The latest talk in parenting circles is baby-led weaning – and more and more tots are mastering the art of feeding themselves faster than they’re learning how to stand.
WHAT IS BABY LED WEANING?
Weaning (where you start giving your baby solid foods as well as maintaining milk feeds) is a crucial stage in your baby’s development, but it can also be a fun one. Introducing new foods at the right time will help your baby develop and grow into a healthy child. Baby-led weaning (BLW), however, differs from the normal process of weaning and means forgetting purées and weaning spoons to simply let your baby feed himself. Puréed or well-mashed foods are an obvious bridge between liquid and solid foods but the theory behind baby-led weaning is that if you wait until six months your baby can skip purées and start feeding himself with finger foods. The baby takes part in family mealtimes and decides how much he will eat.
BLW is a hotly debated subject, mostly because there is limited research available on the topic and different experts have different opinions. There are both pros and cons when it comes to BLW. The good news is that it encourages self-feeding, which can help boost your baby’s confidence and give him a feeling of independence. Offering a variety of textures is also proven to help develop chewing skills and the muscles needed for speech and development. There is, however, some concern about whether the BLW approach will provide sufficient amounts and variety of vital nutrients. Iron, for example, is a critical part of your child’s diet and it can be difficult to give six-month-old food sources rich in iron, like chicken, meat, fish, beans, and lentils, if they have not been puréed.
It’s important to note that BLW is not suitable for everybody. If there’s a family history of allergies, digestive problems, or food intolerances, if your baby has special needs and can’t chew very well or has difficulty picking up food and moving it to his mouth, or if your baby was born prematurely, it is advised that you talk to your doctor or dietitian before trying it with your baby.
WHEN THE TIME IS RIGHT
Health professionals recommend exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age (26 weeks), with continued breastfeeding for two years or longer. It is also recommended that breastfeeding continues during the process of introducing new foods. Research suggests that this may reduce the risk of the baby developing allergies and coeliac disease. With all that in mind, many experts recommend that weaning onto solid food should start around six months, as at this age most babies will have lost the tongue thrust reflex that pushes food back out of the mouth. Others say you can start your baby on solids at around four months. But all agree that it shouldn’t happen anytime sooner than that. Remember, though, that age is not the only aspect to take into account. Signs a baby may be ready for starting solids include the ability to sit upright in a chair, good head control, and the ability to grasp objects and bring them to his mouth. If your baby takes a keen interest in the foods you eat, and watches you with interest while you eat or grabs food off your plate and puts it into his mouth, he may also be ready for solids. “Parents should do what they feel most comfortable with, whether it’s BLW or conventional feeding practices, or a combination of the two. Some babies want to feed themselves, while others want, or need, to be spoonfed. I believe there is a good middle ground and both spoonfeeding and finger foods have their place in the weaning process. Let your child’s development determine how you progress with weaning and what type of foods you offer.
VARIETY IS THE TASTE OF LIFE
Regardless of the weaning method you choose, be sure to offer a variety of foods, textures, and flavors to ensure important nutrients are included in your baby’s diet. Early experiences with flavors and food textures set the stage for lifelong eating habits. There is a very important window of opportunity from six to 12 months when a baby is receptive to lots of different tastes, so wean your baby onto a family-based diet of whole foods. Follow your baby’s cues – he will show you when he’s had enough. Take your baby to your local baby clinic for regular weight and length checks to ensure that he is growing and developing well. If you’re unsure about how or when to start your baby on solids, or whether or not to try baby-led weaning with your baby, a registered dietitian can help to guide you, put your mind at ease and ensure your little one is getting the nutrients their body needs to grow and develop.