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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Simple Guide to Baby Led Weaning

I am a big believer in reading the book before you try to follow the method. I get questions upon questions from people who want advice on Babywise , Dave Ramsey , or Baby-Led Weaning but yet haven't ever read the books!

Baby-Led Weaning is truly a "must read" book. It's short, simple, and explains the what, why and how for Baby-Led Weaning. I decided to write this post in an effort to help those who haven't yet read the book. I'm hoping that this will encourage people to read the actual book and will help answer questions to people who are around baby-led weaning families and are confused about what the method is all about!


What Is Baby-Led Weaning?

Baby-Led Weaning is a method for feeding babies solid foods. Rather than being spoon fed, it allows for the child to "lead the way" and to feed themselves from an early age. Self-feeding is natural for babies and allowing them to feed themselves solid foods is a natural progression from liquid-only feedings. 

Why Baby-Led Weaning?

Now that there is evidence supporting infants staying on a liquid-only diet until six months old, there is no need for pureed foods. Babies are able to feed themselves finger foods at the same age that they are now recommended to begin eating solids. 

Why Wait Until 6 Months Old?

There are many reasons to wait to give solids until 6 months old. Breastmilk and formula provide the nutrition a baby needs, their digestive systems cannot properly digest food until the are developmentally ready (at 6 months old), and they are more likely to have infections and allergies if given solids prior to 6 months old because their immune systems aren't yet matured. Even once solids are introduced, babies continue to receive their main nutrition needs from their liquid feedings until about a year old. 

When is a Baby Ready?

Once a baby can sit with little or no support, reach out to grab things and take them to the mouth quickly and accurately, and is gnawing on toys and making chewing motions then the baby is probably ready to start the world of solids. 

What are False Signs of Being Ready for Solids?

Many people make the assumption that the following signs mean their baby needs solid foods, when they are typically just part of normal development. These are more linked to a baby's age rather than readiness for solid foods: waking at night, weight gain slowing slightly, watching parents eat, making lip-smacking noises, not going straight to sleep after liquid feeds, small baby, or big baby. 

Is Baby-Led Weaning New?

When you explain to people what Baby-Led Weaning is, you will usually find the response of "ohhhh I did that with my kids too!" It's not some fancy new concept or idea, it's something parents have naturally been doing with their children for years. 

Why Not Spoon Feeding?

It's not that spoon feeding is bad or wrong, it's just not necessary. Spoon-feeding was introduced when babies were being fed solids from early ages. The spoon feeding allowed the parents to feed them mashed foods which didn't have to be chewed. 

Are There Benefits to Baby-Led Weaning Over Spoon-Feeding?

Playing an active part in mealtimes and being in control of what to eat, how much to eat and how fast to eat it makes eating more enjoyable for babies...as well as their parents. It's natural for babies to experiment and explore and it's how they learn. With Baby-Led Weaning babies can explore food in a way that is natural to them. Babies who feed themselves learn about the look, smell. taste and texture of different foods rather than having them all pureed together. 

Being allowed to explore food before it goes in their mouths also teaches babies important lessons about what is chewable and what isn't. They also learn about their world: how to hold something, cause and effect, and even gravity! Practicing hand-eye coordination by gripping foods of different sizes and textures also improves dexterity and may help with writing and drawing skills later in life. Chewing food also develops facial muscles that help aid in talking. 

Babies who feed themselves are able to be part of family meal time and learn social skills by participating in meals together. They also learn to eat according to their appetite and are less likely to over-eat when they are older. Baby-led weaning babies tend to be more adventurous in their food choices and adapt more nutritious eating habits. 

Does Baby-Led Weaning Benefit the Parents?

Baby-led weaning creates easier meal times. Everyone is able to eat at the same time and no one has to feed the baby. There is no pressure for the baby to eat which means there are no mealtime battles and everyone is able to happily enjoy their meal. Baby-led weaning babies typically end up being less picky toddlers as well. Eating out is also easier for the family when baby eats what the family eats and baby-led weaning tends to be cheaper than pureed foods.

Are There Disadvantages?

It's messy. The period of messiness is short-lived, but the early days while baby learns how to eat food are especially messy.  Other people who are not familiar with Baby-Led Weaning tend to have doubts and be skeptical about it. 

What About Choking?

The #1 concern associated with Baby-Led Weaning is choking. When a baby first starts feeding themselves solid foods they will have to figure out how to bite and chew. It takes awhile to acquire this skill and until then any food they eat will fall back out of their mouths. The baby will only begin to swallow food once the muscles of the tongue, cheeks and jaw are sufficiently coordinated to work together. This is actually a natural safeguard to help minimize the chances of choking. It only works if the baby is the one who puts the food in their mouth, they must be in control of the process. 

As long as a baby is in control of the food entering the mouth and is sitting upright then Baby-Led Weaning doesn't make choking any more likely than spoon feeding, and may even make it less likely. 

