Baby led weaning explained

Midwife Amy Vogelaar on what's involved with baby led weaning


Feeding your baby with a spoon, or allowing them to feed themselves. We talk to Amy Vogelaar, a midwife and childbirth educator, about baby led weaning and what’s involved.

Tell us about baby led weaning
Baby Led Weaning is a method of introducing solids without purees or spoon feeding. Instead, baby is given “chip-shaped” chunks of real food to taste and explore by herself. This allows her to learn about “real food” with all of its distinctive tastes, textures, smells, and colors rather than “baby food,” which all tends to look, smell and taste the same. This approach also encourages independence and allows baby to eat according to his or her own appetite, just as a breastfed baby does when fed “on demand.” This can remove the old pressure to “get food into the baby”, limits harmful power struggles around eating, reduces the likelihood of picky eating during toddlerhood, and may even encourage healthier food choices later in life (according to some research).

What age is best to begin introducing solids?
While it seems like a “new” approach, it is probably older than time. After all, humans didn’t always have blenders on hand to puree their baby’s foods. Methods and beliefs, plus medical recommendations about when and how to introduce complementary foods to infants have varied widely from culture to culture and throughout history. Once western medicine advocated introducing solids as early as two weeks. Some cultures don’t give anything but breastmilk for one or two years. Medical authorities, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, The UK National Health Service and the World Health Organisatio, now agree that six months is probably the correct time to start to add foods other than breastmilk or formula, though each child is unique and is ready in his or her own time.

You will know your baby is ready if she:
• Is able to sit upright (assisted or unassisted) in a chair or on an adult’s lap.
• Is able to rake and grasp food and bring it to her mouth.
• Has lost the tongue thrust reflex (which causes the tongue to push anything solid out of the mouth)
• Is showing interest in food and in joining the family during mealtimes.

How to begin:
With your child sitting upright, offer a piece of food such as a slice of avocado, a steamed carrot stick, a cucumber stick, or anything else that you have. The beauty of BLW is that you feed your baby the food that you eat yourself, saving yourself the hassle, mess, and expense of pureeing or purchasing special foods for them. They will typically start by licking, sucking and then spitting the food out, or even smearing it all over themselves. BLW is messy, so prepare for it by putting an old shower curtain down under the chair! Your baby may not appear to actually swallow much at all at first, but until age 12 months they are still getting most of their nutrients from breastmilk or formula. In fact, until age one you do not want to replace milk feeds with solids. Instead, offer a milk feed first and then offer solids about an hour or so later so that they are not full but are not starving. Gradually, over time they will learn to chew and swallow the food and will eventually build up to getting most of their nutrients from food and will naturally start to reduce the amount of milk they drink. By age one, offer food first and breast or bottle after.

What are the rules?
There are not a lot of rules about what foods to give or not give. Offer a healthy variety of nutritious foods and follow your baby’s lead to learn his preferences! The things to avoid--salt (to protect their kidneys), sugar (to avoid establishing a preference for that level of sweetness) and honey (which can cause botulism infection in babies under age one). With harder foods like carrot or apple you will want to lightly steam them first so that they will not snap off in baby’s mouth in a small, hard piece, which can be a choke hazard. Finally, sitting down to eat with your baby will allow you to model healthy eating, and you will probably find that he is most interested in whatever is on your plate anyway.

What about the choking risks?
Parents do worry about choking. First of all, all parents and caregivers should take a pediatric first aid course regardless of how they plan to introduce solids. And you do need to monitor your child closely at all times while he or she is eating - do not turn your back for an instant! Then you need to learn to tell the difference between gagging and choking. Babies have a gag reflex which automatically brings up any large pieces that go near the back of the throat and gagging on solid foods is very common, especially during the early months of baby led weaning. This is normal, does not distress the baby at all and is not dangerous, unlike choking which is obviously a medical emergency requiring immediate action. If a baby does start to choke on a piece of food (or a toy or other small object they have put in their mouths) you will know exactly what to do and will have practiced on life-size manikins in your first aid course. Gil Rapley, who is the British midwife who first identified and named Baby Led Weaning, has proposed that babies may be less likely to choke with the BLW approach than with spoon feeding because they are developmentally capable of handling the food that they were able to put in their mouths themselves - the danger comes when a parent, caregiver (or older sibling) places solid food in the baby’s mouth for him.

Tell us about the Baby Led Weaning workshops
We discuss first aid and much more both in my Intro to Baby Led Weaning workshops and on our Facebook group--Baby Led Weaning UAE. There you will learn everything you need to know to get started with this fun and simple approach to introducing solids, and you will meet countless other parents who are interested in or already enjoying the baby led weaning.
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