What is Baby Led Weaning? Benefits + How to Transition to Real Food
What in the world is baby led weaning (BLW)? If you’re wondering when and how to transition your baby to start their first foods, the answer is probably different than you think! In this beginner’s guide we share the benefits of baby led weaning, give food recommendations for introducing solids, share a list of products and tools, along with tons of helpful tips and actionable advice like how to reduce the risk of your baby developing allergies.
This post is sponsored by buybuy BABY. All thoughts and opinions are my own. Thank you for supporting the brands that make it possible for Root + Revel to provide free content and healthy living inspiration.
When my son Jackson was a few months old, I started wondering what would come next after breastfeeding.
When would he start eating solid food? How do you transition babies off breast milk? What kinds of foods can babies eat or not eat? I had so many questions swirling in my head!
Then when I discovered Baby Led Weaning, I was completely fascinated. Typically when you think of baby food, you imagine ‘airplaning’ applesauce and bland purées into your baby’s mouth with a spoon. But this was so not the case with the strategy known as Baby Led Weaning.
Baby Led What? you’re probably wondering, right? I had never heard of it either! So let me start at the beginning.
What is Baby Led Weaning + Why Is It Important?
Baby Led Weaning (or BLW) is an approach to introducing solid food where your baby is allowed and encouraged to self-feed solid finger foods instead of receiving purées via spoon.
The term was first coined by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett in their book Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods (a super helpful book that I highly recommend!).
It’s about not forcing your baby to eat anything, but rather having them learn the skills of self-regulating their own hunger, fullness, likes, and dislikes.
Why would you want to give your baby solid foods? Let me count the ways!
- From the youngest age, your child learns to self-regulate and self-select, which has been shown to increase weight in underweight babies and support a healthy weight in most babies. (source)
- You’re actually setting your baby up for a positive relationship with food for life, which is HUGE, given most of us have disordered and complex relationships with food that we learned as children and into adulthood. Food is just food, and when your baby has the freedom to eat whatever they want or don’t want from a young age without restriction, they learn to listen and honor their body’s innate wisdom.
- Your baby learns fine motor skills by learning to grasp food, move it to their mouth, and improve hand-eye coordination. They also learn how to safely handle food (they learn to chew then swallow), as well as managing different textures, tastes, sizes, and shapes of food.
- Starting babies with really carb-heavy foods like rice and grains is not the best idea since they can’t easily digest those foods yet. I know, I know–conventional wisdom says to start your baby with rice cereal around 4 months, but in fact, your baby’s digestive system doesn’t yet make enough of an enzyme called amylase, which actually breaks down carbs–meaning that starchy foods can be irritating and uncomfortable for your baby. To take this point a step further: without enough amylase, these foods can literally sit and start to decompose in the gut, which may increase the likelihood of allergies to this particular food. No bueno! (source)
- It’s easier for YOU! Let’s face it: making purees is time-consuming. It’s much easier to give your baby what you’re eating, or possibly a modified version, than it is to create a separate meal. It’s also WAY cheaper than buying tons of baby food!
- You get to eat at the same time as your baby, allowing you to relax, and fostering family connection.
This approach made a ton of sense to me after reading several books, talking with my mom friends, and consulting with my pediatrician. My husband and I decided to start Jackie on a modified BLW just after he turned 6 months.
It’s important to share here that I eased into this in Baby Led Weaning thing in a way that felt best for me and my family. I’m exploring and learning, just like you!
I suggest all mamas trust their gut when it comes to your baby, and talk to your pediatrician. This strategy may or may not be right for you.
Getting Started with Baby Led Weaning
Conventional wisdom has long suggested to start babies on solid foods as early as 2-4 months. But the research actually shows a much different picture.
Regardless of the baby’s actual age, you want to wait until they can sit up by themselves, without support, and have the pincher grasp intact (meaning your child can pick something up between their thumb and forefinger). This usually happens around 6 months of age.
Other things to look for are if your baby is showing interest at mealtime, possibly trying to grab food from your plate and put it in their mouth, and if they seem willing to chew (regardless of if they have few or no teeth).
When getting started, you should still continue to nurse (or give a bottle) just as often. Solids complement milk (they don’t replace it), and once you start giving your baby food, you can trust that your babe will naturally start to increase the quantity of food they eat during their solid feedings, while decreasing their milk intake (usually later in the first year).
I’d recommend starting with solids once a day, and then gradually increasing as your child shows they want or need more. We started with an early dinner and then added on from there.
Products You Need for Baby Led Weaning
I’m nothing if not efficient. That’s why I love buybuy BABY, since it’s a one-stop shop for all things baby, and they have a great selection of non-toxic, eco-friendly brands as well! While I love online shopping, sometimes you just want to see and feel things in-store, so sometimes I go see things in person before I buy, because buybuy BABY’s massive store usually has whatever I need in stock.
