Want to know more about baby-led weaning and the pros and cons associated with it? Read this article till the end to gain more knowledge!
Weaning is the process of introducing solid food to an exclusively breast/bottle-fed baby. Traditional weaning is a caregiver-driven approach. The parent exclusively spoon-feeds puree of food items and gradually progresses to more complex commercial/homemade baby food. It continues till the baby is strong enough to eat solids on its own. However, baby-led weaning (BLW) is the opposite of this traditional approach. Right from the start, parents offer the baby a varied selection of nutritious finger foods and encourage them to self-feed. This gives the infant, control over the content, quantity, and pace of meals. The baby is free to explore the taste, texture, color, and smell of new foods. BLW is complementary to bottle/breastfeeding, which remains the primary source of nourishment.
When To Initiate Baby-Led Weaning
Generally, each child is unique, so proceed only after consulting a pediatrician. Parents must watch for these signs of developmental readiness:
- The baby can sit upright without any assistance.
- He/she is able to reach for, pick up, and bring objects to their mouth.
- Diminished/absent tongue-thrust reflex, which is the natural reflex of spitting out food.
- Good neck strength and head control.
- The baby is able to chew and move food to the back of the mouth.
- If the baby interestingly watches you eat and even tries to grab the food.
- Set up baby in a high chair, with finger-food so that they can join the family at mealtime. Don’t rush or force-feed them. Rather, offer sips of in-between water bites. Encourage utensil use by having them on-hand for mushy solids like oatmeal. Pre-load the spoon to demonstrate the technique. You can reintroduce food items sometime later which the baby rejects now.
Pros of Baby-Led Weaning
Babies learn self-regulation. They stop eating when they are full, this lays the foundation for healthy eating patterns in the future and lowers the risk of obesity.
2. Inexpensive Preparation
Store-bought baby food is expensive. However, BLW requires simple preparation of ingredients already on your grocery list, saving time as well as money.
3. Soft Skill Development
Family mealtime is a good bonding experience that aids in developing language and social skills. Baby learns these skills by observing/mirroring the family members on the dinner table.
4. Early Exposure
Early exposure to a diverse range of tastes and texture reduces picky eating. Baby learns & practices critical oral and motor skills like tongue lateralization, tongue elevation, munching/chewing, manual dexterity, and hand-eye coordination.
Cons of Baby-Led Weaning
Besides the pros, there are some cons of baby-led weaning as well. Be on the watch out for the following issues:
- Babies with developmental delays and neurological issues like dysphagia may be better off with conventional weaning or a modified approach.
- Babies are messy self-feeders, which means there will be a lot to clean up.
- It will be difficult for you to keep a check on the food intake quantity of the baby.
- Baby-lead weaning might cause iron deficiency. At four months, the baby’s in-built iron reserve depletes, therefore they need more iron-rich foods. But iron-rich foods like meat, fortified cereal are difficult to chew. The physician may prescribe an iron supplement
Choose high-calorie and nutrient-dense food items and prepare them with little or no salt as sodium is hard for the infants’ stomach to process. Make sure whatever food you cook, should be soft and easy to smash with gentle pressure while firm enough to pick up. Consistency plays an important role as if it will be hard, babies wouldn’t be able to chew them and they won’t be able to pick extra soft food items.
Babies will pick up the food with their whole palm. Therefore, it’s better to opt for substantial pieces and cut them in long and thin finger-sized strips. However, once the babies master the pincer grasp, you can start providing them with smaller bite-size chunks.
You can prepare carrots by steaming them for 10 minutes until they are soft enough to be cut with a knife. Toss it in butter and herbs for adding extra flavor to it. You may cut it in half or shred it as per your choice and serve once they cool down completely. You can try similar steps with the other food items like:
- Steamed broccoli florets
- Ripe mango chunks
- Omelet (cut in pieces)
- Chicken shreds
- Whole wheat toast strips
- Orange wedges after removing the pith and seeds
- Baked skinless potatoes
Don’t overwhelm the kids with a choice, instead, start with single-ingredient foods to pinpoint possible allergens. Gagging, characterized by coughing, sputtering and watery eyes, is expected when the baby starts solids. Stay calm as it is a safety reflex that removes challenging food and teaches the infant how to protect their airway, the borders of their mouth, and desensitize their gag reflex.
However, choking is a severe airflow blockage that could lead to death. Learn the warning signs, familiarise yourself with infant-specific Heimlich maneuvers, and CPR. Supervise mealtime and avoid possible choking hazard food items like whole nuts, raw vegetables, grapes, peanut butter, fish bones, and popcorn.