Baby Led Weaning
- Melissa Litwak
- Apr 01 2014
- 0 comments
Baby Led Weaning has recently gained momentum as a popular technique for introducing solid foods to infants. Don’t be fooled by the term “weaning,” which actually refers to the process of introducing complementary foods to breast milk or formula (not actually cutting back on milk feedings per say).
BLW, written by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett, recommends skipping purees and spoon feeding altogether, and allowing babies to indulge in the same foods as the rest of the family, cut or presented in pieces that can be handled.
The rationale for skipping spoon-feeding is to allow infants to be more in control of their intake in terms of what and how much, which means trusting their innate internal regulators to tell them when they are full. BLW also emphasizes the exploration of different textures, flavors, colors and smells, which is why pureeing is discouraged.
They reason that pureed items do not provide an accurate depiction of the food’s actual consistency or even flavors. Additionally, purees may lead to aversions of different food consistencies later on. With BLW, some appropriate first foods are large stick shaped pieces of food, including fruit and vegetables, crusts, toast, large pasta shapes and soft meat patties or croquettes, shaped into “fingers”, along with long strips of meat.
As a dietitian, I can appreciate many of the fundamentals of BLW. Several of these concepts have been well-studied as successful approaches to promoting the development of healthy feeding relationships.
- The importance of family meals – Sharing mealtimes can have a positive impact on family relationships, social skills, language development and healthy eating.
- Letting babies take the lead- BLW practices are in line with the work of feeding expert and registered dietitian, Ellyn Satter. She recommends that parents control what is served and when it is served, while the baby should always be responsible for how much and whether to eat the foods offered by the parent (referred to as “The Division of Responsibility” and an Authoritative feeding style).
- Exposure to a wide range of nutrient dense foods of varying shapes, sizes, textures, colors – It’s up to us as parents to provide a healthy variety of foods that will nourish our children.
Despite this, there are still some controversies surrounding the BLW approach that should be addressed:
- Evidence: Lack of strong, evidence based-research on the efficacy and long-term outcomes of BLW
- Ensuring adequate intake: BLW proponents re-emphasize the fact that for babies under a year of age, milk feedings are the single most important source of nourishment. Individual foods on their own are much less nutrient dense than milk. In terms of iron intake, its worth noting that breast milk, although lower in iron, contains a highly absorbable form, which is usually adequate for healthy, term babies well into the second 6 months of life. For BLW, the most important part of the beginning stages of self-feeding is developing confidence and healthy relationships with food, which will in turn ensure healthful intake for years to come.
- Choking: BLW contends that babies who are started off with finger foods are actually less likely to choke on their food because they are not capable of moving food from the front of the mouth to the back until they have learned to chew properly. The gag reflex is also an important safety mechanism that helps prevent choking and assists babies in learning how to manage food safely. Interestingly, at 6 months of age, the gag reflex is much closer to the front of the mouth and moves farther back as the baby gets older and likely more experienced with eating.
- Spoon-feeding misconceptions: Many argue that if we are mindful of our baby’s cues, spoon-feeding can still be incorporated without the baby losing control of their intake. Waiting for the child to open their mouth and looking for signs of disinterest/fullness are examples of this. Note that with BLW, spoon-feeding is discouraged, but the use of pre-loaded spoons and items that can be dipped are encouraged for “mushier” foods (i.e. yogurt, mashed potatoes, etc).
What’s the takeaway here? If children are left in control of what to eat without parental pressures, they will develop more positive attitudes around eating, while learning to regulate their food intake and explore new foods adventurously. So forget the “airplane” feeding tactics, using food as a reward/punishment or urging children to finish their plates. Babies and children are more willing to try new foods because they know they’ll be allowed to decide whether or not to eat them.
Aim to provide new foods frequently (alongside familiar foods), which can decrease incidences of picky eating and neophobia (fear of new foods). And keep in mind, it can take 10-20 exposures before a baby will learn to accept and like a new food.
Overall, BLW is a great model as it aims to provide our babies with confidence and independence, while creating enjoyable and pleasurable experiences surrounding food and mealtimes. Evidence-based research as a whole isn’t extensive at this time, but many of its overlying principles are in line with well-established feeding techniques. The main thing to remember is, like anything when it comes to parenting, there is no ‘one right way’ to go about introducing solids. Every child is different and will develop and progress at different rates, so it’s impossible to come up with a one-size fits all technique.
It all comes down to what works best for you, your family and especially your baby. Whether moving forward with BLW or another approach, just make sure to provide a loving, healthy and FUN feeding environment, void of pressure and hidden agendas and enjoy watching your children grow and thrive the way they are meant to.
Please feel free to share your experiences with BLW in the comments section below!
When should I start introducing Solids?
The AAP and UNICEF recommend waiting closer to 6 months of age (the time when the internal digestive system is likely matured). However, the introduction of solids should be based on the following signs of readiness, rather than age alone:
- Sitting up with little or no support
- Reaching out and grabbing things and taking them into the mouth quickly and accurately
- Gnawing on toys and making chewing movements
- Putting food into their mouths by themselves
- Feeding with Love and Good Sense: The First Two Years by Ellyn Satter
- Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School by Jill Castle and Maryann Jacobsen
- Baby-led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett
Melissa Litwak received her MS in Nutrition Education from Teachers College, Columbia University and completed a Clinical Dietetic Internship through NewYork Presbyterian Hospital. She is also a Certified Lactation Counselor after training with Healthy Children’s Center for Breastfeeding.