Baby led weaning

Advice on the baby led weaning approach to introducing solids into your baby's diet.
What is it?

Baby led weaning is becoming an increasingly popular approach to introducing solid foods to babies. It works on the principle that after 6 months of age the vast majority of infants are capable of learning to feed themselves. It therefore advocates self-feeding whereby babies are given solid chunks of food to explore rather than spoon fed the purees and mashes traditionally favoured.

In the past it was common to begin weaning at around 3 or 4 months of age. However, new research has led the WHO (world health organisation) and Department of Health to amend their guidelines so that they now recommend that infants should be fed exclusively on breast or formula milk for the first 6 months of life.

At 6 months of age many babies have strong enough neck muscles to sit upright and have developed the reflexes and coordination skills to be able to grasp objects in their fists (although not yet in their fingers). Those that favour the baby led approach believe that the developmental enhancements that occur by the age of 6 months make introducing solids as purees an unnecessary step.

What are the benefits?

This approach certainly has its advantages, for one baby can eat the same foods that you do making cooking and mealtimes much easier and negating the need for baby rice, jars of puree, blenders and ice cube trays! Taking the self-feeding approach to weaning also means that baby can sit at the table with you during mealtimes which not only makes the family dinnertime more enjoyable (if a little more messy - plastic sheets are definitely a necessity) but also makes eating out a lot easier as baby can simply share your food and eat as she pleases.

Some believe that self-feeding with individual chunks of solids allows babies to explore the different textures and flavours of food available. This may mean that they grow up with a healthier approach to food, are more willing to try different varieties and less like likely to become fussy eaters simply because eating becomes a bit of an adventure with something new to explore each mealtime.

Presenting foods separately rather than in a puree also makes it easier to identify which foods baby is not so keen on. However, as with regular weaning you should introduce a food several times to your baby, as their palate broadens considerably as they try new favours and they may learn to like something they initially rejected.

How?

Baby led weaning is really straight forward as you can feed your baby chunks of the food you eat each mealtime. With the exception of those with a history of allergies or other dietary sensitivities there isn't any real restriction on the food that baby can try.

Its best to begin with chunks of food that are a little larger than your baby's fist as these can easily be grasped. You can encompass several different foods each meal time by including different portions on baby's plate if you so wish. Don't be surprised if your baby doesn't really eat anything to begin with - she will most likely practice coordinating the food to her mouth and then practice active chewing before she is able to swallow. As long as you are supplementing your baby's mealtimes with regular milk feeds this shouldn't be a problem.

Over time you will notice that baby leaves less and eats more and at the same time that the demand in frequency or duration of milk feeds begins to decline as more calories are consumed from food. It is important to introduce a varied range of nutritious foods into your baby's diet, so the basis for a solid-based healthy diet is formed. It is especially important to avoid junk food and foods with added salt or sugar as these will not be beneficial to your child's health.

Parents with bottle fed babies should supplement their baby's diet with regular drinks of water to ensure their infants remain sufficiently hydrated as their milk intake begins to reduce. Breastfed babies can also be offered water at meal times, however this isn't a necessity, as long as they are being regularly fed with breastmilk they should be getting all the fluid they need.

Concerns

Many have reservations about starting their infants off with chunks of food rather than purees or mashes because they are worried about the risk of choking. However, this alone shouldn't put you off the baby led approach as some believe that babies are actually less likely to choke if they have complete control of what is being put in their mouth. Having said this you should avoid giving your baby small food such as peanuts or raisins until they are older.

Some also worry that their baby plays with their food so much that they are not obtaining the necessary goodness from it. Again, as long as self-feeding is being supplemented with regular milk feeds, baby should get all the nutrients they need.

Baby led weaning primarily tends to be a follow on from breastfeeding, however as long as you ensure your baby drinks sufficient water, there is no particular reason why this weaning approach could not work on a formula fed baby. It is however important to note that if your baby was born prematurely, has any developmental difficulties or allergies, you should first consult your doctor about the suitability of baby-led weaning for your child before introducing solid foods.

By sharing mealtimes with your baby, never leaving them unattended with food in front of them, starting them off on larger chunks of food and encouraging rather than forcing baby to try different things, baby led weaning can provide a really straight forward, enjoyable way for you to introduce solids into your baby's diet.

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I've started doing baby led weaning with my 6month old, she seems to choke a fair bit... nearly every meal time. should i stop feeding her and wait or is she just learning cause and effect?? its really unnerving to watch, its never been serios choking, nothing a pat on the back doesnt fix.
by beccyg7 21st Dec 2009, 9:49am
The more I read about baby led weaning the more I am convinced that this is the right way to go for Casey. Still have another 2 months to go but he is on the right track.
by JanineAndCasey 18th Aug 2009, 9:36am
I love the idea of baby led weaning. Apparently the reflexes sort themselves out and, as you say, baby is less likely to choke because they are in control. Babies are in control when breast-feeding too, so it seems a natural follow-on.
Someone told me they tried it the other week and their baby choked, but that baby was only 5 months. There is a reason for recommending you waiting until 6 months! At around 6 months the reflex that pushes things out of the mouth goes. A baby that picks up a carrot and puts it in his mouth will also be controlling whether or not it goes back and down the throat or not. Babies don't have much choice if a spoon is shoved in and the contents dumped half-way back. How many times have you seen a baby being given puree for it to be pushed back out by their tongue? Ever wondered why?
by cornishlass 24th Oct 2008, 9:02am

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