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Introducing solids can be a challenge for any parent. Many grew up with the more traditional approach of starting baby on purees and gradually introducing more complex textures. However, in recent years the “Baby-led weaning” (BLW) method has gained more popularity. BLW supporters claim that it is a healthier alternative using “whole foods”, saves you the hassle of buying or making your own purees, and may even reduce picky eating late in childhood.
Still, the method does come with some unique challenges. Parents are often concerned about choking risk, whether their baby will eat enough, and if the actual feeding will be messy or fit into their busy schedule. How can you be sure that Baby-led weaning is right for your baby? Here is an overview of this technique to introduce solids and common questions and concerns.
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning is a way of introducing solids to your baby that encourages them to feed themselves. Babies join in the family meal, eating and exploring a variety of tastes, textures, colors, and smells. The rationale is that a babies’ immune and digestive system is not ready for solids until about 6 months old, and if we wait until that time, babies will already be able to sit, pick up food and feed themselves without the need for purees and spoon feeding.
Is there an increased risk of choking?
While in a more traditional approach babies are started on purees earlier. The recommendations were still to offer finger foods alongside purees at around 6 months, so choking is no more of a risk with Baby-led weaning. As with any method of introducing solids, basic safety rules should be closely followed. There can be increased risks with finger foods in general without first carefully learning the proper foods, textures, and sizes. For example, while a thin stick of carrot may seem harmless enough for a baby to gnaw on, since it is a small hard food, it is actually a choking hazard (and a very common one). The same applies to cucumber sticks, raw bell pepper strips, and apple slices.
When basic food safety rules are learned and followed, Baby-led weaning can be an enjoyable experience for the whole family. It can foster independence and confidence at meal times for your baby. However, along with this comes the concern from parents about whether their baby is getting enough.
Won’t it be messy and waste food?
Self-feeding can definitely be messy, but with the right tools and techniques you can minimize the mess and food waste. For example, serving smaller portions at a time and outfitting your baby with a silicone bib that has a food catching shelf will go a long way in keeping meals off your floors and out of the compost.
Will they feed themselves enough?
Babies are born with the ability to recognize and respond to hunger and fullness. When parents are responsive to these cues and provide opportunities for babies to feed themselves using their hands, cups, and spoons, babies continue to develop their self-regulation skills. Still, parents may choose to provide some purees for peace of mind that their child is consuming adequate amounts of iron-rich foods. While traditional spoon-feeding can limit a baby’s ability to self-regulate, there are ways of feeding purees that still foster self-regulation and autonomy. In fact, whether you decide to follow a more traditional approach or the BLW method to starting solids, it’s important to learn how to notice early signs of hunger and fullness and respond quickly. For example, while it may be tempting to try to encourage your baby to finish off those last couple spoonfuls, stopping as soon as they show disinterest will help them stay in tune with their hunger and fullness cues. Ultimately, this helps them develop into lifelong healthy eaters.
These are just a few of the questions parents have about Baby-led weaning and introducing solids. Parents may wonder which foods to start with, what serving sizes to offer and how to introduce common allergen foods.
Since we meet many parents with questions on feeding solids, Healthy Horizons provides Private Infant Nutrition Classes with Consultation by a Registered Dietitian. The package includes a private 40 minute online class to prepare you for introducing solids to your baby (while supporting your breastfeeding goals), and 20 minutes of consultation to address your unique questions and concerns. Important resources such as Sample Menu Plans with Meal planning cheat-sheet, and a Quick-Start Guide to feeding your baby (pamphlet/booklet) are also included.
This class and consultation will help you build confidence in your ability to provide healthy meals for your baby. Let a Registered Dietitian help navigate you through the confusing (and often conflicting) advice for introducing solids. Learn about different approaches to complementary feeding and become empowered to decide how you will nourish your baby.
Topics include: signs of readiness (why you may have been advised to start too soon), progression of textures to offer, traditional vs Baby-led Weaning approach, how to introduce solids while still supporting your breastfeeding goals, signs your baby is getting enough, introducing common allergens, ensuring adequate iron and vitamin D, when to start cow’s milk (and how much), food safety and choking prevention, and preventing "picky eating".
Brown, A. (2017) No difference in self-reported frequency of choking
between infants introduced to solid foods using a baby-led weaning or
traditional spoon-feeding approach, Journal of Human Nutrition and
Brown, A. Lee, M. (2015). Early influences on child satiety-responsiveness: the role of weaning style. Pediatric Obesity. 10 (57-66).
“Infant-Food-and-Feeding.” Infant Food and Feeding, American Academy of Pediatrics, 2018, www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/HALF-Implementation-Guide/Age-Specific-Content/Pages/Infant-Food-and-Feeding.aspx.