Baby Led Weaning
Baby led weaning is the new exciting way to feed your baby, its popular with influencers and health gurus--- but what exaclty is it?
Baby led weaning is the idea that infants can and should be self feeding vs spoon feeding pureed foods. Previously, infants were fed at 4 months of age-- however, at this time they weren't actually able to feed themselves because they didn't have the properly developed motor skills. This is why they were spoon fed pureed foods.
Baby led weaning not only encourages self-feeding but also encourages the beginning of feeding solid foods when the baby is ready (which is typically around the age of 6 months).
Baby led weaning also fits better with the recommendation of exclusively breastfeeding until 6 months of age.
Breast fed infants are typically better at self regulating vs bottle fed infants because they are allowed to feed for as long as they want without external factors stopping them. They are also able to taste different flavors within the breastmilk and tend to be more open to trying new foods, textures, and flavors. Often infants that are fed in this way show higher intakes of 'healthier foods' such as fruits and vegetables and less processed foods.
The basic principles of baby led weaning include:
Infants are feeding themselves directly and you are only assisting them. You want them to feed slowly --- and you must remain calm and patient. It is important to encourage children to eat--- NEVER to force them.
Feeding times should be periods with learning and love—talking to your child during a feeding with engaged eye contact. Make sure that the environment is pleasant, and that the child is seated comfortably---ideally facing others. Do not be afraid to feed with family and friends during mealtimes!
If children refuse foods, experiment with different combinations, tastes, textures and methods of encouragement. Your child may respond differently to different stimuli.
Other helpful hints:
Try your best to ensure that the food is healthy, tasty, developmentally appropriate, and offered on a predictable schedule so the child is likely to be hungry.
Encourage and attend to the child’s signals of hunger and satiety.
Be responsive to feeding cues just like when you were breastfeeding.
Be supportive, contingent, and responsive in a developmentally appropriate manner.
Minimize distractions during meals, especially if the child loses interest easily.
Expectations should be communicated clearly between caregiver and child.
How do you know when your baby is ready for solid foods?
Your baby is considered developmentally ready for solid foods when they are able to sit independently (without you or using their hands to hold themselves up)--- they are able to reach/rake/scoop for foods, and they are able to hold foods and bring them to their mouth.
It is important that your infant shows all signs of being ready--- otherwise they will not be able to sit up, chew, and swallow foods appropriately. If they do not show these abilities, they should not attempt their self feeding--- reason to wait 6 months before beginning solid foods.
What kinds of foods should be given?
One of the main ideas is that infants will start to participate in meal times and eat 'family foods' or foods that the family is also consuming. This not only brings in a developmental piece but also a social piece to the child's education and growth. There will be family foods that are suitable for the infant and many that require modification to reduce salt and sugar intake.
Foods that are suitable as is include: graspable, stick shaped foods like crackers, fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, well-cooked eggs, bread (or toast), pasta, and most fish.
Below are some 'baby foods' that are typically given as pureed --- however can be eaten as is, worry free!
Broccoli-Served as a floret-sized pieces, large enough for your baby to hold with some protruding from the fist. Steamed to a soft consistency.
Banana-Skin is left on the bottom section of the banana (this gives the infant something to grip) and the top section is peeled for your baby to eat.
Pasta- Large pieces such as spirals or strips of lasagne are offered as part of the meal.
Beef-Slow cooked or stewed, offered as a chunk or a strip of meat, large enough for the infant to hold with some protruding from the fist.
We advise to offer soft whole foods, and to avoid hard foods such as raw apple and nuts until later in childhood, due to the risk for choking. The most commonly offered first foods (offered at six months of age) are vegetables steamed or boiled such as; pumpkin, potato, kumara, sweet potato, broccoli, carrot, and fruit such as avocado and banana; all of which can be cooked appropriately, i.e., cooked until soft.
The infant is also offered milk (ideally breast milk) on demand until they self-wean. This ensures that the baby is receiving the nutrients and continued immunities (w/ breastmilk) they need while introducing solid foods. Especially in the early stages where the baby is 'gumming' (sucking, etc.) the food rather than actually eating it.
What is the difference between baby led weaning and parental weaning?
Parental led weaning may cause a negative impact on infant feeding style as well as weight due to parents overriding infant feeding cues. Baby led weaning tends to be more responsive, providing there is no pressure or restrictions in the eating process. This gives the baby the ability to make choices based on their feelings of hunger--- similar to breastfeeding--- and preparing them for intuitive eating for the rest of their life .
Studies show that mothers who use baby led weaning methods typically had less anxiety about introductory foods and were more likely to breastfeed their baby.
These infants also had greater participation during mealtimes and greater exposure to family foods and varieties. Mothers also reported significantly lower levels of restriction, pressuring to eat, monitoring and concern over child weight compared to mothers that were spoon feeding.
What if they aren't ready?
Many studies show that approximately 90% of 8 month year old babies had reached for foods, and even before that ---40% before 6 months.
Some infants may have developmental delays and in which case, self-feeding may not be feasible. Medical nutritional intervention should be put in place to avoid the development of poorer nutritional status. <10% of children may need this type of monitored nutritional intake.
Choking is definitely a scary event and can happen in any feeding situation, baby led or spoon feeding. Infants still need to be watched while eating, even though you aren't the one feeding them. This actually makes it easier because if you are sitting down eating you can also be monitoring your baby instead of having to spoon feed him/her. Your baby will be able to interact with the family and participate in the social event of eating.
With that being said, choking is more likely with hard foods such as raw apple or round coin-shaped foods, such as slices of sausage. Also, if the child is distracted while eating, they are more likely to choke on foods. In most incidences of choking during self-feeding, infants were able to cough it up and parental intervention was not necessary. And for many parents, they are eventually able to tell the difference between choking and gagging, which is common in early stages of learning to eat so that they are effectively able to chew their foods before swallowing. Eventually, the gag sensation moves back in the throat as time goes on, meaning there will be little to no gaging by 8-9 months.
If you like the idea of baby-led weaning and want to learn more, contact us at Mamas Maternal Healthy and see what we have to offer in our programs page. We have a package for every level of learning and would love to help you in your motherhood journey!
Iron after birth:
Infant iron stores last between 4-6 months after birth and after should be supplemented. Many infants are able to go without an iron supplement or iron fortified foods because they are more likely to eat iron rich foods at the dinner table such as meat (chicken, beef, etc.). If an infant is not able to self-feed at six months then supplementation of iron or other nutrients may be necessary.
Until next time!
Mikayla and Cassie
Mamas Maternal Health Registered Dietitians/Lactation Counselors
Photo by Henley Design Studio on Unsplash
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