This post is part of the series on the introduction of solids I started last week. In the first post I described the signs of readiness for solids that my baby shower a little before 6 months. Today I will share my thoughts on Baby Led Weaning.
My first two babies were introduced to solids using a traditional puree approach. By the time my third baby was born, I learned about Baby Led Weaning (BLW) and decided to try it alongside feeding my baby purees.
Baby Led Weaning originated in the UK. It promotes offering babies long graspable, large coin-shaped or soft, mushy and dissolvable finger foods instead of feeding purees with a spoon. The basic premise is that if you wait to start solids tip 6 months, babies will be ready to eat finger foods and the puree stage can be skipped altogether. Babies can eat purees but with their fingers or utensils, no spoon-feeding by the parents. (hello, huge mess)
Baby Led Weaning Pros
There has been very little research done in this area, but most of the studies I found had optimistic conclusions.
Since BLW babies are supposed to self-feed and cannot be made eat more or less than they want, their self-regulation appears to be strengthened.
Other benefits of BLW include less processed foods, exposure to family foods, participating in family meals and possibly more adventurous palates and better diets later on.
According to this review, about 68 percent of 4-6 months old babies, 85% of 6-7 months old and 96% of 7-8 months old can grasp food with their hands. Here is a quote:
The motor skills that emerge around six months of age seem to allow the majority of infants to reach out and grasp food, and, based on the observational studies, it seems reasonable to expect that the majority of (although not all) infants could cope with self-feeding at six months.
Another study observed that those babies who were self-feeding at 6 months were also more likely to talk and walk earlier. The interesting point the researchers made was that parents who did not expect their babies to self-feed were not likely to offer finger foods even though their babies were ready. The same study cautioned however
… baby-led weaning – which advocates babies feeding themselves solid foods, rather than being spoon fed purees – could lead to nutritional problems for the small number of children who develop later than average.
and recommended a combination of traditional puree and baby-led weaning approaches. This brings us to …
Baby Led Weaning Cons
There has not been any research looking into how much of what babies fed using the Baby Led Weaning, actually eat. But we know that babies, especially those that are breastfed, need iron and zinc from solid foods from 6 months of age. And it is possible that skipping spoon-feeding with purees may put some babies at a nutritional disadvantage. Some children, and especially premies and “late bloomers” will not be ready to self-feed at 6-7 months and may not get the important nutrients and calories.
Next, some BLW proponents say that feeding babies purees inevitably leads to pushing food on them or feeding them too little. In this post. Clancy from Fields of Flavor describes a responsive, pressure-free way to spoon feed that will not affect the ability to self-regulate or make mealtimes unpleasant both for parents and babies.
Choking is the final concern. There is virtually no research on this topic but some mothers in this study reported choking episodes when their babies were fed raw apples. The babies were able to cough the pieces of apple out and did not require help. But it seems pretty obvious that raw apple and any other hard food that can snap off easily is not a good option.
Lots of babies fed the BLW way gag. Gagging is pretty normal in babies and is a way for them to get rid of food if it is too challenging for whatever reason (puree too thick, lumps too lumpy, piece too big to swallow).
To address the choking concern, BLW website states that babies introduced to solids are learning to chew first and later learn to swallow while babies weaned the traditional way learn to swallow purees first and then practice chewing with lumps and finger foods. But speech-language pathologist Melanie Potock from My Munch Bug is not sure it makes sense from the developmental perspective so she recommends a combination of finger foods and spoon-feeding with purees.
Should you try Baby Led Weaning or feed your baby purees with a spoon?
My opinion is that both, as well as a mix of both, are great options when done well. It all depends on how your baby develops, your patience, and your personal preferences.
But whatever way to choose, here are some important points:
– Try to wait as close as possible to 6 months before starting solids and even more if your baby is not ready. Check the developmental signs of readiness here.
– Make sure that your baby can sit straight independently or with little support when starting solids. It is important for proper motor skills development and prevention of choking.
– If you decided to try BLW offer more foods high in calories, iron, zinc, protein and fat like meat, beans, avocado, eggs, and iron-fortified cereal (to eat with fingers if you prefer). Focus on fruit and veggies sounds healthy but may not be enough to meet babies’ needs.
– For the same reason, do not be afraid to supplement with purees.
– Watch your baby all the time and be familiar with the signs of choking whether you are feeding purees or finger foods. Gagging, on the other hand, is a normal reflex showing that the baby is learning how to eat.
– Even if you are not comfortable with the BLW approach, make sure to put a little finger food on the baby’s tray to practice motor skills. The easiest option is to put a few cheerios or cubes of soft fruit or vegetable.
– If starting just with purees, make sure to upgrade texture as soon as your baby is comfortable with what he is eating now. It will look like this: thin puree – thick puree – food mashed with a fork instead of blending – food with lumps – finger foods. There is no need to wait to upgrade a texture as soon as the baby learns to eat puree well. In fact, not upgrading texture on time has been associated with feeding problems later in life.
So here it is, my take on Baby Led Weaning. Have you tried it? What is your experience with it?
In the next post, I will tell you how and what I am feeding my baby, both as finger foods and purees.