There has been a lot of talk in the press and on parent chat sites recently about baby led weaning (BLW). So what is BLW and what are the current weaning recommendations?
What is the definition of weaning?
“Weaning is the process of expanding the diet to include foods and drinks other than breast milk or infant formula”. BDA paediatric group Policy statement on Complementary feeding.
The baby led weaning approach is when infants are allowed to self feed with finger foods only and no food is given from a spoon, such as fruit puree or baby rice.
The Department of Health in the UK recommends that solid food should commence ‘at around six months of age’. These guidelines also recognize that each child is an individual and some babies will be ready for solid food before this age and some after. However, weaning should commence no later than six months or 26 weeks of age and no earlier than 4 months or 17 weeks of age.
So are there any benefits to BLW? And are there any possible harmful effects?
One observational study based on a survey of parents in the UK, suggests that the BLW approach compared to traditional weaning approach is associated with healthier food preferences and lower infant BMI. However, please note that observational studies are not considered very high quality and more research is needed to look at growth and developmental outcomes.
Are there any possible concerns about BLW?
Interviews with healthcare professionals suggest concerns about the increased risk of choking, iron deficiency and inadequate energy intake. I personally would be most concerned about iron deficiency, as a baby’s iron stores run out at about 6 months of age (if they were born full term and at a healthy weight), so they start requiring a source of iron quite soon after this time. I will be doing an iron deficiency post soon so more on this later…!
This is a very controversial area, but one thing is for sure….more research is needed!
I think a sensible approach is to offer your baby some purees from a spoon and to allow them to self feed whenever they show a readiness or interest….such as reaching out for the food off your plate! This is usually around 7 months or so.
Offer finger foods alongside purees so that they learn how food feels in their hands and how to reach their mouths! Allow them to get messy! Often they like to hold a spoon too and attempt to feed themselves, even though none of the food actually reaches their mouth!
For example: You could offer your child a sweet potato and apple puree from a spoon and have some soft, cooked broccoli on their high chair tray or table for their hands to explore and maybe even take a bite of, if you are lucky!
Weaning can be a stressful time for parents but try to enjoy it and have fun while your baby learns and explores new foods!