If your baby is nearing the 6-month mark, you might be browsing sweet potato puree recipes on Pinterest and preparing to make your best airplane sound while spoon-feeding your little one. But there’s another method of early feeding for babies that has long been used around the world and is now becoming a trend in the U.S. – one that gives your baby a much more active role at the dinner table. It’s called Baby Led Weaning.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Simply put, Baby Led Weaning (“BLW”) is an infant-driven approach to feeding that involves skipping purees at the time solid foods are first introduced to your baby and allowing him or her to start with finger foods. Instead of “opening up the hanger” on command, your baby choses what to eat and feeds him or herself. According to the Baby Led Weaning site, “You just hand them the food in a suitably-sized piece and if they like it they eat it and if they don’t they won’t.”
If you’ve sat at the dinner table with a baby who’s around 6 months-old, you may have seen him or her reach toward a drumstick or whole piece of broccoli on an adult’s plate in the most adorable way. When following the Baby Led Weaning method, you’d give them these foods rather than redirecting to applesauce or whatever puree appears on his or her tray. Gill Rapley, who coined the term “Baby Led Weaning”, cites that part of the premise of the approach is that children are developmentally able to reach for food and put it in their mouths around this age.
First food ideas from the Baby Led Weaning website include soft ripe fruit (such as pears), broccoli with a stem (for the child to hold), and “lumps of meat” that are “big enough for baby to grasp and chew”.
The practice of Baby-Led Weaning seems easy enough. So, how could following this method of mastering munching benefit your baby?
More family meals.
Because everyone is eating the same food, Baby Led Weaning could lead to everyone in the family gathering around the table for more meals together. This can have positive outcomes for children.
Increased eating independence.
Once a child is able to sit up on his or her own and practice self-feeding (typically around 6 months-old), Baby Led Weaning can encourage independence with eating. Children will have more opportunities to practice using a pincer grasp to hold food, and the coordination needed to bring to their mouth.
A well rounded diet.
It’s possible that the sensory interaction that children participating in BLW have (touching and exploring foods of different textures) can help them become comfortable with a variety of foods. Research has shown sensory play is associated with tasting fruits and vegetables.
More precise pacing.
Reading a child’s cues for pacing a meal when following Baby Led Weaning can be clear, since he or she is expected to reach for foods and self-feed when hungry. When spoon-feeding pureed baby food, reading a child’s cues while trying to pace a meal might not be as easy. Some studies have suggested infant-led feeding can lead to more appetite control, which could reduce the risk of obesity later in life.
Improved well-being for moms.
It’s possible that practicing Baby Led Weaning could even benefit mothers. One study showed those who followed the method reported lower anxiety and lower eating restraints than traditional weaning mothers.
Baby Led Weaning definitely differs from what new moms may think of as the “traditional” method of introducing solid foods to their child. So concerns with the approach are common and important to address.
Will my baby choke on solid foods?
Baby Led Weaning experts stress the importance of understanding the difference between gagging and choking. Choking is silent and occurs when a piece of food has blocked a baby’s windpipe. Gagging is the body’s safety mechanism and includes a sound you can hear as the baby protects him or herself from choking. The Baby Led Weaning method encourages parents to become comfortable with gagging episodes.
Can my child receive the proper nutrients with the BLW method?
The jury’s still out on this one. Currently, there isn’t enough evidence from research to support whether the BLW approach provides adequate energy and nutrient intakes. Though the World Health Organization (WHO) does recommend exclusive breastfeeding until the age of 6 months-old and that complementary foods are adequate (like those rich in iron) and introduced in a safe, well-timed manner.
Who Can Help with Feeding
When it comes to introducing solid foods, the #1 priority is safety. Babies should have proper positioning, be presented with foods of an appropriate size and texture, and have met certain developmental milestones.
To learn more about how to work on early feeding skills, or if you have concerns with your child’s feeding skills (including difficulty chewing or swallowing certain textures or picky eating), TherapyWorks can help! Schedule a free phone consultation or complete our “get started” form to inquire about services for your child.