Iron and Baby-Led Weaning

Here’s how to make sure your plant-based baby stays iron-strong when doing baby-led weaning.

Carrots, winter squash, and dark leafy greens rich in iron for babies

What is Baby-Led Weaning?

In case you’re not familiar with it, baby-led weaning (BLW) is an approach to starting solid foods that allows baby to lead the way. This is done as opposed to starting with purees.

Emerging research suggests that BLW helps babies form a more positive relationship with food and establish a healthier body weight than the traditional introduction to solids. Both of us have done BLW with our kids and have found it to be a great way to introduce textures and instill confidence early on. It’s also really fun!

Can Baby-Led Weaning Provide Enough Iron?

Before we talk about how to get enough iron using this approach, you might wonder if it’s even possible to do just that. And that’s a really important question!

The short answer is yes, it is possible. A study published in BMJ Open in 2018 found that when parents were instructed on a modified BLW method – which advised including one iron-rich food per meal – there were no differences in iron status between spoon fed and BLW babies after 12 months.

Similarly, a 2015 study in BMC Pediatrics suggests that a modified BLW approach deemed “Baby-Led Introduction to SolidS (BLISS)”, which includes the following characteristics, can adequately provide iron needs for infants:

  • Offer foods that the infant can pick up and feed themselves
  • Offer one high-iron food at each meal.
  • Offer one high-energy food at each meal.
  • Offer food prepared in a way that is suitable for the infant’s developmental age to reduce the risk of choking, and avoid offering foods listed as high-choking-risk foods.

The BLISS approach allowed for babies to be introduced to more iron-rich foods and fewer foods that posed more choking hazards, a BLW concern for many health professionals (and parents).

Sticks of roasted sweet potatoes piled on a gray bowl

Iron-Rich Foods For Baby-Led Weaning

Babies are born with an iron reserve, which is sustained through exclusive breast- or formula feeding for approximately the first six months of life. A frequently recommended first solid food for babies is iron-fortified infant cereal, like rice or oatmeal. However, one of the main ideas behind BLW is that babies don’t have to start with (all or any) purees. Rather than being fed by spoon, BLW encourages babies to choose what (and how much) food they want to eat and to learn to feed themselves. This makes it essential to offer a variety of iron-rich foods regularly during the BLW process.

Some example foods are listed below. Which foods are most appropriate for your child will depend on his or her age and developmental milestones. For more advice on choosing great first foods for BLW, see the link to our ebook below!

Beans

If canned, drain, rinse, and smush.

Sweet potatoes, winter squash, carrots, zucchini, beets

Bake or steam until soft, remove the peel and serve in pinky-sized strips.

Dark leafy greens

Steam until soft and cut into small bite-sized pieces.

Quinoa, lentils

Cook until soft and serve.

Tofu

Crumble and serve.

Tempeh

Steam and serve in serve in pinky-sized strips.

Chickpea pancakes

Cook and serve in pinky-sized strips.

Baby-Led Weaning Baby Cereal Pancakes

These baby-led weaning pancakes are made with iron-fortified baby cereal, providing a graspable, iron-rich, plant-based bite for babes!

First Bites: Baby-Led Weaning For Plant-Based Babies

If you’re interested in learning more about baby-led weaning and age-appropriate first foods for babies, check out our ebook First Bites: The Definitive Guide to Baby-Led Weaning for Plant-Based Babies.

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