Baby Led Weaning
What is Baby-led Weaning
More and more parents are turning to baby-led weaning (BLW) as a way of introducing solid foods to their babies. Unlike offering your baby pureed foods, baby led weaning is all about using “table foods” when introducing your baby to solids. It’s an alternative method to get your baby to start taking solid foods that are soft-cooked and cut into small manageable pieces. Essentially, you give food to your baby to eat without spoon feeding or pureeing.
While the term weaning is often used to mean getting your baby off breast milk or formula, it is used in this case to mean starting your baby on solid foods.
This approach to feeding is referred to as baby-led because you allow the baby to lead the way and take charge of their own feeding. Rather than controlling how much food your baby eats, you simply let him/her pick up their own food and eat it at their preferred pace. All you need to do is the cooking, cutting or mashing and let the baby do the rest. Consider giving him/her sizable pieces of soft food directly on a table or preferably a highchair, and let the baby grasp their own food. If you don’t have either, don’t sweat, you can carry him/her on your lap (but beware as things can get messy).
This feeding approach was popularized by Gill Rapley, who also came up with the term “Baby-led Weaning”. It places emphasis on letting the baby explore taste, color, texture and smell as they pace themselves and choose what foods to concentrate on.
BLW hinges on your baby’s ability to self-regulate his or her feeding. It advocates for leaving it up to the baby to decide what, when and how much they want to eat. As such, you’re encouraged to allow your baby to make all food choices for himself or herself.
BENEFITS OF BABY LED WEANING
BLW presents numerous benefits for the baby as well as yourself. Some of the benefits include:
PROMOTING HEALTHY EATING HABITS:
BLW gives babies an opportunity to try out a broad range of food textures and tastes as early as possible, promoting healthy habits and encouraging a diverse diet from an early age.
Not only will you be able to prepare just one meal for the whole family, but also have your baby joining in with family mealtimes which can be great fun for everyone. Over time, your child will look forward to mealtimes and get the encouragement to be more confident and happier during meals, giving them a healthy attitude towards food for life.
Babies learn by exploring and experimenting. That’s just how they’re programmed. Your baby will use his/her hands, teeth (or gums), tongue and mouth to explore all sorts of objects, including food. With BLW, you’re giving them the opportunity to explore at their own pace and use their instincts to eat whenever they’re ready. This is good for you baby’s sensory development as it helps them get familiar with foods in different forms. Also, allowing the baby to lead the process brings fun into meal times.
Giving your baby the autonomy to decide when they are hungry, how much they want to eat and when they are satisfied is a simple way to respect their ability. Although babies are still too young to do some adult things, they have the ability to guide us on some basic needs. Allowing your baby to do things themselves enables them to learn and also gives them confidence in their own judgment and abilities.
HELPS TO FIGHT CHILDHOOD OBESITY
A recent study at the University of Nottingham posits that baby-led weaning may reduce the chances of childhood obesity. The study suggests that babies weaned through this technique learn how to regulate their food intake in a manner that leads to a preference for healthier foods and a lower BMI (Body Mass Index).
REASONS TO TRY BABY LED WEANING
Proponents of BLW argue that as soon as a baby is of an age to start solids then you should go ahead and include them in mealtimes so they can join in and grab the food they want. Gill Rapley, in his book on Baby-Led Weaning reasons that babies crawl, walk, talk when they’re ready, so eating should be treated no different. BLW is basically an independent feeding approach, rather than a passive feeding process. Allowing the baby to lead the process and letting nature take its course helps to avoid the often-aggressive nature of mealtimes-which can be frustrating on both sides.
In addition to other benefits, BLW also helps to promote a faster development of hand to mouth dexterity. Self-feeding also develops chewing and hand-eye coordination. Whenever an infant brings solid food to their mouth, they are in charge of their own sensory experience. It’s not uncommon for some babies to refuse to eat solids when you try to spoon-feed them, but happily grab a ripe banana or avocado on their own.
There are many myths about the best ways to feed a baby but there’s no scientific formula that prescribes the best method of feeding. Food for a 6-month old baby doesn’t need to be pureed, but it should be the consistency, texture and size that the baby can handle. You’re good to go with BLW as long as you ensure the food you’re giving your baby is appropriate for them.
For instance, don’t give your baby hard foods like a raw carrot or sticky foods such as peanut butter. Soft finger foods should work just fine.
WHEN TO START
According to guidelines by the World Health Organization, an infant’s digestive system matures when they are about 4-6 months old. As a result, babies are naturally able to start feeding themselves from when they’re about 6 months old, which is when you can safely start BLW. Nonetheless, everyone’s body is different and the human body develops at varying rates. Some babies will start reaching out for food before the 6-month period elapses while others will wait until they’re 7 months or older.
