Are you curious about baby-led weaning and wondering why you might want to do it?
Baby-led weaning is a way of introducing solids to an infant without "traditional" purees and spoon-feeding. Infants who are older than 6 months and are showing the developmental signs of readiness for solids are given solid chunks of “real” foods to grip in their fists and chew, suck, gnaw and otherwise explore, rather than being spoon-fed “baby food.” What are the developmental signs to look for?
Baby must be able to sit upright (assisted or unassisted)
Baby must be able to reach for, grasp, and rake food towards themselves and bring it to his or her mouth
Baby has lost the tongue thrust reflex, (which pushes anything solid out of the mouth)
Baby is interested in joining the family at the table and exploring food.
5 Reasons why this approach is worth considering:
Because babies are very good at listening to their bodies. One of the main reasons that obesity has become the global health crisis that it has is because so many adults (and children) have lost the ability to eat only when they are hungry and stop eating when they full. Infants, especially breast fed infants, have no problem with this skill. It is impossible to force-feed a breast-fed baby and we totally trust them to regulate how much breastmilk they take during exclusive breastfeeding from birth to 6 months (and science has proven the many, many health benefits of doing so.) So why do we suddenly feel at 6 months like we need to take over and decide how much food our baby needs to have? A 6-month old baby is fully capable of knowing when he or she is hungry and of eating enough to fill his or her tummy, regardless of how much food we have prepared or how much a book has told us he is “supposed” to be eating at this age.
2. Because you can avoid all kinds of power struggles at the family table. It is very difficult to resist the urge to “get more food into your baby” when you are spoon-feeding your infant. Whether it is coaxing, playing airplane games, bribing, tricking or forcing another spoonful in (just finish one more bite for mama!), it is very tempting to try to finish a complete bowl of food, or get the amount of food in that your friend’s baby is eating, or just to encourage a little bit more in (so she will sleep better at night!) We all do it at one point or another, even if we know it is not the healthiest thing for our kids. Baby-led weaning totally avoids this temptation. Parents offer the foods they choose, but babies choose what and how much to eat (and whether to eat at all). This gets the feeding/eating relationship off to a great start with the ideal division of responsibility between parents and children clearly in place and encourages healthy eating habits for life!
3. Because puree-feeding can easily become a full-time job for YOU and can lead to lots of heartache and frustration. Whether you are making homemade baby food from scratch or opening expensive jars of prepared baby food, trying to prepare it and spoon it into your child multiple times a day can become mind-numbingly tedious and you will quickly feel like this is all you do all day! Yes, it is once again time to feed the baby! And then if your baby decides he doesn’t like what you fixed or purchased, and turns his nose up at your lovingly offered baby food, it can absolutely break your heart, crush your soul, and turn you into a furious, fuming insane person! Believe me, I speak from experience!
And I can guarantee you that the more time (and money) you have invested in a particular meal, the less likely your little angel is to want to gobble it up. Baby-led weaning means you can feed your baby what you are eating and what you have already prepared for the rest of your family (minus added salt). And a baby over 6 months can absolutely feed himself or herself (with your constant supervision) freeing you up to feed YOURSELF! Imagine! It may be the first real meal you eat since your precious one was born! And, even better, the act of feeding yourself and enjoying your own meal serves as modeling for your child in the art of eating and enjoying food, so you can sit back and feel good about doing your job as a parent, even as you stuff your own face. Bon Appetite!
4. Because some babies don’t like to be spoon-fed baby food. My first baby hated the texture of pureed foods, and she still hates mushy foods at the age of almost 12. Some babies don’t mind mushy foods but they hate to be spoon-fed by someone else—they are very independent and want to do it themselves right from the start. These babies will all have a very hard time getting enough to eat with traditional puree-feeding, and the likelihood of power struggles and a lot of stress and anxiety at the family table is high. The good news is that these babies often do absolutely wonderfully once they are allowed to experiment with solid foods and are given the opportunity to feed themselves. My seemingly “fussy eater” quickly became the baby who ate anything she could get her hands on once we started offering her solid foods. My mother-in-law was so astonished to watch my 9-month-old devour lobster, beef, broccoli, and anything else placed in front of her she couldn’t even criticize my rather unconventional approach to infant feeding—hallelujah!
5. Because it is easier to learn about food from real food, not baby food. Have you tasted baby food? Some babies do enjoy it, but what are they learning about a carrot? Or tomatoes? Or chicken, fish, or beef? A broccoli floret is a sensory extravaganza of taste, color, smell, and texture that fits perfectly in a baby hand and mouth, while pureed broccoli is pretty much just gritty. Puree-fed babies are notorious for preferring fruits over veg and even requiring a bit of sweet yogurt to be added to every spoonful (a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!) Baby-led weaned babies show no such biases. They love a chunk of veg or meat or grains as much as a piece of fruit, and variety really is the spice of life when it comes to baby-led weaning. They learn right from the start what each kind of food is like and they quickly determine what their own preferences are. When a child is allowed to pick and choose what she likes to eat, and can avoid what she dislikes, the research shows that she is more likely to explore and experiment without fear and resistance. Most parents say they want their kids to be adventurous and open-minded about foods—this is a great way to get off on the right foot!
If you are convinced that this is an approach you would like to learn more about, check out our introductory workshop for parents of 4-6 month old babies here, our Baby Led Weaning UAE Facebook support group here, and the follow-up to this blog post,“Getting started with baby led weaning” in the coming weeks.
What has your experience with weaning your baby to solid food been? I would love to hear what influenced your decision on how to introduce solids to your baby!
Good luck and Take Care!
Amy Vogelaar, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant and former midwife. She has 2 daughters who weaned before baby led weaning "existed" but came to a similar approach on her own when her first daughter refused all purees. She teaches Introduction to Baby Led Weaning classes and is founder and primary administrator of the Baby Led Weaning UAE Facebook support group.