Baby-Led Weaning: A Speech and Language Therapist’s Take

Baby-Led Weaning: A Speech and Language Therapist’s Take

Let’s face it, introducing solids is a rollercoaster for parents. You’re bombarded with advice (solicited and otherwise) on purees, spoon-feeding, and the much-discussed ‘baby-led weaning’ (BLW). As a speech-language/feeding therapist I see the world through the lens of communication and development, as well as safe munching and swallowing. BLW can be a fantastic option for many little foodies. But is it right for yours? Let’s take a dive into the messy, hilarious world of toddler feeding.

BLW in a nutshell

Your baby, perched in their highchair, eyes wide with excitement and curiosity reaches out for a platter of food. He/She grabs a fat avocado slice, and curiously explore it with his/her lips, gums and tongue. He/She spits some of it out, mashes bits of it into his/her hair, there was a tiny swallow and the rest is smeared onto the high chair tray. Now he/she grabs a bit of the banana and rinse and repeat as before, except this one he/she keeps in his/her mouth for bit longer and takes a tiny bit more before the rest gets deposited into his/her bib.

This, in a nutshell, is BLW! It’s all about letting your little one take the lead in exploring new foods, textures, and tastes. No spoon-feeding, just pure, messy, self-directed feeding fun.

The pros of letting your little one loose on solids:

  • Motor Skills: BLW is a sensory party for developing motor skills. Picking up that slippery banana or gumming a chewy piece of toast strengthens those tiny hands and mouth muscles. These are the very skills they’ll need for future talking and chewing.
  • Texture Time: BLW exposes your baby to a variety of textures right from the start. Think soft, steamed broccoli florets or smooth, banana half-slices. This sensory exploration helps them develop an understanding of different textures in the world, which can translate to better oral motor skills needed for speech development.
  • Independence: BLW fosters a sense of self-feeding independence. Your toddler learns to control how much he/she eats and the pace of his/her meal. This can lead to better self-regulation later on, not just with food, but in other areas of his/her development too.
  • A wider variety of flavours: BLW encourages exposure to a wider variety of tastes and smells. Let your baby discover the sweetness of roasted sweet potato or the tang of mashed avocado! This early exploration can lead to less picky eating down the road.

There are some valid concerns:

  • Gagging vs. Choking: One of the biggest concerns parents have about BLW is choking. However, gagging is a natural reflex that helps babies learn to move food safely around their mouths. Choking is much rarer, and with proper food selection and supervision, the risk is very low. The con here really is parental anxiety more than anything else and if you can overcome this then a bit of gagging is just fine and part of the process. Choking, again most children do choke occasionally a bit! Of course, close supervision and common sense is very important here.
  • It’s ever so messy!: Be prepared for mashed banana on the highchair tray, rogue peas flung across the room, and a general sense of chaos. But then again, this is an important part of the learning process! I would encourage you to embrace the mess (within reason and your personal tolerance level) and focus on the fun of exploration.
  • Nutritional Concerns: Some parents worry that babies won’t get enough nutrients with BLW. While it might take a while for them to master the art of self-feeding, a healthy child’s body is pretty good at self-regulating. Offer a variety of healthy options, and he/she will eventually get the hang of it.

BLW: Is it right for your Little One?

BLW isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach. Here are some things to consider:

  • Developmental Milestones: Babies should be able to sit up with good head control and show an interest in food before starting BLW.
  • General good health and absence of food intolerances, allergies, or other significant health issues which might dictatea more controlled feeding regime.
  • Gag Reflex: A strong gag reflex is a good sign. It shows your baby’s natural ability to move food safely around their mouth. If, however, your baby’s gag is overly sensitive and causes frequent bouts of vomiting please consult your health care professional for an assessment (GP, Paediatrician, Dietician, Speech and Language – Feeding Therapist).
  • Your Comfort Level: BLW requires a relaxed and patient approach. If you’re feeling stressed about the mess or potential choking hazards, it might not be the right fit for you.

A final mouthful:

BLW can be a fantastic way to introduce your baby to solids. It promotes exploration, independence, and a love for food. Remember, there’s no pressure to go all-in on BLW. You can always combine it with spoon-feeding or purees to find an approach that works for your family and your child. The most important thing is to create a positive and relaxed mealtime environment where your little one can explore the wonderful world of food at their own pace.