Breast milk or formula continues to be the biggest source of nutrition for the baby until he or she is about one year old. So, BLW doesn’t mean that you stop giving your baby milk altogether. Babies take some time to get accustomed to solid food so it’s crucial to keep breastfeeding them until they’re at least 12 months old when he or she starts eating solid food. Once your baby learns to eat solid food, he or she will need less breast milk or baby formula.
Baby led weaning is a custom approach designed to suit the baby’s individual situation and personal development. Your baby is probably ready for BLW if he or she shows signs such as:
- An ability to sit up on their own without back support and having good neck strength
- Reaching out for your food as you eat.
- Making chewing motions as you eat (behavior mirroring), which shows an ability to move food to the back of their mouth with up and down movements of the jaw.
- Putting objects in his or her mouth It is important to note that BLW may not be appropriate for special-needs children. Talk to your baby’s pediatrician before trying baby led weaning especially if:
- Your baby finds it difficult to pick up food and put it in his or her mouth
- Your baby was born prematurely •Your baby has special needs and can barely chew food on their own.
Most babies won’t eat much at first, and that’s ok. BLW is more a learning experience than it is a cookie-cutter approach to feeding your baby so try not to set high expectations. The process may be slow as babies are likely to take longer when they are in charge. Be patient as they will speed up once they get the hang of it. As the baby is still getting accustomed to solid foods, you’re likely to see their natural gag reflex, which can easily be mistaken for chocking. The gag reflex is natural and pushes food out of the airway. While it can be a bit scary to see your baby gagging, it’s fairly harmless and there are various ways to differentiate gagging from chocking. Over time, your baby will gag less often as he or she learns how to chew and swallow.
A gagging child may push his or her tongue out of the mouth or forward and do a retching movement aimed at bringing the food forward. The idea is to chew more or swallow a smaller amount. Coughing and/or vomiting may occur and you may also notice the baby getting watery eyes.
On the other hand, a choking child may cough, cry or gasp. You can expect either odd noises or no sound while keeping their mouth open. You may have to do chest thrusts or back blows to dislodge whatever is choking the baby.
While you’ll be allowing your baby to put food into his or her own mouth, it is especially important to exercise caution and monitor your baby as they eat or have another adult watch them during mealtime. It goes without saying that introducing solid foods presents several safety concerns such as choking, so you want to monitor your baby carefully as they take their meal.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
For best results, you want to start by getting a choice of fresh fruits, healthy carbs, softly cooked veggies and healthy fats. Go for food that the baby can easily squish with their gums. You’ll know the food is soft enough when you’re able to squish it on the roof of your mouth with your tongue. Alternatively, food that you can easily smash between your thumb and finger is probably appropriate for the baby.
Some Of The Foods You Can Try Include:
- Soft cooked apples
- Lentil Patties
- Sweet potatoes
- Softly cooked zucchini, carrots, beets and green beans
- Large strips of poached poultry or soft meatballs
- Sprouted bread or brown rice made into balls or rice cakes
- Pasta like penne or fusilli in a shape that’s easy for the baby to grab
- Soft ripe kiwi, melon and pear
Foods You Want To Avoid:
- Foods with a high risk of choking like nuts, grape tomatoes, cherries and whole hot dogs
- Added table salt or sugar
- Processed and unhealthy foods such as chips, breakfast cereals, hard candy, gum and popcorn
- Allergic foods like nuts, seafood, egg whites, citrus and gluten (especially if your family has a history of allergies or sensitivity).
- Stimulants such as sugar or chocolate
There’s no harm in experimenting with feeding approaches that work best for your family but try to stick to a few set routines so your baby doesn’t get confused.
It also helps to introduce new foods one by one and wait for a few days so you’ll know whether your baby is allergic to a specific food. You’ll also want to offer a particular food multiple times before determining that your baby doesn’t like it.
Other Things To Think About
Babies learn by observation and mimicking the behaviors of others in their surroundings so try to eat meals as a family. Instead of serving small pieces of food, serve pieces that are large enough for the baby to grasp easily. Rolling food in oat flour or cutting it with a crinkle cutter can make pieces easier for your baby to hold.
Offer your baby a well-balanced diet of solid foods to ensure they’re eating the right amount of healthy foods for their growth and development. Include high-calorie foods and those with zinc, iron, healthy fats and protein. It’s also important to pay attention to the baby’s cues as feeding patterns change with time and may be affected by environmental factors.
Always keep track of your baby’s growth during visits to the child’s doctor. He/she should be able to advise you on whether your child is gaining sufficient weight and you can always discuss any concerns about how your baby eats or weighs.