Often the worries about choking come from seeing babies gag on food. Gagging is a movement that pushes food away from the airway if it is too big to swallow. The baby opens the mouth and pushes the food out. It doesn't seem to bother babies who feed themselves and they typically just keep right on eating! The gag-reflex on a baby's tongue is further forward and is therefore activated more easily than an adult's. It is also activated when the piece of food is much farther from the airway than an adults. This gagging reflex is a part of the way babies learn to manage food safety. When they trigger this reflex a few times, they learn not to do whatever caused it to be activated (putting too much food in the mouth at once, or putting it too far back in their mouth). 

Choking occurs when an airway is completely or partially blocked. When it's a partial blockage the baby will automatically cough to clear it. This is usually very effective! The coughing and sputtering sounds that look and sound alarming are actually the baby dealing with the problem on their own. A truly choking baby is silent, because no air can get past the blockage. Normal babies have a very effective coughing reflex and, provided they are sitting upright and leaning forward, it is usually best not to disturb them while they are clearing the airway. 

Allowing a baby to feed themselves means that they are in control and having that control keeps them safe. 

Does the Baby Get Enough to Eat?

With spoon feeding it's easy to get caught up in concerns over the amount a baby is eating. Baby-Led Weaning removes that pressure and allows for both parents and baby to relax about solid foods. In the beginning, exploring the world of solid foods is about FUN. There is no nutritional need for solids and it's simply a way for a baby to explore food and learn about solids. Babies do not require the nourishment from solids until a year old. Until then liquid feedings provide them with all they need. As the baby learns how to self-feed, and enjoys doing so, they will naturally eat more food and will be leading the way for the weaning process.

How Does It Start?

Started Baby-Led Weaning is very simple. Have a seat for the baby where they are able to sit upright and then start offering healthy food options. Babies do not yet have a pincher grasp so keeping the food in longer shapes makes it easier for the baby to handle. You want stick or "finger" shapes of at least 2 inches long so they are able to hold half in their hand and the other half will be available for eating. 

Always watch your baby while they eat. It's also best to offer a few options on their tray or plate to give them variety, without offering too much at once which can overwhelm them. 

What Are Some Good First Foods?

There is no need to wait several days between offering different types of foods. For the most part, anything makes a good first food for babies. Bananas and avocados are both great first fruits because they are easy to grasp. Broccoli is a great first vegetable as it already has a handle to hold. (You can see Britt's first month of solid foods here

How Often Should Solids Be Offered?

The book suggests to offer them frequently and that the more a baby is exposed to solids, the more they can learn. Personally, I am a Babywise Mom and therefore have my children on a schedule. I always nurse first and then offer solids. Usually we have a solid food feeding 2-3 times a day. 

What Are My Personal Thoughts?

I did spoon-feeding with my first baby. I hated it. I felt a lot of stress about how much he was eating. I felt rushed to get to him to finish and pressured to have him eat a certain amount. Even if people told me that he was getting all he needed from his liquid feedings, it was hard for me not to feel like he needed to eat such and such amount. Meal times were spent with my husband or I feeding him and then getting to eat our own food. It wasn't very enjoyable for either of us. I heard about Baby-Led Weaning when he was a little older and did switch over then. He was already beyond the early stages of readiness but I knew it was a method I hoped to use from the beginning with our second child. 

We did Baby-Led Weaning with our daughter when she turned 6 months old. It was a great, although messy, experience. I liked not feeling the pressure about how much she ate and I liked not feeling like I was force feeding her or rushing her. I liked that she set her own pace and I liked that I was free to help my son with his meal needs and sit with the family and eat as a family. It was messy and I quickly realized I did NOT like the high chair we had as it wasn't easy to clean. I knew for our third I'd be switching high chairs but I loved the method overall and preferred it to spoon-feeding. 

The hardest part is the choking concerns and it has never been an issue for us. When our baby gags or coughs it's hard not to jump in to "help" them but we have learned to just watch closely and let them work it out on their own. The biggest benefit I saw from Baby-Led Weaning was how my daughter did not put other things in her mouth. It's like she learned what food was and therefore wasn't interested in taste-testing random other things. I also think it made her a more adventurous eater and a slower eater. Slow eating is a healthier way to eat (gives the stomach time to communicate to the brain that you are full so you don't overeat) and I do believe Baby-Led Weaning has set her up for healthy lifestyle choices longterm. 

We have just started with Baby-Led Weaning with our third baby. It's even more enjoyable this time around as I have the confidence in the method and a new, easier to clean, high chair. It has AMAZED me to see how quickly she developed a pincher grasp. She went from never having tasted solid foods to having a pincher grasp and swallowing foods within her first month of solids. She LOVES to eat and it has been a wonderful experience so far for our entire family.

I hope this post encourages moms who may be interested in Baby-Led Weaning to purchase the book (you can do so here !) and that it also educates family and friends who may be around a Baby-Led Weaning baby.  You can also read a more personal post about the Baby-Led Weaning feeding method (including photos and videos!) here :) You can also read about my latest experiences with Baby-Led Weaning with my 3rd baby here!

*This post was not sponsored by Baby-Led Weaning. I referenced the book to write the post but the thoughts and opinions are my own. 

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