Here are my favorite and must-have products for baby led weaning, including bottles since we still give Jackie bottles most days:
- Stokke’s Tripp Trapp high chair: I love this sleek, classic Scandinavian design and the fact that it’s made from solid European beech wood (not plastic). I have it in white so it’s not an eyesore in my kitchen. Its intelligent design grows with your child, providing a comfortable, ergonomic seat at any age, so I know we’ll have it for years to come.
- Inglesina Fast Table Chair: This super convenient high chair is perfect whether we’re at a friend’s house, traveling or at a restaurant–we can just snap this lightweight chair onto any table so baby boy can join us for dinner. Ultra-light, collapsible and easy to carry, this is one of my favorite ‘must-have’ baby items! (And don’t forget the accompanying tray!)
- Silicone bibs with catcher: This is a MUST for BLM! So helpful to catch the mess. LOVE!
- Long-sleeved bibs: These are AWESOME when you’re first starting BLW since it’s seriously SO messy. These waterproof bibs are like a lightweight full-bodied suit that helps keep the mess at bay! A couple of my favorite designs are these zebras and these hedgehogs.
- Spoons: I adore Olababy’s training spoons (100% food-grade silicone that’s flexible and ergonomically designed for baby’s hands), ChooMee silicone starter spoons (contours to bowl shapes, reduces spills, is safe for teething, plus is BPA, PVC, Lead and Phthalate-Free), and NatureBond’s Baby Food/Fruit Feeder Pacifier (neat food-grade silicone feeders where you insert fruit or veggies into the pacifier for baby to suck and teeth on).
- Placemat plates: an all-in-one placemat + plate that sticks to the bottom of the highchair tray to reduce tipping and contain the mess.
- Bowls, plates, and spoon sets: made from real, biodegradable bamboo with suction liners so the bowls don’t topple over. Genius!
- Floor Mats: These wipeable, non-slip mats go underneath baby’s high chair to make for easier clean up and ease your mind about spills.
- Boon bottles and cleaning set: Gotta have somewhere to store and clean all those baby bottles, right? What’s cuter than this grass-like countertop drying rack? BPA free, Phthalate-free and PVC free, it’s low-profile and yet holds tons of bottles in all shapes and sizes. Plus it’s got an easy-to-clean design. The bottles also have a cool design with a silicone pouch that collapses as your baby drinks.
- Tommee Tippee bottles: These BPA-free bottles are my personal favorite, since it’s super easy to get the tops on and off, and they’re the only bottles with black lines on the outside so you can actually see how much milk you’re putting in each one. It’s these small details that make such a big difference (because who doens’t love easier prep and cleanup)!?
- comotomo bottles: These silicon, BPA-free bottles are dishwasher and microwave safe, and come with three different nipple flow caps–medium, fast, and variable–depending on your baby’s needs. I love how this design mimics natural breastfeeding to make the nursing to bottle-feeding transition easier on baby, as these bottles are skin-like, soft and squeezable. It also has a wide-neck design for easy cleaning.
- NUK learner cup: A BPA-free, spill-proof cup with handles to help with the transition from bottle to trainer cup, with a cute dinosaur design to boot!
At buybuy BABY, you get free shipping over $39. Don’t forget to sign up for ‘My Offers’ and save with coupons!
Tips for Baby Led Weaning
- Eating with your baby is important. Jackson loved watching me eat and then copying how I did it.
- It’s not about how much your baby actually eats, but rather the exploration and learning process. Remember, you’re still giving your baby breastmilk or formula at this stage too.
- Get your baby to try all different tastes–you might be surprised how much they love sour, bitter, and even spicy!
- Texture is just as important as taste. You want to give a variety of textures–soft, chewy, crunchy, etc.
- Don’t be afraid of spices. There were times I tried to give Jackie some purees or foods with no seasoning, and he didn’t like it. Once I added some seasonings like onion, parsley, basil, cumin, mustard, garlic and lemon, he loved it!
- Give your baby organic meat early. They can do it! Cut and serve in long finger-sized strips they can grab onto and gnaw. They can choke on small pieces of chicken, but not on an entire chicken tender or chicken breast, for example.
- Gagging is an important part of the process. Not gonna lie: watching your baby gag is not easy, but it’s all part of their learning. It’s hugely IMPORTANT to note that gagging is different than choking! Gagging is a safety mechanism that safeguards against choking by bringing large pieces of food forward to be chewed. Whether now or later, your baby is going to get introduced to solids and will gag–so why not start them now? Of course, be safe and smart with your feedings; never leave your babe unsupervised, and learn how to respond if your baby does ever choke.
- Take deep breaths to avoid panic attacks about the mess. 😉 It does get super crazy messy–and that’s just part of it!
