I still remember waiting for the doctor to say baby-led weaning wasn’t a good idea. When I told him that my daughter was eating the same foods we ate, just cut in a way she could hold and served in an appropriate texture for gumming the food, he smiled and did exactly the opposite. He said most of the world feeds their children this way, why would I have a problem with it? In that moment, we felt validation and excitement about our baby-led weaning journey.
I didn’t say ‘baby linguine’
What is baby-led weaning anyway? As funny as it sounds, it’s not baby-led weenie or baby linguine, which is what some people hear when you first say the term. Baby-led weaning simply implies that once developmentally appropriate, baby is allowed to self-feed the foods of the family while still using on-demand breast or formula feedings. This leaves being spoon-fed purées by a parent completely out of the process since baby is self-feeding using their hands or their own spoon.
The term baby-led weaning (BLW) was first coined by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett in their book Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods. Dr. Rapley has paved the way for a natural approach to feeding that focuses on foods of the family table. The book has sparked more research around this feeding method as well, particularly since there are concerns about nutrient deficiencies and choking. Luckily, emerging research has suggested that there is no greater risk of choking or deficiencies with BLW, particularly when parents have been educated on the approach, by either an expert or their own studies. We provide a step-by-step guide for each stage of the BLW process in our book, Born To Eat: Whole, Healthy Foods from Baby’s First Bite.
The new recommendations
Recent recommendations to start an infant on solid foods have changed to at or around six months of age (from four to six months). It seems that most normally developing six-month-olds are capable of self-feeding and regulating the amount of food they eat to sustain their bodies (not sure if baby is ready for solids, click here). In my own practice, I use the terms baby-led weaning and self-feeding interchangeably. There are some debates about the terms and specifics but there’s no reason to get hung up on that part. The bottom line is that baby eats foods of the family (which isn’t typically pureed food) and parents or caregivers provide the foods in appropriate textures and in a graspable shape for baby. For example, if the family is having steak, potatoes, and green beans; baby would be offered soft, finger-sized slices of steak, mashable pieces of potato, and very soft green beans. As baby learns to navigate solids, he may cough, sputter, or gag which is normal as he’s gaining oral and feeding skills. He’ll quickly figure out how to gum the food as he gains confidence in his eating and food exploration.
The American Academy of Pediatrics health initiatives currently recommends self-feeding for developmentally appropriate six-month-olds starting solids although, many still consider it a nontraditional approach. Self-feeding isn’t a new way of feeding at all. It’s how most of the world has nourished their growing babies successfully for thousands of years.