Baby led weaning or food diversification led by the child has appeared in recent years to designate another way of giving solids to a baby; it is an approach and not a technique. This feeding mode consists of offering baby pieces of food, on his table, to accustom him to touch, fetch, bring to his mouth alone, explore the different textures, and respond himself to his appetite.
1. What is baby led weaning
Baby led weaning is the introduction of complementary foods to infants in their whole form, from the age of 6 months. No more mashed potatoes and mom who makes baby eat.
Ms. Gill Rapley widely promotes this approach. In the 2000s, she studied children's positive response when moms give "real food" to them as soon as they introduce them to complementary foods.
*Note that we do not recommend this method with infants born prematurely or who are known to have developmental delay.
2. Advantages and disadvantages of baby led weaning
Parents find several advantages to baby led weaning. Studies have also looked at a few.
- Since it is necessary to wait until the baby can sit up unaided and handle food, there is little chance that the introduction of complementary food (solids, in other words) is done too early (this is before 4 months). Studies show that parents who choose this feeding method prefer exclusive breastfeeding (or infant formula) until the age of 6 months, as recommended by the World Health Organization. It would actually be completely inappropriate to give food for a baby who cannot sit or hold his head.
- Leaving the baby eat his food is not just a pleasure for him, but it plays a vital role in the child's development, as delaying the child's self-feeding may cause some problems with sensation and delay the child's acceptance of different foods. Accustoming the child to different flavors from a young age makes him eat better when he grows up, and children who eat their own food at an early age can organize their food even further when they grow up.
- Feeding the baby independently makes it easier to prepare meals because the baby eats the same as the rest of the family. However, certain pieces of meat, mixed dishes, or very sweet, very salty, or fried foods do not suit him. It is, therefore, necessary to regularly plan food-just-for him.
- Feeding the baby independently allows him to decide how much he eats without pressure. However, whether the food is in pieces or mashed, and whether the baby eats alone or with help, this is a very important basic principle to respect. When you feed the baby with the spoon, it may be more tempting to force him to eat more.
- With the baby led weaning, babies would be able to recognize their hunger and satiety signals, encouraged that they are the ones to determine the amount they want for each meal. For example, some studies have found that children fed by BLW are at a lower risk of being overweight. On the other hand, other studies observe an insufficient risk of weight gain for these children.
At least three disadvantages are often associated with the baby led weaning: damage, wastage, and length of meals.
Baby will handle food sooner or later, itâs part of learning to eat, and the damage will invariably accompany discovery. Also, for waste, Ideally, offer small amounts of food at a time to reduce losses.
With the baby led weaning, we may save time preparing food (no mashed potatoes to make), but we are spending a lot more on eating or watching a baby eat. 15 months old toddlers would take 50% longer to eat. Itâs probably even longer at 6 or 8 months. You need to be patient.
3. Baby led weaning fears
One fear we might have is that baby lacks iron. In fact, from the age of 6 months, iron stores are reduced. According to recent Health Canada (2012), it is essential to integrate, twice a day, from 6 months, complementary foods rich in iron, such as tender meats and poultry, fish, eggs (white and yellow), legumes, tofu, etc. Iron fortified infant cereals may also be available. They could be offered by spoon or cooked in the form of muffins or soft cakes.
It is true that children who eat food alone may seem to eat less. On the other hand, the energy density of solid foods offered is often higher than that of purees, which are often diluted with water or milk. Even if children whose parents use the baby led weaning approach to eat less quantity and take more time to eat, a study has shown that they consume, on average, the same amount of energy as babies who eat with a spoon.
Many parents and healthcare professionals are concerned about the risk of suffocation from baby led weaning. The risk is present, it is true, but this risk is also present with all young children during the first years of their lives. The reported cases of suffocating on baby self-feeding have been with unsafe foods such as a raw apple.
As part of the baby's autonomous feeding, it is necessary to offer him cooked vegetables, soft fruits, tender meats, toast, etc. Babies who eat chunk food have a "heartache" if poorly chewed food goes too far into their mouths. This is called the gag reflex. It is a reaction that brings food forward into the mouth to continue chewing (with teeth or gums). We must, therefore, differentiate the gag reflex from suffocation.
Precautions to prevent suffocation
- Avoid hard, round or sticky foods (such as bread, because the crumb is very sticky when mixed with saliva)
- Always make the baby sit comfortably
- Always be close to the baby while eating
- Get informed about what to do in case of suffocation
4. Choose Baby led weaning or not?
The approach used to feed the baby remains a very personal choice that is guided, among other things, by our values, our knowledge, and our education. It is a choice with which we must be comfortable and which no one can judge. Take the time to think about it and make sure this approach is safe for your little one.
5. Baby led weaning meal examples
Breast milk or infant formula is always given before meals and on demand throughout the day.
- From 6 months
Cereals with grated fruit
Boiled egg cut in 2 or 4
Large pieces of grilled sweet potatoes in sticks
Banana, crushed or in strips.
A simmered strip of meat
Boiled broccoli, a large bouquet
Quinoa mixed with sauce
Ripe cantaloupe in strips