Self-feeding (baby-led solid feeding)

What is baby-led weaning?

Baby-led weaning, also known as self-feeding, is the practice of allowing babies to introduce solid foods into their diets by feeding themselves, choosing from an assortment of regular foods that are also eaten by the rest of the family. It has become popular in North America and Europe. It allows babies to start different foods at their own pace and to handle the food instead of being fed with a spoon. If the baby rejects a food, it is offered again at a later date. Softer foods are offered at first, and foods that may cause choking are not. Sips of liquid, such as expressed breast milk, cow’s milk, water, or infant formula are also offered at meals. The baby may use a spoon if able. Studies indicate that self-feeding is a reasonable approach, but more research is needed on its effects.

A) Describing self-feeding

Baby-led weaning”, also known as baby-led solid feeding or self-feeding, describes the practice of allowing babies to lead the introduction of solid foods into their diet by feeding themselves family foods (Rapley 2008).

The term baby-led weaning can be confusing because weaning also means stopping breastfeeding but baby-led weaning means adding solid foods while continuing to breastfeed. As such, we will use the term self-feeding.

Self-feeding has become increasingly popular in North America and Europe. It allows babies to start eating different foods at their own pace and of their own choosing. It also allows them to handle their food, making mealtime more interactive.

B) How a baby self-feeds

 The basic principles of self-feeding are:

  • The baby chooses what to eat after being presented with a variety of solid foods.
  • If the baby rejects a food, it is offered again at a later date.
  • The baby is allowed to decide how much to eat.
  • No food is offered to the baby with a spoon by the caregiver at the end of the meal.
  • The meals should not be hurried.
  • Sips of liquids such as expressed breast milk, cow’s milk, water, or infant formula are offered with meals.
  • Initially, softer foods are given.
  • Foods that present a choking risk are not offered.
  • The baby uses a spoon, when able, in order to learn to self-feed.

C) Evidence about self-feeding

The studies show that self-feeding is, at least, a reasonable approach to giving solid foods for some babies. There is evidence that self-feeding results in (Boswell 2021):

  • Less food fussiness
  • Higher food enjoyment
  • Less food responsiveness
  • Increased awareness of feeling full

Self-feeding may support the child's development (Addessi 2021).

There does not appear to be an increased risk of choking or low iron or zinc levels (Boswell 2021; Brown 2017; Daniels 2018). However you choose to feed your baby, ensure that your baby has a wide variety of foods, including some that contain iron. Self-feeding can be combined with adult-led spoon feeding to improve the baby’s diet.

References

Addessi E, Galloway AT, Wingrove T, et al. Baby-led weaning in Italy and potential implications for infant development. Appetite. 2021 May 4:105286

Boswell N. Complementary Feeding Methods-A Review of the Benefits and Risks. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jul 4;18(13):7165

Brown A. No difference in self-reported frequency of choking between infants introduced to solid foods using a baby-led weaning or traditional spoon-feeding approach. J Hum Nutr Diet. 2017 Dec 5

Daniels L, Taylor RW, Williams SM, et al. (Daniels 2018). Modified Version of Baby-Led Weaning Does Not Result in Lower Zinc Intake or Status in Infants: A Randomized Controlled Trial. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2018 Jun;118(6):1006-1016.e1
 
Rapley G, Murkett T. Baby-led Weaning: Helping Your Baby to Love Good Food. Chatham, Me.: Vermilion, 2008. Print