Baby-led weaning: where to start

Baby weaning mess

Baby-led weaning encourages independence and helps develop coordination in babies, but many parents find themselves umming and ahhing over whether this method or spoon-feeding is the best option. One thing's for certain – whichever you choose, it's gonna get messy. Here's everything you need to know about both options.

Baby-led weaning – your guide

Baby-led weaning encourages independence and helps develop coordination in babies, but many parents find themselves umming and ahhing over whether this method or spoon-feeding is the best option. One thing's for certain – whichever you choose, it's gonna get messy. Here's everything you need to know about both options.

What is baby-led weaning? | Dos and don'ts for BLW | Baby-led weaning recipes | BLW drawbacks | What is spoon-feeding? | Dos and don'ts for spoon-feeding | Combined feeding

Babies are all different, so what works for one baby might not suit another. And come to that, parents are all different too. For some, spoon-feeding is the way to go, while others prefer baby-led weaning (BLW). It’s a case of horses for courses. And who said you have to choose between the two? You can also combine both methods.

The important thing is that your baby is introduced to eating solid foods in ways that are safe and, with any luck, enjoyable for both of you. Whichever method you settle on, it can be a fascinating adventure to find out what your little one likes to eat.

What is BLW and how does it work?

BLW means letting your baby feed herself and choose from a range of foods you put in front of her. It might sound unfeasible – the idea that your baby will simply start feeding herself – but this method can be surprisingly effective. Many parents swear that it’s the best way of introducing solid foods.

Some parents try BLW if their baby rejects spoon-feeding. They often find that, when the food is simply placed in front of the baby, she picks it up and tucks in. BLW is also popular among parents who have other children, as they find that – after seeing her older brothers and sisters feeding themselves – the baby wants to do the same.

Sometimes, a baby will kickstart the weaning process by making an early grab for the food on their sibling's, or parent's, plate. If your second-born child is weaned on a purloined gingerbread man, know that she will not be the first.

Baby-led weaning is thought to reduce the chances of your baby having problems with gagging or chewing later on, as it introduces her to chewing instead of just swallowing purées early in life.

Dos and don'ts

  • Offer your baby chip-sized finger foods initially. It’s good for her to practise picking these up, as it improves hand-eye coordination and helps to develop her pincer grip.
  • Don’t give her too much – just a couple of pieces at a time, to start.
  • Sit her down with the rest of your family at mealtimes. This makes her part of things and, when she sees the rest of you eating, she might want to join in. I'm a big BLW fan. I don't have to worry about mashing things up or making separate food. I like that the method helped my daughter's coordination and dexterity, and it made me watch and read her feeding cues.
  • Try not to be too strict about three meals a day. The times when she’ll want to eat will vary, especially at first, so follow her lead.
  • Avoid bowls. Put the food down on the highchair tray or table and wait for your baby to try it.
  • Keep expectations low. She might just play with her food but this is all part of the process and, sooner or later, she’ll start eating the food you offer her.
  • Let her get on with it. BLW is good for your baby’s sense of independence, so let her get stuck in at her own pace.
  • Prepare for mess. This also applies if you’re spoon-feeding but especially if you’re trying BLW. Make sure your baby is wearing a bib and don’t wear your best white shirt. You could get a splat mat or put down a wipeable table cloth beneath the highchair, too, to save your floor from the worst of it.

Baby-led weaning recipes and ideas

I do broccoli and cauliflower together with cheese grated on and mixed in.

Sweet potato with cod and peas.

Homemade pork meat balls (we've found beef mince is too hard – pork is much more suitable for gums!)

Pitta bread with hummus.

What are the drawbacks of baby-led weaning?

Food for the under-ones is just for fun. It doesn't matter if your baby is only playing with his food as long as he's still taking in adequate milk. He is just getting used to flavours and textures.

The Department of Health advises that you should feed your baby from the spoon and offer them finger foods. That way, you get the best of both worlds, as you control what your baby eats via the spoon at the same time as they learn to hold finger food themselves.

Dietitians say it’s important that your baby eats food with a variety of textures, including puréed foods and finger foods, and this is more difficult to provide with BLW.

What about food safety? With baby-led weaning, you could lose track of what your baby is eating, especially if she has a large appetite. Some parents worry that BLW puts their baby at risk of choking. As long as your baby is sitting up straight, this shouldn’t happen, and remember that you should never leave your baby unattended when she’s eating.

Check out our first aid advice on choking in babies and children so that you're well prepared, just in case.

BLW is messy, so any time you save from not puréeing your baby’s food might be made up in the time you spend picking up toast and mashed sweet potato. Your baby is likely to take pleasure in playing with her food and throwing it around. This is to be expected but, if most of her food ends up on the floor, you have to wonder how many nutrients she’s getting.

If you have questions about BLW, you can bet your last steamed carrot stick you'll find the answer on Mumsnet's weaning forum.

Discuss baby-led weaning with your GP or health visitor if…

  • Your baby was premature.
  • There’s a history of allergies, digestive problems or food intolerance in your family.
  • Your baby has special needs and has difficulty picking up food, or struggles with coordination or chewing.

Little girl feeding herself

What is spoon-feeding?

Spoon-feeding is the most popular method of weaning and generally involves feeding your baby puréed or mashed vegetables on a small, soft spoon.

