Baby Led Weaning – Does it Work? Is it Worth it?

3 out of 5 leaves

3 out of 5 leaves

Baby Led Weaning is a way of adding food into a baby’s diet that allows the baby naturally develop the skills needed to eat solid food.  The idea is that you let baby feed herself from the start.  You offer safe, age appropriate finger foods, and baby naturally learns to take a bite, chew, and swallow.  It’s kind of the opposite of the standard method of feeding mush to a baby who learns to swallow, the later chew, then even later take a bite.  While there is no known health benefit or detriment to either method, some in the crunchy mama community have gravitated towards baby self-feeding as a more “natural” choice.  But is it worth it?  Does Baby Led Weaning really work?

The Good

  • Saves Time – no need to spend time steaming and pureeing fruits and veggies – just give baby a big chunk of something soft
  • Saves Time part 2 – baby feeds himself, so you spend time at the table actually eating YOUR meal
  • Saves Money – no need to purchase jarred mush – baby can have whatever side fruit or veggie the family is having
  • All natural and easy going – allows babies to taste and nibble at their own pace

The Bad

  • Messy, messy, messy!!  (I was warned ahead of time, but was not prepared for how messy it really is!)
  • Can take quite a bit of time before baby actually figures out how to get food in his belly

My Experience

Baby Led Weaning - Does it Work?

Ever since my infant son informed me that jarred baby food was not yummy, I have done all homemade baby food.  That has worked great for us, and I find it pretty easy to have a selection of frozen purees ready to go.  When my newest one was about 4 months old, a friend sent me a link to the Baby Led Weaning Website, asking me if I’d ever tried this.  The idea was new to me, and I was super intrigued!

In Baby Led Weaning, you hand your baby food, and after much exploration and play, they eventually figure out how to eat it.  The idea is that babies are not developmentally ready to eat until they are developmentally able to feed themselves.  Many babies are around a year old when they are actually feeding themselves significant quantities of food.

(Note that in the U.S. “weaning” is typically mean to describe the process of a baby stopping breastfeeding.  However, here “weaning” is used in the more British sense of adding food to compliment the breast milk).

I knew my little one was ready to start solids when at 6 months she snagged a green bean off my plate and gummed it with great gusto!  The next day I offered her a large slice of baked sweet potato.  Again, she very much enjoyed smashing it to bits and getting it everywhere.  I’m not sure that she actually got any in her mouth.  And the mess she made?  Just unbelievable!

Over the next week, I continued to give her some large chunks of whatever side veggie we were having for dinner, and she continued to turn it into the biggest mess ever while getting almost none of it into her tummy.  Honestly, I was not excited about having to clean up the super messy baby, and super messy high chair if the baby wasn’t actually eating.

Baby Led Weaning - Does it Work?

Now, I know that babies need the majority of their calories to be from breast milk for the first year.  And I know that my babe was gaining valuable feed-herself-skills while making these big messes.  But I couldn’t get past the feeling that this mess was a very “unproductive” one.  I want her to be adding a couple small (1 tbsp) servings of solids to her diet.  Working full time, I don’t have the opportunity to add in additional nursing during the day as her growing body needs more and more.

Soooo…  I started adding in some purees of whatever I had given her.  If the family is eating baked sweet potato chips for dinner, I give her a couple, and also spoon feed her a little pureed sweet potato.  If we are adding avocado to our lunchtime salads, I’ll offer her a wedge of avocado to gum up, along with a little pureed avocado as well.  When the big kids share a banana for a snack, I’ll offer the baby a chunk of banana to suck and gnaw on.

Am I doing baby led weaning?  No, not according to this summary of what baby led weaning is and what it is not.  But that’s okay!  Purees are totally fine!  They are not unhealthy!  They are just a different way of feeding baby.  And while I spoon her purees, she also has a bit of the real thing to work on herself.  In this way she is learning to feed herself, but also getting a small meal into her tummy.  Yes, it’s still super messy, but she leaves the table with food in her belly.

