I have recently noticed an increasing trend of parents saying that they are “doing a mix of baby led and traditional weaning”. Discussion forums are full of comments from parents who claim they are “doing a bit of both”, offering baby led foods and purees to make sure the baby gets some nutrients.
I feel it is important to point out that it is not possible to wean a baby in a baby led manner and “do a bit of both”. If parents are weaning their babies with purees and spoons (held by the adult) then they are not baby led weaning. They are following traditional weaning patterns of offering purees and finger foods, albeit offering the finger foods a little earlier than the norm.
The very nature of baby led weaning (BLW) is that the baby is in control. The baby leads weaning in the following ways:
- They decide when weaning begins (by sitting upright, with or without support, holding their head up, being able to pick up food and move it to their mouth and being interested in eating solids).
- They decide what to eat (by offering a range of different foods and allowing the baby to choose what they eat and what they don’t).
- They decide how much to eat (by allowing the baby to follow their own satiety cues – to stop eating when they are no longer hungry, or to eat more if they are).
- They pick up all of the food and put it in their mouths themselves (this allows the baby to control what they eat and how much they eat, it also allows them to explore the sensory properties of the food, which is just as important – if not more so – than what they actually swallow). BLW doesn’t mean never using a spoon or eating mushy food, however the baby will always hold the spoon and put it in their own mouth – thus controlling how much and when they eat. This requires a good degree of manual dexterity that most babies are usually not capable of until somewhere between 9 and 12 months of age.
If weaning does not follow these principles it is not baby led.
BLW is not about the foods that the baby eats. Giving a baby pureed fruit, vegetables, porridge or pre-prepared baby foods with a spoon as well as a selection of finger foods from the offset of weaning is not ‘baby led weaning’. This is traditional or ‘parent led weaning’ with the early introduction of finger foods. Giving a baby food from a spoon (held by an adult) is ‘parent led’ and always will be. Whether it is accompanied by slices of avocado, carrot batons or sticks of toast or not. Baby Led Weaning is all about the principles and ethos, not about the food given and what form it may take.
Why does it matter? Baby Led Weaning has many potential benefits, the most important to me is that it allows the baby to set the pace, to form a good relationship with food and to learn their satiety signals from the offset. They learn that food is fuel and may avoid issues with eating that contribute to obesity, thus possibly protecting against it. ‘Doing a bit of both’ – giving finger foods whilst puree feeding “to at least get some food into the baby” goes against this and may unknowingly negatively influence the baby’s future eating habits in the pursuit of trying to do what’s best for the baby (by “getting food into them”). Being baby led really means the baby leads all of their weaning which means trusting that they will take all they need from solids and milk without offering ‘top up’ purees.
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