Baby-led weaning

Currently, the Ministry of Health does not recommend baby-led weaning for New Zealand babies.

There is little research on baby-led weaning. The Ministry of Health requires evidence that this is a safe practice before recommending it for New Zealand babies as an alternative to current weaning advice. Further work is underway in this area.

Baby-led weaning – what is it?

The baby-led weaning approach to introducing solids to babies has three main features.

  1. Baby foods, including first foods, are provided in a whole food form as finger food rather than the more traditional purée.
  2. The baby feeds themself by selecting and picking up their food of choice from what is on offer, instead of being fed by someone else.
  3. As with the currently recommended approach, baby-led weaning starts when the baby is ready for solid food, which is usually around 6 months of age. When ready for solids, baby:
    • can sit up with less help
    • can pick up foods and bring them to their mouth
    • is showing signs of being interested in foods.

More parents and caregivers seem to be talking about baby-led weaning as an alternative to starting with puréed foods using a spoon.

Current advice on weaning

Our current advice involves starting with spoon-fed puréed foods when baby is ready (around 6 months), then moving onto mashed and chopped foods over the next few months. Finger foods are offered from 7–8 months when baby is able to pick them up, bring them to their mouth and chew them.

You can find more information at Feeding your baby.

Possible benefits and risks

Supporters claim baby-led weaning has a number of benefits over the current advice. For example, some consider baby-led weaning may help prevent obesity, because it lets babies choose how much they eat (like they do when they’re being breastfed). This may encourage them to be more aware of how hungry or full they are. Ultimately, this could lead to better eating habits.

If so, this may help address the growing obesity problem being faced in New Zealand and elsewhere. However, there are concerns baby-led weaning could mean that babies:

  • don’t get enough iron
  • are more likely to choke on food
  • may not get enough food to grow well.

The Ministry does not recommend baby-led weaning

Currently, very little research has been done on baby-led weaning. Before the Ministry of Health could recommend baby-led weaning to the public as a safe alternative to current advice, it would need evidence that baby-led weaning doesn’t lead to babies being iron-deficient, not growing well, or having an increased chance of choking.

The Ministry would need evidence of the benefits (eg, preventing obesity) before it could recommend baby-led weaning as the best weaning practice for babies.

More research is currently being done on baby-led weaning and the Ministry will review new evidence as it becomes available.

Related websites

Starting solids – HealthEd
Information on infant feeding, nutrition and solid food.

Eating for healthy babies and toddlers – HealthEd
Food information for babies and toddlers from birth to 2 years old. Includes breastfeeding and the benefits of breast milk, formula feeding, drinking plenty of fluids, starting solids, how to prevent choking, healthy eating habits, and meal ideas for babies and toddlers.

Nutrition 0–12 months – Kidshealth
All about infant nutrition for the first 12 months of your baby’s life. Each link takes you to a page beginning with a short video followed by key messages in English and 9 other languages. Many pages include links to more detailed information.

What are good first foods for my baby? – Healthy Kids
Information on feeding your family, including healthy first foods for baby.

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