy family meals from the beginning, handling real food and taking it to their mouth whenever they are ready. Babies explore food at their own pace and continue to take as much milk or formula as they want. It’s up to them how much or how little they eat, and it’s up to them which foods they choose from what is offered.

Baby-led weaning is based on the normal development of babies in their first year. Research shows that at around six months, babies’ immune and digestive systems are ready for solids foods. At this age they are also able to sit up unaided and take objects to their mouth accurately – and they are beginning to make chewing movements. In other words, they are ready and able to feed themselves. As long as they have the opportunity, all healthy babies will spontaneously start to grab food and explore it. Just like crawling, walking and talking, learning to eat solid food is a natural and inevitable part of development for any healthy baby.

Now we know that babies under six months old don’t need solid foods, spoon feeding and purees are simply redundant. They are left over from the days when everyone believed that much younger babies needed something more than milk. In fact, finger foods have been recommended from around six months for many decades, so BLW isn’t really anything new – it simply recognises that the puree stage isn’t needed.


One of the advantages of BLW is that it allows the baby to respond to his own appetite, choosing the nutrients he needs and stopping when he’s had enough. There is some evidence that this may help children make healthier choices later, and to avoid obesity. Babies who are spoon fed are often encouraged to eat faster (which is associated with obesity in adults) and persuaded to eat as much as adults think they need, overriding their feelings of fullness. Trusting a baby to know what he needs – even if it seems slightly eccentric or not the right amount – is at the heart of BLW.

There are other advantages, too. Babies learn about food by experimenting and playing; offering them a range of textures and shapes helps them develop manual dexterity and the ability to deal with different types of food in their mouth. Learning to chew naturally, when they are ready, helps babies to eat safely and may enhance jaw development. And most babies who start solids this way continue to have plenty of milk feeds, rather than filling up on less nutritious foods.

But long-term benefits aren’t the real reason why BLW is becoming so popular. It’s simply that most families find it easier, less stressful and more enjoyable than spoon feeding. The mealtime battles that seem to be so common with babies and toddlers rarely happen with BLW because no-one is fighting the baby’s instinct to feed herself or trying to control what she eats. The whole family eats the same (healthy) food – together – so there’s no need to buy or prepare separate meals, or to let your own dinner go cold while you feed your baby. Plus, babies enjoy joining in and having the chance to copy what everyone else is doing.

Moroccan Veg Tagine with butternut squash & chickpeas – very posh!

My first taste of food – Melon

Breakfast time & it’s all mine!

Marmite toast fingers yummy, but can I have them in triangles next time.


Baby-led weaning basics:

How to start:

  • Prepare for mess! Food will be dropped, squished and squeezed. A clean splash mat under the chair means you can re-offer dropped food.
  • As soon as your baby can sit up with little or no support, sit him on your lap or in a highchair at family mealtimes. Make sure he can reach the food easily.
  • Choose times when your baby isn’t tired or hungry – mealtimes are for learning and exploring, to start with.
  • Let her share the food on your plate, or put a few pieces of food in front of her for her to pick up (a plate of her own may be distracting).
  • Offer your baby water to drink with his meals – but don’t be surprised if he isn’t interested. If he’s breastfed, he may prefer to continue to have all his drinks at the breast.
  • Continue to offer breastfeeds or formula on demand.

Foods to offer:

  • Thick sticks of food will be easiest for your baby to hold at first – long enough for a bit to poke out from her fist. Most healthy family food is suitable, such as fruit, vegetables, cheese or large strips of meat (for sucking or chewing). Aim for variety – your baby will enjoy learning how to handle different textures. She’ll move on to using spoons and forks gradually.
  • Offer a variety of flavours – babies don’t need bland food. Unless there are allergies in your family there is no need to start with one taste at a time.



  • Avoid salt, ready-meals, junk food and additives as much as possible (you may need to check labels carefully – some common foods, such as baked beans and gravy, can be very high in salt). Honey and undercooked eggs carry a small risk of food poisoning so they should be avoided until your baby is over a year old.

What to expect:

  • At first your baby will grab pieces of food and explore them with his hands. Then he’ll taste it. Before long he’ll start to bite and chew it and a week or two later he’ll start swallowing it.
  • Mealtimes in the beginning are for playing and learning, so your baby probably won’t eat much for the first few months. Provided she can breastfeed or have formula whenever she wants, her milk feeds will continue to provide all the nourishment she needs.
  • Many babies gag on food in the early weeks. This is a normal protective reflex to push food forward, away from the airway, while they are learning how to manage it. The gag reflex is more sensitive in babies than in adults and is triggered further forward on the tongue. It’s not the same as choking and it doesn’t seem to bother babies. Once the food has been pushed forward, either it falls out of their mouth or they carry on chewing it.

My first taste of food – red pepper, cucumber & pear

I’m having lots of fun! Loving the white sofa Mum, make sure to clean my hands properly after tea.

All in a row – shall I start at the top or the bottom first?

Who’s put Nutella in my pitta bread? Now that’s never happened before.


Remember to:

  • Keep mealtimes enjoyable – let your baby play and don’t hurry him or try to persuade him to eat more than he wants.
  • Trust your baby to cut down her milk feeds whenever she is ready.
  • Explain how baby-led weaning works to anyone involved in feeding your baby.

Keep it safe:

  • Make sure your baby is sitting upright to eat, not leaning back or slumping, so that he can control the food in his mouth safely.
  • Don’t put anything in your baby’s mouth for her – and don’t let anyone else do so either (watch out for ‘helpful’ toddlers).
  • Don’t offer your baby hard nuts; remove stones from food such as olives and cherries; cut small round fruits, such as grapes, in half.
  • Never leave your baby alone with food.

The more you can relax and trust your baby the easier introducing solid foods will be – and the more you will be able to share your baby’s excitement as he discovers how enjoyable eating can be.

Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett are the authors of Baby-led Weaning: Helping your baby to love good food; The Baby-led Weaning Cookbook: 130 delicious recipes for the whole family to enjoy, Baby-led Breastfeeding: How to make breastfeeding work with your baby’s help and Baby-led Parenting: The easy way to nurture, understand and connect with your baby, all published by Vermilion.


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