Baby-led weaning ‘provides ample nutrients to support growth and development’

Baby-led weaning – where infants are encouraged to feed themselves whole pieces of food – provides ample nutrients to support growth and development, early research suggests.

Babies who self-feed with finger foods were found to roughly have the same energy intake as infants who were spoon-fed on purees.

The scientists said baby-led weaning may also potentially promote better growth compared to conventional weaning but added more research is needed to understand this link.

The team said their findings, presented at the American Society for Nutrition conference in Chicago, should provide reassurance to parents who want to trial baby-led weaning.

Babies are usually ready to start eating solids from around six months old, when they can be offered soft foods alongside breastmilk or infant formula, according to the NHS Start for Life guidance.

While baby-led weaning has become more popular in western societies in recent years, this method has not been well studied, the scientists said.

Dr Kinzie Matzeller, a dietitian at the University of Colorado in the United States, and her colleagues used data from the US Maternal and Infant Nutrition Trial (Mint) which followed 70 healthy babies from the age of five months.

Infants were deemed as following baby-led weaning if less than 10% of their calorie intake came from pureed foods.

The babies’ weight, length and head circumference were measured each month until their first birthday.

The researchers said there were no significant differences in the energy intake (the number of calories per kilogram) between the two weaning groups at any point.

But analysis showed that despite similar energy intakes, baby-led weaning was associated with a greater increase in weight-for-age and weight-for-length scores than conventionally-weaned infants.

The experts speculate this may be because families with higher incomes might more easily afford the time and resources needed for the preparation that goes into baby-led weaning.

Dr Matzeller said: “One major concern with baby-led weaning was that it wasn’t known whether it provided enough nutrients to support infant growth.

“It is reassuring to know that baby-led weaning provides adequate calories for growth.”

For parents who want to try baby-led weaning, Dr Matzeller recommends following their child’s cues and offering varied and diverse foods.

Soft fruits, steamed vegetables, cheese and small pieces of meat are all good to try because they are easy for babies to grasp and chew, she said.

Foods should be offered as sticks about the size of the baby’s fist to prevent choking, she advised.

Dr Matzeller said: “Baby-led weaning can be a great way to incorporate more options and different types of foods your little one may not get otherwise.

“It often takes up to 15 exposures to a food before a baby accepts it, so persistence is key.”