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Have you ever heard of baby-led weaning (BLW)? This may sound unfamiliar to some parents, but this has gained popularity today when it comes to child-care and complementary feeding.
Feeding is one of the most anticipated milestones of an infant. As soon as your baby is born, he will be given to you to try breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is the ideal nourishment for your baby, and it is recommended to exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months. However, there are instances when breastfeeding is not possible, so some turn to formula, which is totally okay. As parents, we want to feed our baby with what seems to be appropriate. In any circumstances, when it comes to our child, breastfed or formula-fed, FED is best!
The first 6 months of life seem to be the toughest, especially for first-time parents. I, for one, felt overwhelmed when I had my first child 11 years ago. The frequent feeding and diaper changing, the anxiousness if I was doing the right thing, and the lack of sleep took a toll on me. But wait, I was not complaining. After all, I had a beautiful baby to take care of.
The time will go by very fast when you have a newborn. One day, you will be surprised that your baby may already hold his head up on his own or may even start to roll over from back to stomach. And before you know it, your baby will need more than just the milk. Now enters a stage called complementary feeding or most commonly known as the time when we introduce solid food to our little one.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends introducing complementary food by 6 months of age and continuing breastfeeding until 2 years or beyond. You may wonder what to feed your baby for the first time. After all, we mothers only want the best for our babies, including choosing the right kind of food and how we will feed them.
Some introduce food in the form of a puree or mashed vegetable or fruit and feed the baby using a spoon. This is the most traditional way of feeding. However, in recent years, baby-led weaning or baby-led feeding has become a very popular method of feeding.
What is baby-led weaning?
Baby-led weaning is a method used in feeding infants by adding solid food to their diet of breastmilk or formula. Your baby will be in control by “self-feeding” from the start when you introduce solid food. The main objective is to let your baby eat nutritious food on his own and at his own pace.
It also aims to develop chewing, then swallowing, and not the other way around, as happens when you start with mashed or pureed food or, for some, porridge. When you use a spoon to feed your baby, you may also notice that you start to push food into his mouth without really knowing it. For baby-led weaning, your baby controls how much food he can put in his mouth and how much he can chew well by himself.
When should you start baby-led weaning?
Like WHO, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendation) is to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months and continue to breastfeed along with complementary feeding of solid food. Aside from age, babies who show signs of developmental readiness can also be introduced to complementary feeding. The rule of thumb for baby-led weaning does not depend on the age but should start as soon as your baby shows a sign that he is ready for solid food. The most common sign is your baby’s ability to sit well without support and if he has good head control.
Baby-led weaning pros and cons
What are the benefits of baby-led weaning?
There are many advantages of baby-led weaning, according to experts. Motor skills development, hand and eye coordination, and gag reflexes are commonly mentioned. But parents who have practiced this feeding method say a lot more than that.
- Your baby can enjoy his meals when you give him the freedom of what to eat, how much he can eat, or even how fast he can do it. This gives him pleasure rather than you being in full control, which might be a little stressful for you and your baby. Mealtime is a fun time.
- Your baby can learn about food with his own timing. He will learn about the taste and the texture of the food, which eventually can give him the idea of whether he likes the food or prefers another option.
- There are also some observations that baby-led weaning results in non-picky-eaters during the later years.
- When you let your baby eat by himself, he can explore with his senses too. Your baby will be able to look, smell, touch, and taste his food. His sense of hearing is stimulated when he hears your voice, isn’t it?
- At a very early age, your baby is starting to develop good eating habits and encouraged to eat just enough, avoiding overeating. However, further studies are needed to validate the claims that BLW may be linked to the prevention of excessive weight gain in the future.
- It is more economical because your baby will be eating almost the same food as the rest of the family. No need to prepare a separate meal and no need to buy ready-to-eat baby food. By the way, did I mention that it will save you a lot of time and energy too?
What are the downsides of baby-lead weaning?
Of course, there are also some disadvantages when you choose baby-led weaning. The number one concern you may be dealing with is the possibility of choking. But you have to know the difference between gagging and choking. They are often mistaken as the same, but these are 2 different instances during feeding.
When your baby is gagging, his face may turn pink or red as he makes gagging noises and may begin to cough and thrust his tongue forward. One of the causes is when he puts too much food in his mouth and this is totally normal for babies starting to eat. On the other hand, choking may cause your child to turn blue, be unable to make noises, and he may attempt to cough. When choking happens, a piece of food has blocked his airways, making breathing difficult and needing immediate attention.
Other issues that raise concerns among parents are:
- You may find yourself cleaning most of the time during and after mealtime. BLW is messy, but so as spoon-feeding. It will also be difficult to know how much your baby has eaten because the food will always be all over the place.
- Although it is economical, the food you eat may still not be appropriate for your baby. There will always be a question of whether what you are giving contains enough nutrients needed by your baby because breastmilk may not be able to give all the nutrients he will need at his age.
How do I safe-proof baby-led feeding?
When you choose baby-led feeding, it is very normal to feel a little uneasy when you give solid food for the first time. You will find yourself very worried during the first few days of feeding. The fear of choking will hit you most of the time, but as long as you are always present, just relax and enjoy this milestone. Always do the following:
- Avoid giving food that is considered choking hazards such as whole grapes, different kinds of nuts, or apples with skin.
- Cut vegetables and fruits similar to the size of a French fry. For meat, cut it into small, bite-size pieces.
- During mealtimes, keep your baby seated in an upright position and use safety belts in his high-chair.
- Involve all the members of the family in learning baby-led weaning pros and cons and the safety precautions that should be followed all times.
What are the best baby-led weaning foods?
Instead of buying ready-to-eat purees for your baby, you will be preparing everything from scratch. However, it is wise to know that when it comes to baby-led weaning, you will consider these important factors:
- Size: Food similar to the shape and size of a French fry should be easily picked up by the thumb and index finger and eventually the whole palm
- Texture: Food should be soft enough to smash by your baby’s hands
- Comfort: Food should be easily grasped by your baby
Among the healthiest baby-led weaning first foods you can give your baby are the following:
- Pumpkin or squash
- Sweet potatoes
- Lean meat
The list of food below are those that you should avoid when your baby is under the age of 1:
- Undercooked food
When you choose to baby-led wean, you can give anything to your baby, including regular table food. Just be sure to give him a little bit of everything so he can explore and know what he prefers to eat. You may also choose to prepare some healthy BLW recipes once in a while.
How to get started with baby-led weaning?
When I baby-led wean my third child, I came to realize its benefits because I never got to do the same for my older kids. But to be honest, I felt a little scared. I literally could not take my eyes off my baby because I was afraid she might choke. Surprisingly, she did well! She ate a few pieces of sliced avocado and finished everything in one go. What an appetite! Well, here are a few tips I can share with you when you start feeding:
- Whether you are breastfeeding or formula feeding, continue giving your little one the same amount of milk. Your baby is still adjusting and will not be able to get the full nutrition he needs yet.
- You may offer food on your preferred schedule but as much as possible, give something to your baby when he is hungry.
- Set aside the fancy plates and bowls for now. A simple tray or plate may do the work for now. Your baby’s interest is set on the food you give him.
Want a more in-depth look at baby-led weaning? I recommend the book Simple and safe baby-led weaning: How to integrate foods, master portion sizes, and identify allergies.
Eating healthy as one family
Imagine yourself at the dining table. You see yourself eating and having fun with the family along with your baby, and everyone is enjoying that moment. That is what baby-led weaning is all about. When you trust your baby, when you give him independence, and when you make everything fun while eating, you get to the heart of baby-led weaning.