Baby-Led Weaning…Is It For Me?
So, you’ve made it past the infant stage with your new baby. It’s gotten easier! Maybe you are breastfeeding, or maybe you are bottle-feeding. You’ve started to think about including your little one at family meals, and Google has you extremely confused at this point. Let’s chat more about an easy way to introduce food to your babes: It’s baby-led weaning time!
We are born with innate cues of when to eat and when to stop eating. Babies let parents and caregivers know when they are hungry by fussing or crying. They let us know when they are full by pulling away from the breast or bottle. However, sometimes they pull away because of a tummy bubble or pain, which may lead to fussing and crying too. For various reasons, parents/caregivers might feed a baby based on schedule or convenience, which can lead to overfeeding. With the number of overweight children on the rise, researchers and health professionals are trying new ways of feeding, looking to enhance hunger and fullness cues.
The term “baby-led weaning” is different today from what it was 30 years ago. In the past, it simply meant: “Let babies wean from nursing or bottle feeding when they are ready and at a pace they choose.” Today, it refers to skipping the step of spoon-feeding a baby with pureed foods, and instead allowing the 6-month-old to self-feed table foods. The foods offered must be soft, easy-to-grasp finger-foods at the “table” in their high chair with the family at mealtime. A very important piece of this is that a baby must be developmentally ready to self-feed, including able to sit up by themselves (90 degree sitting angle and a supportive foot rest) and have hand-to-mouth coordination.
Numerous benefits to baby-led weaning include:
- Allows baby to self-feed
- Reduces chance baby will be overfed
- Baby has opportunity to learn own cues of hunger and fullness
- Baby has opportunity to develop motor skills
- More varied diet
- Exposure to more textures at an early age
- Easier for parents at mealtime
Possible or perceived cons to baby-led weaning:
- Fear of choking
- Concerns over nutrient intake, especially iron
- Concerns over inadequate energy intake
- Lack of introduction of progressively varied texture
- Family foods higher in sodium and sugar
- Mess and food waste
It is always an option to choose a combination of feeding techniques. A modified baby-led weaning approach is where parents fully embrace the idea of “teaching” their child to listen to their hunger and fullness cues, but recognize that sometimes pureed foods or a spoonful of food is appropriate or a nice change. An example of following a modified approach: spoon-feeding Greek yogurt, baby self-feeds banana slices (cut lengthwise) and sliced avocado. This modified approach can also help ensure that babies get adequate iron and zinc into their diets. An example of this would be spoon-feeding pureed beef and/or iron-fortified baby cereal at mealtime, along with allowing the baby to self-feed sticks of avocado and banana.
The possibilities are endless for fun, first new foods to try with your babe!
- Bananas sliced lengthwise (picture matchstick sliced)
- Soft-steamed or roasted (well-cooked) vegetables such as carrot sticks, broccoli florets or green beans
- An example of a well-cooked vegetable is one that you could smash with your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
- Cooked sweet potatoes
- Ripe peaches or mangoes
- Avocado slices
- Small length-wise slices of toast
- Small, moist cuts of diced meat that are easy to maneuver and swallow
Reach out to a Hy-Vee Dietitian for more support and education on baby-led weaning. If you are planning to become pregnant in the near future, we also offer nutrition store tours focused on fertility, prenatal and postpartum nutrition that you can easily schedule virtually from the comfort of your own home.
*The blog articles, recipes and recommendations found on this site are not intended as medical advice and should not replace consulting with your medical provider. Please consult a medical professional for individual advice.
Sources: Cameron, Sonya L et al. “How feasible is Baby-led Weaning as an approach to infant feeding? A review of the evidence.” Nutrients vol. 4,11 1575-609. 2 Nov. 2012, doi:10.3390/nu4111575 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3509508/