Baby-led weaning, have you heard of it? It will change the way you look at baby food forever. It is a feeding approach unlike the conventional recommendation; there is no puree, no spoon-feeding, and no ‘rules’. The principle behind baby-led weaning is that baby can and will feed themselves when they’re ready. From birth, babies are able to find the nipple and suckle instinctively to eat and then stop when they’re done. Breastfed or bottle-fed babies have control over the flow, of stopping if they need a break and can regulate their own intake. So why would things change when solids begin?
Typical recommendations for introducing solids are to start with iron-fortified cereal and spoon-feed your baby. So what is wrong with that? 3 things: 1) spoon-feeding overrides the tongue thrust reflex and discourages chewing 2) baby has lost control; mom or dad is now in charge of when and how much food goes into the mouth and 3) cereal is a highly processed and refined starch with minimal nutrient value for baby.
Chew, Chew, Chew
What is the basic fundamental skill of eating? Chewing. Chewing then moving food back toward the throat and swallowing. Couldn’t get any simpler than that. Bottom line:
Babies need to learn how to chew before they swallow.
So giving them mushy foods that don’t require chewing won’t allow baby to develop this necessary skill. Plus, spoon-feeding places the food so far back in the mouth that it promotes immediate swallowing vs. handling it in the mouth.
But my baby has no teeth! Teeth are not essential for chewing, jaws and gums are. While working in long-term care, I encountered many elderly people with little to no teeth that could eat just about anything. Most of the folks who ate a pureed diet had swallowing issues, not chewing issues. And your baby swallows just fine, but he does need to learn how to chew. So give him that opportunity!
Give Baby Control
Baby-led weaning gives baby control over what and how much goes into her mouth. Before she puts the food into her mouth, she feels the food with her hands, exploring the texture, shape and temperature of the food. She now knows what to expect. She will further feel the food with her lips, tongue and mouth, fully sensing the food.
Trial and error is the only way to learn how much food is too much for her mouth and how far back is too far to stick food in.
Worried about choking? That’s the biggest fear among parents with baby-led weaning. But actually giving your baby the early opportunity to chew and handle food in their mouth may help diminish their chances of choking in the future. We all have a gag-reflex. Adults’ are located in the back of the mouth near the throat area, but baby’s gag reflex is near the center of the tongue at the age of 6 months. As they get older, the gag-reflex trigger spot gradually moves back to where we think it to be. This means that when a baby who is learning how to eat starts to gag, they are nowhere near choking. Food is not near the throat, it’s near the center of the tongue. This gagging is part of the learning process and is very important for baby to learn how to maneuver food through the mouth, in other words it forces them to keep food in the front part of their mouth at first and “chew”.
Babies who have been spoon-fed miss the opportunity to experiment with their gag-reflex and actually have a higher chance of genuine choking when they finally do get the chance to eat whole food. For their reflex has moved back, closer to the back of the throat and they haven’t yet learned to avoid the gag feeling.
There’s not Much Nutrition in that Mushy Cereal!
To hit on the third point, cereal is a poor choice, nutritionally speaking, to feed your little one. Iron-fortified it may be, but other than that, there’s not much else that is worth talking about. Worried about your baby’s iron intake? Don’t be. Formula is iron-fortified and while breastmilk’s iron content may look low, it is highly absorbable, so in all actuality, babies absorb more iron from the breastmilk than from any commercial food or formula. Plus, with baby-led weaning, you will be giving him highly nutritious foods that will contain iron to supplement his breastmilk or formula diet. A good pediatrician who’s up to date on their research, will let you know fruits and vegetables are appropriate to start on.
And an excellent pediatrician will go one step further and recommend you look into baby-led weaning.
Most of the dietitians I know and respect are baby-led weaning advocates for more reasons than just the three described above. And fortunately, for us, our pediatrician recommended this way of feeding from the very beginning. From a professional standpoint as a Registered Dietitian, I fully recommend trying baby-led weaning. From a mom’s experience, I’m so glad I chose to do this.
If you are looking for some great recipes and tips, follow our Baby-led Weaning Pinterest board!
There are multiple groups on Facebook that are dedicated to baby-led weaning. Become a part of one and you can post questions, comments, read about others successes and trials and feel supported in your new challenge. A great starting group to join is Baby-Led Weaning for Beginners.
If you are looking to read more about baby-led weaning, this book is pretty much the only one out there. It’s a quick read and worth it to be well-versed in this new adventure! (Affiliate link)
More Reading about Baby-led Weaning
FAQ Baby-led Weaning
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