Is Baby-Led Weaning Safe?
Updated: Jun 16, 2021
First off, you might be wondering: What is baby-led weaning? In contrast to the traditional spoon-feeding option, baby-led weaning allows infants to self-feed family foods, encouraging the infant to choose what, how much, and how quickly to eat. This method of introducing solid foods has grown in popularity in the last decade, but is it safe? The short answer: yes, if your baby is ready to start solids and is supervised.
While the term "baby-led weaning" is relatively new, this method likely describes what mothers did for millennia before the introduction of specially prepared baby foods (Brown et al., 2017). Still, concerns persist over baby-led weaning, including "potential risk of iron and energy inadequacy as well as choking risk" (D'Auria et al., 2018). While the data are limited, studies show that "infants following a baby-led approach to feeding that includes advice on minimizing choking risk do not appear more likely to choke than infants following more traditional feeding practices" (Fangupo et al., 2016).
To help you get started, here are some baby-led weaning do's and don'ts from Fangupo and colleagues:
Wait until baby is ready to eat solids. This can happen anytime between 5 1/2 to 8 months and is characterized by sitting up unaided, losing the tongue-thrust reflex (foods automatically pushed out by tongue), ability to grasp foods, and showing interest in food (Naylor et al., 2001).
Make sure baby is sitting securely upright. High chairs work, so does your lap.
Give baby appropriately sized, soft foods. Prepare foods so that they are at least as long as the child’s fist on at least one side.
Supervise baby. Monitor infants while eating and never leave them alone.
Be patient. Eating should be at baby's pace and under their control.
Don't place chunks of food inside baby's mouth. This can lead to choking because it bypasses natural safety measures in place to keep large chunks of food from entering the throat.
Don't give baby high-risk foods. These are foods that can't be mashed on the roof of the mouth with the tongue, including very small foods such as nuts, raisins, popcorn, sweets; raw veggies or hard fruit; unpeeled citrus fruit sections; and foods that form a crumb in the mouth.
Adorable examples of baby-led weaning, including pre-loaded spoons (helps baby get extra-mushy foods into mouth):
For more information on starting baby-led weaning, I recommend visiting www.solidstarts.com.
Brown A, Jones SW, Rowan H. Baby-Led Weaning: The Evidence to Date. Curr Nutr Rep. 2017;6(2):148-156.
D'Auria E, Bergamini M, Staiano A, Banderali G, Pendezza E, Penagini F, Zuccotti GV, Peroni DG; Italian Society of Pediatrics. Baby-led weaning: what a systematic review of the literature adds on. Ital J Pediatr. 2018 May 3;44(1):49.
Fangupo LJ, Heath AM, Williams SM, Erickson Williams LW, Morison BJ, Fleming EA, Taylor BJ, Wheeler BJ, Taylor RW. A Baby-Led Approach to Eating Solids and Risk of Choking. Pediatrics. 2016 Oct;138(4):e20160772.
Naylor, A.; Morrow, A. Developmental readiness of normal full term infants to progress from exclusive breastfeeding to the introduction of complementary foods: reviews of the relevant literature concerning infant immunologic, gastrointestinal, oral motor and maternal reproductive and lactational development. Academy for Educational Development: Washington DC, USA, 2001.