One reason for its popularity is that, with spoon-feeding, you have a bit more control over how much your baby eats. Parents often feel more ‘secure’ in knowing exactly what their baby is eating (a lot of baby-led meals end up on the floor). However, at this stage your baby’s main food should still be milk, so it’s not something to worry about for too long.

Similarly, many parents feel they're reducing the risk of choking – a common fear but a very rare occurrence. In fact, there’s some evidence that baby-led eaters get better at chewing food early on and are less likely to choke later, as they’ve developed the skills needed for eating properly.

Spoon-feeding is also not as messy as BLW (unless your baby takes particularly strong exception to something). Plus, your baby will have to get used to using cutlery at some point, so starting with a spoon at six months is no bad thing.

You can also offer your baby a wider range of food on the spoon than you can if you’re just putting it down for them to pick up with the BLW method.

If there’s one drawback with spoon-feeding it’s probably that it can be time-consuming. All that puréeing and mashing can mean you spend plenty of time in the kitchen, preparing food that, let’s face it, might end up on the floor. There are, though, ways around this, especially as your baby matures and starts eating similar meals to you and the rest of your family.

Dos and don'ts

The problem comes when they refuse the spoon! All was going well weaning, then a couple of weeks ago my daughter started clamping her mouth shut at the sight of the spoon – except for breakfast or yogurt!
  • Start by offering your baby only small spoonfuls a few times every day. Slowly increase the amount and frequency.
  • Show your baby the spoon but wait for her to open her mouth before offering it.
  • If she takes to a particular food then stick with it and introduce other foods slowly.
  • If you offer the spoon and she turns away and doesn’t want to eat then leave it. You can always try again later.
  • Let her play with the spoon and, if she likes, let her try feeding herself.

Spoon-fed weaning recipes

Mumsnetters' experiences with weaning

I did a mixture of BLW and spoon weaning with my daughter and it worked well. She had cereal or toast for breakfast, finger food at lunch which she fed herself and then purée in the evening.

We did BLW because my daughter refused a spoon. She didn't eat a thing until she was eight months, and even then it was tiny amounts! I found it stressful but needn't have worried. She started having a spoon after going to nursery at 12 months, so now we do a mix of spoon and finger food, and she's learning to feed herself with a spoon.

Back before someone decided to coin the term 'baby-led weaning', everyone did a combination of purée and finger foods and just got on with it. You can even give the baby the spoon. Don't overthink it.

I bet most people do a mix of spoon and BLW. I went with purées and finger foods, pretty much from the start of weaning. The finger food occupied her and I spoon fed at same time. Finger food took over within a couple of months or so as she preferred to feed herself, but with some things she still needed help with with a spoon.

Weaning equipment

If you're wondering what you'll need to start weaning, we've got you covered. Here are a few of Mumsnet users' top recommendations.

NutriBullet, £49.99

When it comes to food blenders, none are as iconic as the NutriBullet. For good reason, too. With its 600W motor, whole vegetables and fruits can be pulverised in seconds. It's also easy and quick to clean – as the product description says: 'just rinse under warm water.'

“Love, love, love mine. I use it every day without fail. It's so easy to use and clean.”

Buy now from Amazon

Bamix Classic Hand Stick Blender, £99.99

Time and again, Mumsnet users suggest a stick blender for weaning. Super quick and easy, you can just grab it and get blending. And if you'd like to make a bit of an investment, this hand blender comes highly recommended. Able to reach 17,000 rpm, it has two speed settings and a surprisingly quiet 180W motor. It also comes with a 10-year guarantee.

“Bamix is a fabulous stick blender. Really quick and will last a long, long time.”

Buy now from Amazon

IKEA ANTILOP highchair, £16.75

A favourite among parents, this cheap and cheerful highchair is sturdy, quick to assemble, and easily wiped clean. It's worth noting that, as our review of the chair said: “the tray simply clips onto the chair but is quite far away for weaning age babies, so you may want to purchase the Ikea highchair cushion, or even stuff a towel behind their backs to help prop them up.” Read the full review here.

“The Antilop highchair was probably, cost per use, the best value product we've ever bought.”

“I found the highchair to be easy to clean (and very cheap). We could even fit the seat and tray in our dishwasher if it got too filthy.”

Buy now from Amazon

Pop-In Bib, £10.99

Waterproof and stain-resistant, this material is easy to wipe clean. The long sleeves are an added bonus – giving plenty of coverage. And then there's that sweet design, too.

“I've tried loads of bibs, and this is by far and away the best.”

Buy now from Amazon

IKEA Kladdig Multi-Coloured Bib, £8.60

Another winner is this IKEA bib. Soft and pliant, its adjustable neck and elastic sleeves mean that it can be worn for years. It also comes equipped with a handy front pocket – ready to catch any spills.

“IKEA's long sleeved bibs are really good. They wash well and mine's lasted for two years.”

Buy now from Amazon

Tommee Tippee First Cup, £7.64 (for two)

At around six months, your baby will be using her first cup. This one's a popular choice – being leak-proof, durable, and easy to use. It's nice and sturdy, too, and won't come open easily – handy, for when baby decides it's due for a lob across the room.

“The Tommee Tippee cups (with handles and fold down spout) are amazing! Get at least two as they tend to go walk about.”

Buy now from Amazon

All prices correct at the time of publication.

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