Baby-led Weaning Nutrition

How exciting is it to see your baby starting to eat food, exploring new textures and flavours for the first time? Let’s not ignore that it can also be a worrying and stressful time too. Has my baby eaten enough food? Are they getting all the nutrients they need to grow?

We've asked child-nutritionist Alison Palmer to give us some insight into a babies' nutritional requirements and what we can do to meet them to help put your mind at ease. 

What exactly is Baby-led Weaning? 

Baby led weaning is a way of introducing foods in which your baby feeds themselves hand-held foods. This differs from traditional weaning as it skips puree foods, spoon fed to your baby. However, some parents will do a mixture of both weaning styles. 

When should I start weaning? 

Weaning should start at 6months. At this age their tummies have developed so they can cope with solid foods. Their hand dexterity and mouth function is also more developed and ready for food. 

Is my baby getting enough nutrients?

At the early stages of BLW try not to worry too much. Let your baby explore food. You will still be breast feeding or giving infant formula until 12months. This will provide the calories they need, however milk is low in iron therefore offering foods rich in iron as well as protein and healthy fats is important.

What foods are high in iron?

There are two types of iron: haem iron and non-haem iron. Haem iron is better absorbed by the body compared to non-haem iron.  The food sources of iron are listed below: 

  • Haem iron foods:
  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Fish
  • Chicken

Non-haem iron foods:

  • Pulses,
  • Eggs,
  • Green leafy veg. eg. broccoli
  • Dried fruit

TOP TIP: Iron absorption is helped by Vitamin C. Try offering iron foods along with food rich in vitamin C. Foods rich in Vitamin C are: oranges, red peppers, kiwi, strawberries. Broccoli is rich is both iron and vitamin C so it hits two birds with one stone! 

Here are some menu ideas to help you to include iron rich foods in your baby’s diet:

Soft cooked carrots with some homemade hummus - This will provide iron and protein. Homemade hummus will ensure that there’s no added salt. 

Chopped well cooked eggs – high in protein and iron. Serve with some orange slices to help the iron absorption

Soft flakes of salmon – Fantastic source of iron and good fat (Omega 3) which is needed for brain development. 

Slow cooked beef/lamb will be easy for you baby hold and chew. Remember, if cooking in a gravy don’t use stock cubes as they’re high in salt. Instead use herbs and spices to flavour the water or tinned tomato sauce. 

What other foods can I offer my baby? 

Try to include a range of food from each food group. This will provide a mix of nutrients. 

  • Soft cooked vegetables  e.g. carrots, avocado, parsnips, broccoli

  • Soft fruit e.g. banana, mango, melon 

  • Soft boiled meats e.g. chicken, fish (No bone)

  • Cooked eggs 

  • Full fat dairy foods e.g. cheese

  • Bread, pasta

  • Beans, lentils 

How do I limit salt?

Babies’ kidneys’ can’t cope with salt, so it is important to limit their salt intake. The maximum daily recommended salt intake for 1-3year olds is 2g. Foods that are particularly high in salt include ready made meals, processed meat, crisps/corn puffs, bought sauces and gravies. 

It is difficult to calculate and keep track of salt intake from pre-made meals. Therefore, homemade meals are best. That way you can control the amount of salt (and sugar) that is added. Homemade meals don’t have to be MasterChef  gourmet. Quick simple recipes are perfect. 

Here are some top tips!

  1. RELAX! 

Eating should be an enjoyable time. Let them explore foods; throw it around, squish in their hands. Some days they will eat lots and other days they won’t. What they eat over a week is more important that what they eat at each meal. The benefit of BLW is that your baby decides their appetite and fullness. This is an amazing ability and some emerging studies suggest that it prevents over eating in later life. 

Did you know?

It may take 10-15 times to try a food before it is accepted!  If your baby didn’t like a food the first time, it’s ok. Simply take it away from them and try another time. 

2.   Be a role model

When possible, try to eat as a family. Your baby will be watching and learning from you. Your aim  is that your baby will eat the same 3 meals as the family by 12 months with the addition of healthy snacks inbetween. 

3.   Mixing it up isn’t a failure

Some babies are slower at learning self feeding. It’s ok, try a combination approach. Puree some meals with a lumpy texture and support with a spoon, getting your baby to lead. Offer finger foods before or after pureed to get them used to it.  This will reduce the chance of nutrient deficiencies. 

**if your baby was born premature they may need to be weaned at a different time. Speak to your health visitor, GP or paediatric dietitian for more advice.**

If you’d like more information I recommend having a look at the NHS resource: Start4life Introducing solid foods. 

If you’re worried and your baby is losing weight, pale and tired please contact your GP or health visitor.