Overall, baby led weaning didn’t work for us.  Mostly because I just didn’t have patience for the mess while I waited (maybe months) for her to figure out the whole food-into-mouth-into-tummy thing.  But I have peace with that!  I think baby led weaning could be a great tool for babies that aren’t that interested in starting solids, or who refuse to eat purees from a spoon.  For more info, check out

Have you tried Baby Led Weaning?  Did your baby take to it?  What was your experience?



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7 Responses to Baby Led Weaning – Does it Work? Is it Worth it?

  1. Sarah says:

    Very interesting concept… My BIGGEST worry is choking. My son was almost always choking on food, drinks, purees… he just didn’t know how to limit the amount he shoveled into his mouth. Was there any mention of this worry?

  2. Sarah Kinkead says:

    I used baby led weaning with my now 2 year old and it totally worked for us. I didn’t start giving him and food until he was 7.5 months old and he had better motor control. It was messy, but keeping it to small amounts kept it from being too messy. If you read the book about baby led weaning it talks about choking and gagging. Baby’s actually have a much greater gag reflex than adults and it is more toward the front of their mouth which helps prevent choking. My son did gag a bit and I some moments where I panicked but he worked through it and either spit it out or chewed/gummed the food without actually choking on it.

  3. Lauren says:

    My son wanted to eat by himself at 6 months. He trained me, pretty much… I was worried about him choking on the spoon. So I found it easier to cut whatever I could into strips and let him feed himself that way. Make sure food is soft or well cooked. He is 18 months now, he is still a messy eater and will choke on food occasionally. The last time he chewed too much food up without swallowing. I watch him like a hawk!

  4. Leen says:

    Thanks for being moderate! I also see advantages in both ways of feeding babies, but unfortunately most parents are very extreme in their choices one way or the other. Where probably all parents just wish their baby to eat well, grow well, be happy and healthy. I also tried the messy approach, but my 9month old boy refuses to eat with his hands (except when it is for grabbing and massaging and protecting my boob at breastfeeding time :-)). He likes to chew pieces of fruit and vegetable, and chunks of bread, as long as they are served to him on his spoon. This is probably ‘not done’ according to either approach, but it works for us and I have a healthy baby who greets his spoon with a gorgeous smile.

  5. Katrina Bis says:

    I loved baby led weaning it worked so well for both my boys they were a little older and my youngest was over 10 month not to say I never gave them puree because it’s a total mess and sometime it wasn’t worth like when we were in public but I can’t spoon feeding all the time I lost enough weight not being able to find time to feed myself when they eat I can eat too.

  6. Lydia says:

    We tried baby led weaning after my daughter refused purees, but it didn’t really work for us. She was so hungry that trying to figure out how to eat a large chunk of potato or a whole green bean just frustrated her. I ended up making a chunky, almost pasty, puree of whatever we were having for dinner and that has worked so well for us! Sometimes it’s messy, but I don’t have to sit there and spoon feed her every bite, so it’s worth it to me. She shovels in massive amounts, like a whole handful for each bite, but rarely gags. And at just 12 months she worked out how to use a spoon, so there is less mess now. This has been much easier than with our first, where we did the traditional purees, then finger foods, then self-fed meals.

  7. Rita says:

    I am doing about the same thing as you with my son right now. I love to see him eating by himself, but since breadtfeeding isn’t enough anymore I add purees too. With my other kids I was always worried about choking, but one day I just handed him a half carott and watched him chewing on it ( more because teething than feeding) He had only 2 teeth and couldn’t bite a big piece, so chokeproof 🙂 Now I give him regulary a big chunk of cucumber or apple, etc. and now he really eats it by himself, so makes a mess but also gets something in his tummy. I like to give him big chunks, so he is done with it, before the piece is small enough for choking. Once he bit a bigger piece of and tried to get it out of his mouth by himself, I was surprised, but also pumped that he instinktly knew the right thing to do… and of course you are there and watch your baby while it is feeding itself!!! I also only started with solid food at 7,5 month, so he figuered out pretty soon how to get something in his tummy and not only making a big mess… Love being flexible and doing both, the whole thing and purees, whatever fits at that moment 🙂