Baby-Led Weaning — Part I

Baby-Led Weaning — Part II

Another cute, if totally unrelated, picture 🙂

After all of my preamble about developmental readiness for solid foods, some of you may be wondering exactly what baby-led weaning entails.

Also called baby-led feeding or baby-led solids, baby-led weaning (BLW) is a philosophy that allows babies, guided by parents, to control the pace and nature of their transition from breast or formula feeding to solid foods. It is a flexible and child-centred approach that follows the baby’s own readiness cues, rather than prescribed timelines or sequences.

BLW assumes that children, when given the opportunity to exercise their natural curiosity, will be open to trying new foods and will develop positive associations with meal times and eating. Studies show that children who are exposed to a variety of food textures at an early age (flavours are secondary) become much more adventurous eaters later. BLW eliminates the need to purchase or prepare baby-specific foods, as children simply eat the same foods the rest of the family is eating. It also helps babies learn to eat in response to appetite, since they are always permitted to eat as much or as little food as they wish, with no coercion from parents (similar to breastfeeding on demand).

Perhaps the most appealing feature of this approach is that it enables babies to feed themselves right from the get-go, thus allowing parents and babies to eat their meals at the same time, and puts an end to the need for parents to force green-grey mush into their babies with feigned enthusiasm and airplane noises.

There is no prescribed or mutually-agreed-upon sequence in which foods must be introduced when following the baby-led weaning philosophy; rather it is the size and texture of the foods that will change with the baby’s development. That said, most adherents still agree that foods such as cow’s milk, honey and tree nuts should wait until after baby has reached one year old, and that foods known to become easily lodged in babies’ airways (e.g. whole grapes, hard candies) should not be introduced until even later.

At first, foods should be given in chunks large enough for the baby to hold in his or her hands, since most babies will not yet have mastered the pincer grip. Providing large pieces also reduces the likelihood of choking, since the baby will not be able to put the entire piece into his or her mouth at once. Introducing foods that are easy to handle, such as broccoli florets, long slices of bell pepper or large strips of meat, tends to enable early success. Produce can be steamed or cooked to make it softer and more manageable for babies who have few or no teeth.

When babies are first introduced to solids via BLW, they will most likely taste (lick or suck) the given food, but will not actually consume much, if any. More likely, they will squish the food between their fingers, mash it into their hair and throw it on the floor. While critics of BLW will claim that BLW is messy, it is important to remember that all children go through a messy phase when they learn to self-feed; it just happens later for those babies who are initially spoon-fed by their parents.

Babies who are introduced to solids through BLW make a gradual, self-paced transition. Initially, they continue to rely on breast milk or formula to fill all of their caloric and nutritional needs, thereby allowing the early focus to be on exploration and enjoyment of solid foods, rather than nutrition. As the descriptor baby-led suggests, it is the baby who decides how much food to consume at any given time, and eventually makes the transition from being wholly breast or bottle fed to obtaining all of his nutrition from solid foods.

Whether following BLW or a more conventional weaning philosophy, it is important for parents to remain neutral about their babies’ responses to foods, and not attach emotions or labels to foods (e.g. “You like bananas.  Bananas are yummy.”). To do otherwise can set the stage for food-related power struggles. Also, just as we sometimes crave certain foods or don’t feel like eating certain foods, so do babies and children. If we do not feel like eating broccoli on a particular night, we will simply choose not to prepare it. Children do not have that option, thus, it is only fair that we also allow them to exercise their food preferences within the context of the food that is placed before them at a given meal. As long as we serve only healthy, nutritionally-dense foods, we do not need to be concerned if a child decides to forego one or more components of a meal.

While BLW allows for the introduction of any and all foods — including grains, dairy and processed or junk foods — it is inherently compatible with Paleo and Primal nutrition (and parenting) philosophies. Parents who wish to feed their children a Paleo style diet needn’t do anything other than present their babies with developmentally appropriate pieces of the same meats, fruits and vegetables they enjoy. Babies should also have plenty of healthy fats in their diets, such as coconut oil/milk, butter and the fats from grass-fed animals.

I have read many, many accounts of peoples’ experiences with baby-led weaning, and everything I read suggests that it produces adventurous eaters who enjoy a variety of foods from an early age and display superior mealtime behaviour to that of their peers. That’s enough to have me convinced!

Baby-Led Weaning — Part IV

2 responses to “BABY-LED WEANING — PART III

  1. D is four now and (gasp!) just recently weaned during my second pregnancy. We waited a long time on the food front, but it was well worth it. She now gobbles kale, brussel sprouts, cabbage and most other veggies easily and without bribery. I serve healthy food, she eats what she wants and it’s a good situation. Of all foods that we waited on (and still don’t eat), cereal is the one that really gets people. I hear this a lot, “But it’s *organic!*” Organic Os, whatever–they’re not for growing babies and kids. Highly processed, refined carbs are just not on the list. At first they were serving some version of the organic cereal during snack at preschool and having the little talk about that was a bit stressful, but we found alternatives.

    I also did not offer sweets until she was much older. She looks forward to one candy cane at XMas, homemade treats at Halloween and other holidays, but outside of holidays, we don’t do much in the way of sweet treats. A lot of times it’s the adult who gets pleasure from seeing the child enjoy candy or sweet treats. Kids, especially young toddlers, don’t really care all that much–they’d much rather have some fun play time than a cookie!

    Later introduction of foods allowed us to easily note any food intolerances (no eggs, gluten or garlic) and it allowed her to eat as much as she wanted/needed without any kind of pressure. Since she was able to sit up, she has always sat at the table with us and dinner has been the same routine ever since.

    This time around I might do a few things differently, but overall I am glad we waited until she was ready and didn’t go by a calendar or some other arbitrary source. Figuring out what to feed her was hard and some of the most popular books offer some really whacked advice. My favorite food intro list is in the book “Whole Life Nutrition” and I might just print it, tape it to the fridge and write the dates of whenever our child eats a particular food and any reactions. I think I’ll skip the introduction of all grains for a much longer time, even though we only did gluten free grains with D. After a while if too many foods get introduced at once then I was wondering if it was the strawberry or orange that caused the red rash around the mouth, or whatever… Simple ingredients make life much easier!

    Sorry to write such a long comment–I love thinking about feeding children and how to make foods for them that are healthy and simple! Your posts are getting me all excited about the feeding stage again and well, we’re not even yet to the birth part–only a month to go!

    • Wow, only one month to go now? You must be getting so excited! 🙂

      This notion, “A lot of times it’s the adult who gets pleasure from seeing the child enjoy candy or sweet treats” is, I think, what often leads parents to give junk food to very young children. Before becoming a parent, I never understood why someone would want to give sweets to a baby, but now I realize that it is a lot of fun to give new things (food or otherwise) to babies and observe their reactions. So while it will of course be really tempting to want to see Oliver’s face light up as he tastes the icing on a cupcake for the first time, we will try our best to delay that experience as long as possible. Really, he’s not going to know what he’s missing until he’s tried it, right? 🙂

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