BABY LED WEANING
At a glance from the past teaches us that the “first 1000 days” of a baby’s life is important to make sure that our baby is adequately fed. This not only helps with brain development but allows our baby to have a stronger immune system and a boost in life. So, we know that it is important to exclusively breastfeed for 6-months, but what then?
Introductions to solids can be the most rewarding yet also the point where most damage can be done, if the baby is not fed correctly. Recent hypes within the “mommy environment” is Baby Led Weaning, but caution should be practiced because not one shoe fits all.
What is Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning is a method of introduction to solids where the infant chooses what he/she eats from options presented and feeds himself/herself. Baby Led Weaning therefore differs from the conventional method of solid introduction where infants are spoon fed mashed or pureed foods and progressed gradually to foods of varying textures and firmness. Infants that are fed by the baby lead weaning method are offered whole solid foods (often in stick-shape form), although the infant chooses what he/she will eat, the parent chooses which foods will be presented. Foods that are offered include: fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, well-cooked eggs, bread/toast, pasta, and most fish. Foods that are prepared should be foods that can be grasped. Cereal is therefore limited (1,2).
Can my baby do Baby Led Weaning?
Studies are proposing that exclusively breastfed infants may be more successful than formula fed infants as breastfeeding is largely based on self-regulatory principles. Mothers that have been shown to be able to effectively implement Baby Led Weaning principles include:
- breastfeeding mothers
- educated mothers and
- mothers returning to work only past 12-months post-partum (1,2)
When to Start with Baby Led Weaning?
Baby Led Weaning is recommended to only be commenced at 6 months of age as most infants meet their needed oral motor and gross motor developmental milestones at this age. Developmental milestones needed to be present in infants that are fed according to infant led feeding principles include:
- being able to sit unsupported
- reach and grasp for objects
- bring objects to their mouths as well as
- extent of tooth eruption
Soft textures can be eaten without teeth, however chewing foods that firmer and of various texture often require the eruption of teeth first (1,2).
What are the Advantages of Baby Led Weaning?
Advantages of Baby Led Weaning include (1,2):
- Your baby may be exposed to a greater variety of foods
- Your baby partakes in responsive feeding (documented as one of the keys to successfully introduce solids to an infant to promote good dietary habits at later life cycle stages)
- Your baby is exposed to family foods which are more economic
- You facilitate of oral motor and gross motor development
- It may reduce the incidence of becoming overweight as infant learns to eat according to hunger cues
What are the Disadvantages of Baby Led Weaning?
Disadvantages of Baby Led Weaning include (1,2):
- Your baby may be at a higher risk to choke
- Your baby may take in insufficient iron resulting in an iron deficiency and that the infant may not take in sufficient energy to meet increased needs to facilitate rapid growth and development. The risk of iron deficiency develops as infants whom fed according to Baby Led Weaning principles are fed limited amounts of iron fortified cereals. Although various cuts of protein sources such as liver and beef that are high in iron are available, without proper education and knowledge of parents, it can be often excluded.
- Although Baby Led Weaning can assist with incidence of overweight, it can also cause it specifically when infants can choose energy dense rather than nutrient dense sources. This is for example presenting things like: cheese curls, sausages, biscuits instead of fruit, starchy vegetables and non-starchy vegetables.
- A common concern of Baby Led Weaning that does arise is the plausibility of Baby Led Weaning when an infant is ill as physical stamina to feed themselves as well as appetite would be lacking and therefore they would be at a greater risk for growth faltering.
Although Baby Led Weaning has sparked interest in the health care forefront, more high-quality studies are needed to identify whether benefits of Baby Led Weaning outweigh its risks. It is therefore advised that you seek advice from a health care professional.
- Cameron, S.L., Heath, A.L.M. & Taylor, R.W. 2012. How feasible is baby-led weaning as an approach to infant feeding? A review of the evidence. Nutrients, 4(11):1575-1609.
- Morison, B.J., Taylor, R.W., Haszard, J.J., Schramm, C.J., Erickson, L.W., Fangupo, L.J., Fleming, E.A., Luciano, A. & Heath, A.L.M. 2016. How different are baby-led weaning and conventional complementary feeding? A cross-sectional study of infants aged 6–8 months. BMJ open, 6(5): e010665. https://bmjopen.bmj.com/content/6/5/e010665