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Baby-led weaning (often also referred to as BLW) is a method of gradually weaning a baby from a milk diet onto solid foods. It allows a baby to control his solid food intake by self-feeding from the very beginning of the weaning process.

Infants are offered a range of foods to provide a balanced diet from around 6 months. They often begin by picking up and licking the food, before progressing to eating. Babies typically begin self feeding around 6 months, although some will reach for food as early as 5 months and some will wait until 7 or 8. The intention of this process is that it is tailored to suit each particular baby and their personal development. The 6 month guideline provided by the World Health Organisation is based on research indicating the internal digestive system matures over the period 4-6 months. It seems reasonable to posit that the gut matures in tandem with the baby's external faculties to self feed.

Initial self-feeding attempts often result in very little food ingested as the baby explores textures and tastes, but the baby will soon start to swallow and digest what is offered. Breastfeeding is continued in conjunction with weaning and milk is always offered before solids in the first 12 months.

General information

One Year Old food

Baby led weaning can be messy, but fun

Baby-led weaning places the emphasis on exploring taste, texture, colour and smell as the baby sets their own pace for the meal, choosing which foods to concentrate on. Instead of the traditional method of spooning puréed food into the baby's mouth, the baby is presented with a plate of varied finger food from which to choose.

Contrary to popular belief there is no research supporting the introduction of solids by purées and proponents of baby-led weaning argue that babies can become very confused when stage 2 foods are introduced (with lumps) unsure whether to swallow or chew [1].

According to one theory, the baby will choose foods with the nutrients she might be slightly lacking, guided by taste[2][3]. The baby learns most effectively by watching and imitating others, and allowing her to eat the same food at the same time as the rest of the family contributes to a positive weaning experience. At six months babies learn to chew and grasp and this is therefore the ideal time to begin introducing finger food.

Self-feeding supports the child's motor development on many vital areas, such as their hand-eye coordination and chewing. It encourages the child towards independence and often provides a stress-free alternative for meal times, for both the child and the parents. Some babies refuse to eat solids when offered with a spoon, but happily help themselves to finger food.

As recommended by the World Health Organization and several other health authorities across the world, there is no need to introduce solid food to a baby's diet until after 6 months, and by then the child's digestive system and her fine motor skills have developed enough to allow her to self-feed. Baby-led weaning takes advantage of the natural development stages of the child.

Signs of readiness

It is very important that baby-led weaning is not started before the child shows developmental signs indicating that he/she is ready to cope with solid foods. The baby should be able to sit upright, either on a lap, in a high chair or unsupported, be eager to participate in mealtime and may even be trying to grab food and put it in his/her mouth.

Safety

Many parents are used to the idea of giving babies puréed food and to some, giving such a young child finger food might sound dangerous. However, babies weaned using the baby-led method are actually less likely to choke on their food, as they are not capable of moving food from the front of the mouth to the back until they have learnt to chew [1]. In turn, they do not learn to chew until they have learned to grasp objects and place them in their mouth. Therefore the baby's general development keeps pace with her ability to manage food.

If a child gets a piece of food too far back in their mouth, they will generally promptly clear it themselves by gagging or coughing the piece out [1].

Food should not be placed in the baby's mouth for him or her. If the baby is unable to pick up and grasp the food, it is believed that the baby will also be unable to cope with chewing and swallowing it. It is also very important that the baby is sitting up straight and well supported during mealtimes and never left unattended while self-feeding.

Basic principles

The basic principles of baby-led weaning are:

  • At the start of the process the baby is allowed to reject food, and it may be offered again at a later date.
  • The child is allowed to decide how much it wants to eat. No "fill-ups" are to be offered at the end of the meal with a spoon.
  • The meals should not be hurried.
  • Sips of water are offered with meals.
  • Initially, soft fruits and vegetables are given. Harder foods are lightly cooked to make them soft enough to chew on even with bare gums.
  • Food is offered in baton-shaped pieces or in natural shapes that have a 'handle' (such as broccoli florets), as baby is learning to bite off manageable pieces.
  • Foods with clear danger, such as peanuts, are not offered.
  • Non-finger-foods, such as oatmeal and yoghurt, may be offered with a spoon so baby can learn to self-feed with a spoon.

See also

References

Footnotes

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Rapley, G. 2006. Baby-led weaning, a developmental approach to the introduction of complementary foods. In Hall Moran, V and Dykes, F. eds. Maternal and Infant Nutrition and Nurture: Controversies and Challenges. Quay Books, London. pp 275-298.
  2. Davis, Clara M. Results of the self-selection of diets by young children. Can Med Assoc J 1939 41: 257-61
  3. Strauss, Stephen. Clara M. Davis and the wisdom of letting children choose their own diets. Can Med Assoc J 2006 175: 1199

External links

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