Baby-Led Weaning: An Introduction

Written by: Lianne Castelino

Published: Feb 3, 2016

Introducing solid foods into your infant’s diet can be a source of trepidation for parents. It seems health guidelines for what you should feed babies and when you should start are constantly changing, creating a feeling of confusion and even fear around the process.

One philosophy of introducing solids stands in contrast to other theories because it encourages novice eaters to self- feed rather than be fed by a parent or caregiver. This technique has become known as Baby Led Weaning (BLW), a term coined by UK healthcare professional Gill Rapley.

We spoke with Toronto-based dietitian and Baby Led Weaning consultant Amanda Lapidus who explained the basic tenets of this method and addressed some common misconceptions.

1. What is Baby Led Weaning?

Baby Led Weaning is an alternative method for introducing complementary foods to infants where the infants actually feed themselves, meaning they self-feed as opposed to being spoon-fed by a caregiver.

2. Please describe some of the research behind Baby Led Weaning?

In terms of the gold-standard of research (a double-blind, randomized control study) there hasn’t been any but I don’t think that type of research is possible or necessary for this. Observational evidence suggests Baby Led Weaning encourages improved eating patterns and can lead to healthier body weights because babies were able to self-moderate. They were also seeing in observational studies that babies were developing better chewing skills, better dexterity and better hand-eye coordination.

3. Will we see that type of “gold standard” research next?

I think randomized studies will be done which is what most of the studies have suggested in terms of future research in this area.

4. At what age are babies typically ready to feed themselves?

I recommend 6 months with Baby Led Weaning, which goes along with World Health Organization recommendations. The reason is at six months, babies have the developmental skills to get food into their mouths and should be able to sit upright.

5. Some parents are worried about the possibility of choking? Is this a concern?

The risk of choking goes along with feeding regardless of whether you practice Baby Led Weaning or you feed with purees. The risk is more related to what you’re feeding your child. If you’re feeding them foods that are choking hazards, then they will be at an increased risk. With Baby Led Weaning, as long as you’re offering them safe foods they’re not at an increased risk. Their gums are strong enough to chew soft food.

There is some observational evidence that you’re actually decreasing a baby’s risk of choking as you’re working with their gag reflex to improve their ability to handle foods. When you’re pureeing food, they’re just learning to swallow as opposed to manipulating the food on their own.

When they put the food in their mouths, they might gag a little but gagging is good. Gagging is a safety mechanism to prevent choking. It’s a retching movement that actually pushes food away from their airway. It’s mostly just scary for a parent to see.

The difference between gagging and choking is that with choking, the airway is completely blocked and usually there’s no sound at all and that’s when a caregiver would intervene.

Another key is that you’re never leaving a child alone. I would say regardless of what you’re feeding them, never take your eyes off of them when they’re eating.

6. What are common foods to introduce at the outset of BLW?

It doesn’t have to be complicated. My own daughter started with a piece of boiled carrot from curried soup. Avocado and cucumbers are also good examples. The important thing is the size of the food; it should be big enough that it’s actually poking out of the hand and not stuck in their palm. At that developmental stage, babies can’t open their hand to see that it’s in there.

7. What are examples of foods to stay away from?

Basically anything you might normally consider a choking hazard, for example: hot dogs, sausages, pretzels, popcorn, whole nuts or large pieces of nuts and boney fish. Grapes and cherry tomatoes should not be served whole; they should be cut lengthwise so they’re long and skinny.

8. What are some advantages of BLW?

If your child self feeds not only is it easier for you (especially if you have more than one child), but also they can join in on the family meal and you can eat too. Imagine that? They get to explore the food that they’re eating, making it more fun for them. They can explore textures and play with their food using their hands and their mouths. It helps them develop their hand-eye coordination and their pincer grasp.

Observational studies suggest that baby led weaning encourages improved eating patterns, leads to a healthier body weight and decreases likelihood of picky eating which can be a huge problem.

9. Who should avoid Baby Led Weaning?

Any child under six months of age should not begin Baby Led Weaning particularly if they are unable to sit upright. Children with impaired chewing skills or fine motor skills may not be able to self feed and parents of babies born prematurely should speak to their physicians to discuss whether baby led weaning is the right approach to take.

10. How would you advise parents who are interested in BLW to go about it?

I always recommend doing research of your own. There are a ton of blogs and videos online that help empower parents and caregivers to use this method. Talk to other people you know who have done it as well.

I always tell people and encourage them to know that it’s not the only approach. You don’t have to stick to just Baby Led Weaning. I work with my clients to know they can do a combination. Speaking for myself, I provide finger foods and I spoon-feed my son, you don’t have to be strict about one versus the other, it’s really about what makes you comfortable and whatever decreases your own anxiety. Eating shouldn’t be stressful, it should be fun!

ABOUT AMANDA: Amanda Lapidus, RD, BSc. is an experienced, innovative and supportive dietitian, mother and wife, living and working in Toronto. She is one of the few dietitians who offers personalized and family focused care in the comforts of your own home. Amanda completed her Honours Bachelor of Science in Foods and Nutrition at The University of Western Ontario and her postgraduate internship in clinical nutrition at Mount Sinai Hospital. She is a member of the College of Dietitians of Ontario, Dietitians of Canada and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Amanda draws from a diverse career in the field of nutrition with a wide range of physical and mental health knowledge and a special interest in integrative and functional medicine. Amanda works using real foods and believes in making nutrition in your home simple, satisfying and sustainable. CONTACT: , 416-805-2584

Disclaimer: This is not a replacement for any advice or guidance you would normally seek when making decisions for you and your child. Intended for informational purposes only.

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