Have you all been hearing as much about baby-led weaning as we have? We decided it’s time for us to take a look at hot topic! To start us off, let’s first look at two common methods for introducing foods to an infant.
- Spoon-feeding (often referred to as “the traditional method”)
- In this method parents either buy or make pureed foods (typically starting baby cereal, and then fruits and vegetables) for their infant and spoon-feed them. Parents gradually transition their child from totally pureed foods, to thicker purees, to chunky purees, until they are ready for solid food.
- Baby-led weaning
- In this method, infants are encouraged to self-feed solid foods (non-pureed/whole) from the start.
Here’s what research shows about babies who do baby-led weaning (BLW):
- Tend to get more protein and fat (which is good!)
- Less likely to be rated as a “fussy eater” at 18-24 months by their parents
- Some studies suggest that these children may be better able to eat based on their hunger (rather than food just being present), but the data is not considered conclusive
- There is a slightly higher rate of choking than with spoon-feeding, but this is also tied to the fact that BLW parents are more likely to offer foods that pose choking risks for infants (ex: apple slices, crackers, sausage)
- A recent study shows that baby-led weaning does NOT decrease likelihood of a child being overweight later in life
- No difference from spoon-fed children on fruit, vegetables and carbs consumption
- Tends to be messier than spoon-feeding
- BLW babies are more likely to eat with their family rather than at a separate time
- Parents claim it is more convenient because they don’t have to prepare separate food just for the infant
That’s what the research is currently telling us about baby-led weaning. Yet, we know that there is always a dose of reality (and personal preference) that goes into making a decision on which method you want to use with your own child. So here are some other things we think may be helpful for you to consider:
- Research shows that children are less likely to become obese if they’re parents have a responsive feeding style. Basically this means that we let our child determine how much they eat and when to be done eating, rather than parents saying “there is still half of a container left, let’s just finish it”. Consider how you can use this style regardless of which feeding method you decide on!
- Many parents who use BLW mention that babies do lots of gagging (which is different from choking) when they are getting started. Consider if this is something you are comfortable with. And regardless of which method you choose, always be on the lookout for when a child is actually choking.
- Children need to be able to sit up unsupported, bring food to their mouth, and chew and swallow food before they are regularly offered solid food options. The World Health Organization currently recommends waiting to introduce solid food until a baby is six months old.
- Note: many people remember when the recommendation was four months old. Few infants can do all of things listed above at four months, which is why spoon-feeding became extremely popular.
- Introducing food to children before they are four months old is recognized as a high risk factor for being overweight, with introducing before six months also having a (weak) correlation with being overweight
- Consider the food you’re offering to your infant. If you’re baby-led weaning, remember to keep an eye out for foods that are particularly high in sodium or saturated fat and avoid feeding those to your child. Also be sure to avoid foods that pose a high risk of choking.
- Many pediatricians do not support this method because of their concerns about choking as well as nutrient intake (not much definitive research on nutrient intake yet). Consider how important the support of your pediatrician is to you personally.
This is what research currently shows about the baby-led weaning method, but we still have lots to learn! Remember, at the Science of Parenting, we don’t advocate for either method but rather work to provide you the facts so that you can make a decision about what is best for your child and your family.
Have more questions about your child that are kind of specific to their age? Go explore the As Your Child Grows information under the Everyday Parenting section of the Science of Parenting website. You can find information specifically for your infant, toddler, preschooler, elementary age child, preteen, or teenager!