Baby-Led Weaning: Empowering Infants who are Starting Solid Foods

Sep 6, 2023 | Baby

Infant starting to eat solid foods

Introducing solid foods to infants is a significant milestone in their development, marking a transition from exclusive breastfeeding or formula feeding for the first 6 months of life to a diverse diet and starting solids. Baby-led weaning (BLW) is an approach gaining popularity among parents and caregivers as an alternative to traditional spoon-feeding methods. BLW involves allowing babies to self-feed with finger foods from the start, encouraging them to explore a variety of textures and flavors at their own pace when looking at solid food for baby.. This method is believed to promote healthy eating habits, fine motor skills, and autonomy while remembering “food is fun” until one year of life and still focusing on nutrition. 

Origins and Principles

Baby-led weaning was first popularized by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett in their book “Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods.” The method is based on the principle that babies have an innate ability to regulate their food intake. Instead of purees and spoon-feeding, BLW focuses on offering appropriately sized pieces of whole foods that babies can grasp, explore, and eat on their own exposing them to various forms of nutrition. This approach respects the baby’s readiness for solid foods and promotes self-feeding skills from an early age while supporting baby foods and choices.

Benefits and Research

Research into the benefits of baby-led weaning is still ongoing, but some potential advantages have been identified when introducing solids to baby. A study published in the “Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics” (2017) found that infants introduced to solid foods through BLW were more likely to participate in family meals and have a preference for a wider range of foods. Another study published in the “International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity” (2019) suggested that baby-led weaning might have a positive influence on the child’s body weight and eating self-regulation. If we allow a baby to tell us what they feel safe eating, respect their boundaries surrounding food, and let them tell us they are done, we can decrease battles about food, which will help foster a more positive experience with eating. 

Safety Considerations

While baby-led weaning offers numerous nutrition benefits, safety is a paramount concern. Parents and caregivers must be vigilant to prevent choking hazards in their baby food. Foods should be appropriately sized, soft enough to be gummed, and free from potential allergens. Close supervision during meals is crucial to ensure that the baby is handling food effectively and not at risk of choking.

Baby-led weaning is an approach to introducing solid foods that empowers infants to take an active role in their feeding journey, truly making it their own baby food! While more research is needed to fully understand its long-term effects, many parents find that it promotes healthy eating habits and fosters a positive relationship with solid food. As with any feeding method, it’s important for caregivers to be well-informed, follow safety guidelines, and tailor the approach to their baby’s individual needs and developmental readiness.

References:
Rapley, G., & Murkett, T. (2010). Baby-led weaning: The essential guide to introducing solid foods. The Experiment.
Brown, A., Lee, M. D., & Binns, C. W. (2017). Baby-Led Weaning: The Evidence to Date. Current Nutrition Reports, 6(2), 148-156.
Fangupo, L. J., Heath, A. M., Williams, S. M., & Fleming, E. A. (2016). A Baby-Led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking. Pediatrics, 138(4), e20160772.
Hetherington, M. M., Schwartz, C., Madrelle, J., Croden, F., Nekitsing, C., Vereijken, C. M., … & Coulthard, H. (2019). A step-by-step introduction to vegetables at the beginning of complementary feeding: The effects of early and repeated exposure. Appetite, 136, 137-145.

Sarah Early - MSN, APRN-FNP-C, IBCLC

Sarah Early, MSN, APRN, FNP-C, IBCLC, is a clinically trained Integrative and Functional Health Family Nurse Practitioner who specializes in women's health and is the owner of Peony Women's Integrative Health and Lactation Room. She graduated with a Master's in Nursing and Family Nurse Practitioner with high distinction and is a member of the Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing. Sarah has been a practicing International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) since 2011 and opened Lactation Room in 2014. Lactation Room specializes in supporting parent/baby dyads who are struggling with infant oral dysfunction, feeding difficulties, and tongue-and-lip ties. They earned the prestigious IBCLE Care Award from the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners® (IBLCE®) and International Lactation Consultant Association® (ILCA®) have recognized Lactation Room for excellence in lactation care. She is a member of ILCA, USLCA, MBC, AANP, IATP, and MBC.