Baby Led or Parent Fed?
Parents typically have many questions about how to transition their babies from feeding only milk to including solid foods. It’s a fun and important stage that you understandably want to get right! Added to the list of questions about when to start and what to feed is how to feed your baby:
- Should babies be parent fed?
- Should they feed themselves right from the start?
There are many ways to introduce solid foods to your baby. Only you will find out what works best for you and your baby. As a pediatrician, I’m getting more questions about baby-led weaning (BLW). Although more research is needed about the benefits and risks, here are some early findings about BLW.
BLW is an approach to introducing solid foods that emphasizes infant self-feeding rather than adult spoon-feeding. Starting at 6 months, the baby feeds themselves all of their food. No more spoons. No more games of airplane to get them to eat what is on the spoon!
BLW may have several benefits for infants and families. It potentially:
- Increases healthy eating behavior. While this finding is encouraging, there was hope that BLW would also decrease the risk of obesity. However, recent studies haven’t supported this, showing no difference in the body mass index or BMI of children ages12 and 24 months who had been spoon-fed vs. self-fed.
- Decreases picky eating habits and mealtime battles. The same study showed that BLW children were less fussy about what they eat.
- Prolongs the time that infants breastfeed.
- Makes feeding more convenient and encourages families to eat together for meals right from the start.
Concerns about BLW include:
- Increased choking risk. Recent studies done so far on BLW found that many parents are offering babies foods that pose choking hazards, regardless of how the baby is fed.
- Inadequate iron-containing foods. Babies run out of the iron stores they’re born with after their first year, so if not fed food high in iron, they can become anemic or have a low red blood cell count. You can avoid this by starting iron-fortified cereals early on.
- Inadequate calorie intake. Some studies on BLW have shown an increased risk of low weight gain in solely self-fed babies. However, one recent study did not show this problem. More research is needed to understand this possible risk.
More research is needed to clarify if the benefits of BLW outweigh the perceived risks. However, if you prefer the traditional parent-led approach rather than BLW, that’s a perfectly fine option.
Here are a few clear takeaway messages for parents, whatever your feeding approach:
- Trust your baby’s appetite and let them lead you, however you feed them. If they turn their head and close their mouth, then they’re full.
- Once babies can sit up and bring their hands and objects to their mouth, offer finger foods to help them learn to feed themselves. Some great foods to start with are small pieces of banana, well-cooked small pasta, squashed beans, scrambled eggs, grated cheese, cottage cheese, and finely chopped chicken.
- Avoid choking hazards, including nuts, popcorn, anything cut into coin shapes (hot dogs, cheese sticks), raw veggies, hard fruit, grapes (unless chopped finely), chunks of peanut butter, meats or cheese, and anything gooey or sticky.
- Learn infant-child CPR. Call your local American Red Cross for class information.
- Feed babies in an upright sitting position and watch them closely during the entire meal.
Talk to your pediatrician if your baby has developmental delays or trouble with weight gain.
So, if your response to BLW was to think: “What, no more games of airplane with the spoon?” you’ve got it right. That is exactly the point we can all agree on here. Parents shouldn’t try to persuade a baby to eat what they don’t want to, and especially when they’re full! Let your baby control the fun and games in the highchair—with you watching, of course.
Resources for parents:
My Doctor Online
Healthy Eating for Toddlers