Baby-led Weaning: Promoting Health and Independence

food1
Dinner for a 9 month old

Why we chose baby-led weaning…

There are few baby-rearing topics that are as controversial as the introduction of solid foods into a baby’s diet. Do I feed purees? Make my own organic baby food? Buy some jars? Feed solid table food? Won’t they choke? Do I start cereal? When do I start? How much should I feed them? What if they don’t want to eat? Your doctor said ________ but mine said _________ ?

Upon introducing solid foods, I have always tried my best to adhere to the following principles:

  • It must be food that is healthy, clean, and nourishing.
  • She has to want to eat it on her own, and be able to feed herself. No coercion to eat or anxiety at the family table. It must promote independence and self-esteem through learning.
  • I want to do as little extra work as possible. I am lazy.

Around the 6 month mark, we decided to introduce some solid foods into our daughter’s diet. She showed a strong interest in eating solid foods, and also showed the typical readiness signs such as sitting unassisted, lack of tongue-thrust reflex, and a developing pincer grasp. She just developed a solid pincer grasp at about 7.5-8 months, but I personally do not think that this skill is necessary in order to start exploring solid foods. However, she was totally able to hold food in her fingers and hands and feed herself easily at 6 months.

Just an FYI…

As mentioned in a previous post, we had serious issues with growth and weight gain at 6 months. All of our doctors were initially convinced that this must have been a nutritional issue and pushed us to start feeding infant cereal. I had a hard time believing that the problem was nutritional, as she would not ever nurse any more frequently and still didn’t gain weight. Once we found out that she had a urinary tract infection, I was so thrilled we never listened to their advice. Without the help of solid foods such as infant cereal, my daughter went from 14lbs at 6 months to 20lbs at 8 months. She did eat some solid foods during this time, but was eating so little that I could not consider this a contributing factor. The Centers for Disease Control and the American Academy of Pediatrics state that breast milk alone is sufficient to support optimal growth and development for the first six months, with introduction of complimentary solid foods happening after this point[1].

So what is baby-led weaning?

We decided that baby-led weaning, or what I think is more properly termed “baby-led feeding,” essentially means that your baby takes the lead in the introduction of solid foods. Instead of feeding your baby pureed baby food from a spoon, you offer them food your family is eating at a meal. For example, baby can be offered avocado slices, banana slices, toast slices, soft cooked fruits and vegetables, pasta, or anything that they can pick up and feed themselves. The baby must pick up the food and eat independently. I think that the most enduring and important aspect of baby led weaning is the idea that your baby is feeding themselves, as opposed to a parent feeding baby with a spoon and purees.

Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning

Choosing to ditch the purees and use baby-led weaning has a variety of amazing benefits for a baby’s development and learning. Firstly, baby-led weaning allows the baby to be in control of the food they eat. They are able to put the food into their own mouth and decide the quantity they want to eat, while working the food around in their mouth to chew it into safely edible sizes. In my experience, babies can easily learn how to chew and manipulate their own food (even with no teeth!) to break it into safe pieces for them to swallow and eat. When babies are fed with a spoon, they learn to suck the pureed food off of the spoon and often gag on any lumps. This is because spoon fed purees taught them to suck the food to the back of their mouth and swallow quickly, without discerning the size or shape of the food. When a baby is spoon fed, they are not in control of how much or how quickly they eat. Persistently persuading a child to eat more than they need can interfere with their ability to sense when they are full, leading to health problems later in life[2]. Also, if a baby is given more solid foods than they are nutritionally ready for, they may miss out on their most important nutrient dense food: breast milk. Babies who are fed using baby-led weaning are also able to experience a wider variety of tastes and textures of healthy and nutritious foods. Babies who feed themselves are able to learn about the look, taste, smell, and texture of a variety of foods and learn more through sensory stimuli[3]. Interestingly, a research study was recently published that also linked an infant’s early food experiences to their tastes later in life. The research states that there is a window between 4-7 months where a child’s tastes are extremely ripe for development, and introducing a variety of tastes (not necessarily quantities of food) during this time can lead them to have healthier eating habits as adults[4].

How we introduced baby-led weaning…

We introduced our daughter to her first solid foods around 6 months. We offered her avocado, sweet potato, and banana slices to work with in her high chair. We gave her a slice that she could easily hold in her hand and manipulate in her mouth. We also used a pocket bib for catching anything that drops. I started offering her a slice or two of soft foods during our family dinner time for the first few weeks. She practiced biting off slices of food and chewing. She did gag on pieces of food every so often, but very infrequently. Gagging is part of the process of learning how to manipulate food inside the mouth and actually protects a baby from choking.

For about the first month, from 6-8 months, she generally ate very little. But she did not need to eat solid foods for nutrition. We breastfeed for nutrition and add solid foods for fun, learning, and enjoyment. We introduced all the major food groups during this time. I simply offered her a small portion of whatever my family was eating at the time using soft pieces that she could hold and pick up. Now at around 9-10 months, it is slowly becoming more of a source of nutrition as she consumes more solid foods throughout the day. Currently, she is eating three meals a day that consist of whatever healthy foods we are eating at the time. She is also in the process of learning how to use a spoon to feed herself foods like chia oatmeal and yogurt.

Overall, I am so happy that we decided on introducing solid foods using baby-led weaning for our daughter. I can clearly see the connection between her experience with handing, chewing, and manipulating food and her motor skill and sensory development. I also am absolutely thrilled with the amount of control of her own body she is able to develop at such a young age and the independence it brings into her life.

[1] http://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/faq/

[2] Murkett, T. & Rapley, G., (2008). Baby-led weaning: The essential guide to introducing solid foods and helping your baby to grow up a happy and confident eater. New York, NY: The Experiment, LLC.

[3] (Murkett & Rapley, 2008, p. 20)

[4] http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/02/04/465305656/in-babys-first-bite-a-chance-to-shape-a-childs-taste

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s