Eating with your baby - at the same time, at the same table, and sharing the same food - is at the heart of
baby-led weaning. There is no need for "baby food", purees, or spoon-feeding. Your baby simply feeds
herself, exploring and enjoying healthy family meals, from her very first taste of solid food. Baby-led
weaning makes introducing solids easier and more enjoyable for the whole family and encourages your baby to
become confident and happy at mealtimes and to enjoy good, nutritious food as she grows up.
Eating should be pleasurable for everyone - adults and babies alike. Playing an active part in mealtimes
and being in control of what to eat, how much to eat, and how fast to eat it make eating more enjoyable; the
opposite can make mealtimes miserable. With baby-led weaning, babies look forward to eating; they enjoy
learning about different foods and doing things for themselves. Early experiences of happy, stress-free
mealtimes are more likely to give a child a healthy attitude toward food for life.
Babies are programmed to experiment and explore; it's how they learn. They use their hands and their mouths
to find out about all sorts of objects, including food. With baby-led weaning, a baby can explore food at her
own pace and follow her instincts to eat when she's ready - just like any baby animal.
Learning about food
Babies who are allowed to feed themselves learn about the look, smell, taste, and texture of different
foods, and how different flavors work together; with spoon-feeding, all the tastes are pureed into one. With
baby-led weaning, babies can discover the different tastes in, say, a chicken and vegetable casserole, and
begin to learn how to recognize foods they like. And they can simply leave anything they don't like, rather
than having to refuse the whole casserole to avoid it. This makes planning easier and means babies don't miss
out on the foods they enjoy. It also means that the whole family can share a meal, even if not everyone likes
Learning about their world
Babies never just play; they are always learning. Pretty much everything babies can learn from the best
(and most expensive) educational toys can be learned by handling food. For instance, they figure out how to
hold something soft without squashing it or something slippery without dropping it - and about concepts such
as less and more, size, shape, weight and texture, too. Because all their senses (sight, touch, hearing,
smell, and taste) are involved, they discover how to relate all these things to each other for a better
understanding of the world around them.
Feeding themselves allows babies to practice important aspects of their development at every mealtime.
Using their fingers to get food to their mouths means they can practice hand-eye coordination; gripping foods
of different sizes and textures several times a day improves their dexterity. This may help with writing and
drawing skills later. And chewing food (rather than just swallowing purees) develops the facial muscles that
will be needed as they learn to talk.
Allowing babies to do things for themselves not only enables them to learn, but also gives them confidence
in their own abilities and judgment. When a baby picks something up and gets it to her mouth she receives an
almost instant reward in the form of an interesting taste or texture. This teaches her that she is capable of
making good things happen, which in turn helps to build her confidence and self-esteem. As her experience of
food grows, and she discovers what's edible and what isn't and what to expect from each type of food, she
learns to trust her own judgment.
When babies are allowed to use their instincts to decide what to eat and what to leave, they rarely show
any suspicion of food - as is sometimes seen in other babies and toddlers. Allowing them to reject a food they
feel they don't need, or that may seem unsafe (over/underripe, rancid or poisonous), means babies are more
willing to try new foods because they know they'll be allowed to decide whether or not to eat them.
Being part of family mealtimes
With baby-led weaning, babies are included in family mealtimes from the start, eating the same food and
joining in the social time. This is fun for the baby and allows her to copy mealtime behavior, so that she
will naturally move on to using utensils, and adopt the table manners expected in her family. Babies can begin
to learn about how different foods are eaten, how to share, how to wait their turn, and how to make
conversation. Sharing mealtimes has a positive impact on family relationships, social skills, language
development, and healthy eating.
Eating habits developed during childhood can last a lifetime. It seems likely that babies who are allowed
to choose what to eat from a range of nutritious foods, at their own pace, and to decide when they've had
enough, continue to eat according to their appetite and are less likely to overeat when they are older. This
may be an important part of preventing obesity.
With baby-led weaning, because milk feedings are reduced very gradually, babies who are breastfed are more
likely to continue getting a good intake of breast milk for longer. Breastfeeding provides not only a perfect
balance of nutrients but also protection, for both children and their mothers, against many serious illnesses.
No need for games or tricks
Many parents who spoon-feed their baby find that she isn't keen to eat, and they have to come up with ways
of persuading her to accept different foods. Because baby-led weaning respects babies' decisions about what to
eat (or not to eat) and when to stop eating, the need to persuade just doesn't arise. This means there is no
call for elaborate games involving train and airplane noises to try to fool a baby into accepting food she
doesn't want. And there is no need to trick toddlers into eating healthily by making food into special shapes
(such as smiley faces) or "hiding" vegetables in other dishes.
Letting the baby share what's being cooked for the rest of the family is cheaper than buying and preparing
separate meals. And it's much less expensive than ready-made baby foods!
Are There Any Disadvantages?
Okay, yes, it is a bit messy! But all babies need to learn to feed themselves at some point, and that will
involve some mess. It's just that, with baby-led weaning, the mess comes earlier than it would otherwise. The
good news is that the messy period, for a lot of babies, is quite short; because the baby has the chance to
practice feeding herself so often, she quickly gets good at it. There are lots of ways to prepare for the mess
and, anyway, spoon-feeding can be pretty messy, too!
Other people's worries
Dealing with the early fears and doubts of relatives and friends isn't really a disadvantage, but it can be
a problem with baby-led weaning. Because it hasn't been talked about much in the past, many people don't know
about this method of introducing solids, or understand how it works. This means they may be skeptical or worry
about it - until, that is, they see it in action!