Is baby led weaning the way forward in infant feeding? Experienced mum’s think so, and find themselves “doing” baby led weaning without realising. In fact, mum’s have probably been doing it forever – or rather their babies have! It’s what comes naturally, and now it has a name! Initial claims about increased choking risks have been put to rest, as research finds no difference in choking risk between feeding purees on a spoon and BLW. So, how does it work?
“Doing” baby led weaning
When your baby is ready to start feeding himself, she should be able to sit upright, have good head control and be able to swallow, usually around 6 months. Normal textured foods are offered on a plate or highchair tray instead of pureed foods on a spoon. At first babies cannot pick up foods properly and use their fist to hold foods. All babies are generally very messy at this stage, so be prepared with a wipe clean surface and a mat on the floor. As they develop more control at around 9 months, picking up small pieces of food between finger and thumb with their pincer grip, you can start to:
- offer a variety nutritious foods at family mealtimes
- offer foods which are easy to hold eg. chip-shape or broccoli florets which have a “handle”
- continue to give breast or formula milk between meals until his intake increases
Babies instinctively put everything in their mouths
Babies develop feeding skills by copying and experimenting, instinctively putting everything in their mouths. They use their mouths to explore, test, taste and decide at a pace that suits them, according to their skills, stage of development and curiosity. Learning how to self feed to provide nourishment for growth and development is the obvious reason for this: natures way of ensuring survival. In the early days this handling is not about feeding, hunger or meeting nutritional needs; it’s about exploring, learning and developing those all important feeding skills. This in turn helps to develop confidence, independence a wide range of skills. BLW can therefore be viewed as a natural and instinctive way for infants to learn about food, with benefits throughout toddlerhood and beyond.
Benefits of baby led weaning
Parents who have tried BLW are passionate about its benefits. Much positive anecdotal evidence exists although there is limited formal research. The chance for babies to explore foods and feed themselves means that they learn about different foods and textures from the beginning of weaning. The main benefits are reported as
- acceptance of a wide range of foods
- joining in with family meals
- being less fussy as toddlers
- developing self feeding with confidence
- improved satiety and appetite regulation
Is BLW suitable for all babies?
As a method of introducing solid foods, it does not suit every baby or family. For those babies with feeding difficulties, prolonged illness or growth faltering there are added worries around feeding and they are likely to need more help. Evidence does show that BLW and messy food play can help babies who are aversive with spoon feeding, and this can help reduce parental anxiety. For other babies e.g. with reflux, swallowing difficulties or following surgery, feeding skills development is slower and those infants need support to meet their nutritional needs.