Baby Led Weaning

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I have taken the following extract from www.babyledweaning.com which has a lot of information if you need more …

What is baby-led weaning?

Weaning is the process of moving from a diet consisting only of breast milk to one which contains no breast milk. For practical purposes, in the UK, it can also be taken to refer to the transition from full formula feeding to a diet with no formula.

For most babies the introduction of solid foods marks the beginning of weaning. Baby-led weaning is an approach that allows the baby to initiate this move and to play an active role throughout, and it is feasible for most babies (Wright et al 2010).

Why is baby-led weaning a good thing?

If babies are not presented with opportunities to develop new skills at the time those skills are emerging, their development can be hampered. And, if their keenness to explore is blocked, they become frustrated. Babies will pull themselves to their feet and walk as soon as they are able – no earlier and no later – but only if they have been given the opportunity to do so. They are rarely allowed to show their readiness for solid foods in the same way; instead, the choice is usually made for them.

The current recommendation, by both the World Health Organization and the UK Department of Health, is that solid foods should not be introduced until infants reach six months of age. Coincidentally (or perhaps not), babies of this age are able to reach out and grasp large pieces of food, bring them to their mouth and chew them. These skills develop as part of the normal maturation process. To become proficient at chewing, babies need experience with foods that require chewing, not pureed or mashed foods. There is neither any rationale nor any research to support the spoon feeding of normal, healthy babies.

How does baby-led weaning work?

An important principle of baby-led weaning is recognition of what drives a baby to begin to explore new foods. It is unlikely that the impetus is hunger, since, at the point where solid foods are introduced, the infant’s frame of reference for ‘food’ consists only of milk. It is much more likely that the infant is initially driven by curiosity and an urge to explore; he will discover later that eating food fills his tummy.

A second tenet is that the act of feeding is at least as safe, and probably safer, when the person doing the feeding and the person being fed are one and the same. In order to manage solid foods safely the baby must be sitting upright (so that gravity doesn’t take the food to the back of his mouth until he is able and ready to swallow it), and he must put the food into his mouth himself. He must also be allowed to concentrate on what he is doing. Distracting him, coaxing him to eat and rushing him all have the potential to interfere with his learning, and to significantly increase the risk of choking.

Implementing baby-led weaning

Parents should aim to include their baby in their mealtimes whenever possible, from around six months onwards. They should try to make sure that he is neither hungry nor sleepy at mealtimes, so that he can concentrate and enjoy this new ‘game’. They should ensure that he is sitting upright and that no one other than he puts food into his mouth. It’s a good idea to protect the floor with something clean, so that dropped food stays clean and can be handed back.

Most healthy family foods are suitable (unless there is a history of allergies). Fruit, steamed or roasted vegetables, and large strips of meat are good first foods. They should be offered in sticks or chunks that the baby can hold in his fist, with some sticking out. A gradually increasing variety of colours, flavours and textures will make eating interesting, promote skill development and encourage a liking for a wide range of foods.
Milk feeds should continue to be offered on demand — the baby will decide when and how to reduce them. Water can be offered with meals (especially for formula-fed babies, who may need more fluid than they can get from their milk feeds alone).

Baby-led weaning is not new: many parents of three or more children have discovered that allowing their baby to do things for himself is not only more fun for the child but easier for them as well. Anecdotal evidence suggests that baby-led weaning leads to fewer mealtime battles and less fussy eating in toddlerhood. Research is needed to establish whether or not it also reduces childhood obesity and increases the chances of a healthy diet in adulthood.

About Gill Rapley

Gill qualified as a health visitor in 1978, as a voluntary breastfeeding counsellor in 1986 and as a midwife in 1989. Throughout this time, her main interest was in supporting mothers to breastfeed. The majority of her work until 1996 was in health visiting, during which she trained colleagues in breastfeeding and lactation management and passed theIBLCE exam. It was during this time that her fascination with the introduction of babies to solid foods began.

Between 1996 and 2010 Gill worked for the UNICEF UK Baby Friendly Initiative, while pursuing her interest in complementary feeding in her spare time. In 2001/2 she undertook a piece of research for a Master’s degree into the possibility that babies could feed themselves solid foods and has since spoken on this topic on many occasions. She is credited with coining the term ‘Baby-led weaning’, an approach to the introduction of solid foods which has a rapidly-growing following on the World Wide Web.

In 2006, Gill published a chapter on baby-led weaning in Maternal and infant nutrition and nurture: controversies and challenges (Moran & Dykes 2006). She has also assisted in the production of three DVDs:Baby-led weaningDiscovering baby-led weaning and Baby-led weaning: the first 6 months — available from Mark-it Television. She is the co-author with Tracey Murkett of Baby-led weaning and The baby-led weaning cookbook, published by Vermilion.

Gill lives with her husband in Kent. She has three grown-up children.

References

  • Wright CM, Cameron K, Tsaika M et al (2010). Is baby-led weaning feasible? When do babies first reach out for and eat finger foods?Matern Child Nutr Aug 23 [Epub ahead of print].
  • For other references and general reading, see chapter on Baby-led weaning in: Moran VH, Dykes F eds (2006). Maternal and infant nutrition and nurture: controversies and challenges. London: Quay Books.