P.S. As an SLT, I always recommend chatting with your health care professional. This way you can address any concerns you might have and ensure your baby is developmentally and physically on track for this exciting new chapter.

Don’t hesitate to contact me!

Sonja McGeachie

Early Intervention Speech and Language Therapist

Feeding and Dysphagia (Swallowing) Specialist The London Speech and Feeding Practice

The London Speech and Feeding Practice

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.

Answers to very common questions I get as a Feeding Therapist

Answers to very common questions I get as a Feeding Therapist

What are hunger cues in newborn babies? How do we recognise when our baby is hungry? How often should we feed our baby?

These are very common questions I get as a Feeding Therapist. And so I thought I would write a blog on it.

A mother holding her baby on one arm in her lap while holding a cup
Image by Freepik

First-time parents’ journey

First-time parents often imagine that feeding, particularly breastfeeding, will be an easy and natural process without too many problems. It can be a rude awakening to find that feeding our newborn is not at all easy and can be fraught with complications. It is fair to say that in most cases by the time our baby is about eight weeks old most mums have got the hang of feeding, either by breast and/or bottle, and things are falling into place.

But until that time it can be a difficult journey:

  • getting to know one’s baby,
  • getting to know their feeding rhythm,
  • falling in with it,
  • TRUSTING that baby knows what they need and knows when they have had enough,
  • TRUSTING and not going crazy with going down an on-line rabbit hole of information and guidance mostly unnecessary and often quite simply FALSE!

Many mums I have met set out with the best intentions to breastfeed for as long as possible. However, they arrive in my clinic anxious and often have given up with the breast; now we are on bottle feeds and things are still very tricky for several reasons. There are too many reasons for this blog to cover but I thought I would start with the basics and ‘reading hunger cues’ is one of those early basics.

Reading hunger cues

So let’s dive in:

Newborns communicate hunger through a variety of cues. Here are some early signs to look for:

  • Early hunger cues: These are the best times to respond to baby’s hunger for a more peaceful feeding. Look for things like:
    • Becoming more alert and active
    • Turning head from side to side in the cot
    • Rooting (turning their head towards your breast or a bottle, especially when stroked on the cheek)
    • Putting hands/fists to mouth
    • Sucking on fists or lips
    • Opening and closing mouth, smacking sounds
TOP TIP: THIS IS WHERE YOU SHOULD GET READY TO FEED. Breast or bottle. Either way get ready. We do not want our baby to get into later hunger cues, which are below:
  • Later hunger cues: If we miss the early cues, babies will progress to more insistent hunger cues. These include:
    • Fussiness or whimpering
    • Rapid sucking motions
    • Increased squirming
    • Head bobbing

Generally, remember that we do not want our baby to cry for their food. Because once they are riled and cry they are not relaxed enough to latch, especially when latching is hard!

Feeding on demand vs. scheduled feeds

We now know and have researched how babies are fed best and safest, how weight gain is ensured best, both for breastfed and bottle-fed babies.

It’s generally recommended to feed on demand—unless your baby is tube-fed or has some other pressing health concerns or is failing to thrive.

What are the benefits of on demand feeding?

  • We need to respond to baby’s individual needs and hunger cues because every person is unique!
  • Babies need to learn and regulate their own hunger and satiation cycles
  • Promotes better weight gain and growth
  • Leads to more peaceful feeding experiences

Scheduling can come later

A loose schedule might emerge naturally when your baby is around 2–3 months old, but it’s best to follow your baby’s lead.


  • Some newborns may feed every 2–3 hours, while others go longer stretches. Pay attention to your baby’s cues and feeding habits.
  • Crying is a late hunger cue, and frequent crying can make feeding more difficult. Responding to earlier cues is best.
  • If you have concerns about your baby’s feeding patterns or weight gain, consult with a Speech and Language Therapist/Dysphagia Therapist and/or Lactation Consultant.

Check out these useful resources on  the topic of Demand Feeding:

Do get in touch if you would like some in-person or on-line 1:1 support with this. It can be overwhelming to figure it all out alone.

Find a speech and language therapist for your child in London. Are you concerned about your child’s speech, feeding or communication skills and don’t know where to turn? Please contact me and we can discuss how I can help you or visit my services page.