Best Baby Led Weaning Foods
Beyond tools, the next thing you obviously need is FOOD! A BLW baby is offered a variety of healthy whole finger foods (as well as a small amount of water) to choose from and explore like fresh fruits, soft cooked vegetables, healthy carbohydrates, proteins, and fats.
Now, I’m not an all or nothing gal.
My approach was not that I would NEVER give Jackson pouches or purees or more traditional baby convenience foods. It was more about that I didn’t want to exclusively give him those things. They’re part of the variety of foods, textures, and tastes, so I believe they do have a place in BLW.
When I do spoon feed him, I simply preload the spoon and hand it to him to (messily!) feed himself.
Here are some of my favorite brands we loved giving Jackie, both due to his enjoyment, the convenience, and the quality of these brands:
- Serenity Kids pouches: choose from beef, chicken, salmon, or bacon, as well as veggie options too. The ingredients are super simple and an easy way to introduce animal protein to your babe (especially if you’re not quite ready to experiment with hunks of meat yet).
- Happy Tot Organics: They have all kinds of baby purees, but I especially love their Super Morning pouch, a breakfast blend of organic bananas, blueberries, yogurt, oats, and chia seeds
- Happy Baby Organic Superfood Puffs: these are the perfect addition to add crunch to your baby’s meal
- Formula: If you can believe it, I had to buy a European formula for Jackson because there literally isn’t an American brand that I think is ‘clean enough’–they all contain some combination of sugar, carrageenan, soybean oil, and other synthetic ingredients and artificial nutrients. We went with HiPP‘s Combiotic formula, which I love because it’s organic (no pesticides or GMOs), has a clean and simple ingredients list, is made with prebiotic fibers from lactose (milk sugar) which mimic those found in breastmilk AND has Omega 3 and 6 for healthy brain development. If want to order domestic, the best brand I found is Happy Baby’s Organic Infant Formula.
Other common foods, not brand specific:
- avocado (this was Jackson’s first food ever!)
- banana (fun hack in my IG stories, link below!)
- organic apple sauce
- organic yogurt and cottage cheese (great to mix in nut butter)
- organic bone broth
- homemade chicken liver pate (liver is super nutrient-dense and great for baby’s development)
- mashed sweet potatoes
- meat (rotisserie chicken, ground meat, canned fish)
- soft veggies and fruit (like pears, pickles)
- scrambled eggs
- organic cheese
How to Introduce Common Allergens
The longer you postpone giving your baby common allergens, the more likely they are to develop an allergen to that food. Yikes!
So it’s important to give them small doses of peanuts, milk, eggs, shellfish, soy, etc. to build up their tolerance.
I know this sounds scary at first, but it’s now proven and commonly accepted that this is an important practice to reduce allergen development. The FDA, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have all updated their guidelines to support the science behind early and sustained allergen introduction.
The best way to do this is with products from companies that help you safely and effectively introduce allergens, like:
- Ready, Set, Food!: This was probably my fave of all the ones I tried. It’s an allergist-developed system you can use with babies as young as four months old to introduce them to peanut, egg, and milk, helping reduce their risk of developing these common food allergies by up to 80%! You simply mix the powder into breast milk or your baby’s bottle–easy! You don’t have to worry about whether you’re introducing the right amount or calculate your own timeline—everything is pre-portioned. Use the code ROOT+REVEL20 for $20 off!
- Inspired Start: This is a nice option because it’s actual food that mixes in 8 common allergens (wheat, soy, tree nut, peanut, egg, sesame, shrimp, and cod) in a convenient piuch.
- MeWe: A line of convenient and delicious peanut butter snacks.
- Lil Mixins: 100% organic peanut powder–just add Lil Mixins to any baby food 3 times a week. Remember: babies who eat peanut regularly are 80% less likely to develop peanut allergies than babies who don’t!
Baby Led Weaning Books + Other Helpful Resources
Intrigued and interested in learning more? I got you!
- To see this in action, go to my Instagram account and watch my BLW highlights here! It’s extra helpful and inspiring to see a real life example of what this looks like, plus you’ll learn extra tips and get more food ideas.
- Born to Eat: This book really helped me as I was figuring this out, plus their Instagram account is also really informative.
- I mentioned this in the beginning, but it’s worthy of mention again here–Baby Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods
- Other Instagram accounts: @Feeding Littles, @babyledfeeding, @kids.eat.in.color, and following the hashtag #babyledweaning
- Facebook groups: it was so great to connect with other moms who were going through this as I was learning and implementing! I recommend the group Baby Led Weaning for Beginners and Baby-Led, Combo and Traditional Weaning
Over to you! Have you tried BLW? Leave any comments, questions, or tips in the comments below!
Photo Credit: Heidi Geldhauser
Disclaimer: This post includes affiliate links, and I will earn a commission if you purchase through these links. Please note that I've linked to these products purely because I recommend them and they are from companies I trust. There is no additional cost to you.