Baby Led Weaning: A Developmental Perspective

Baby Lead Weaning: A Developmental Perspective

By Melanie Potock, MA, CCC-SLP

*This post was originally published on ASHA’s online blog.  The original can be found here.

Photo Credit: Leonid Mamchenkov via Compfight cc

One of the things I like best about teaching courses on feeding to parents and professionals around the United States is learning what new trends are evolving around family mealtimes. Over the past year,  one of the common questions I’m asked is, “What about Baby Led Weaning?”

Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is a term coined by Ms. Gill Rapley, co-author of “Baby-led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods.”  Rapley graciously chatted with me about her philosophy and explained that although she did not invent BLW, she found the method to be successful in her work as a former health visitor and midwife in the United Kingdom and continues to study the topic today while earning her PhD.

In a nutshell, BLW centers on the philosophy that babies are developmentally capable of reaching for food and putting it in their mouths at about 6 months of age. As stated on the BLW website “You just hand them the food in a suitably-sized piece and if they like it they eat it and if they don’t they won’t.”  Please note that the word “wean” is not referring to weaning from breast or bottle, but instead refers to a term commonly used in the United Kingdom for adding complementary foods to the baby’s current diet of breast milk or formula.  According to the BLW website, ideas for first foods include “chip size” steamed vegetables such as a broccoli spear with the stem as a handle, roasted potato wedges, meat in large enough pieces for the baby to grasp and chew, rice cakes, cucumber, celery and dried apricots.

As a SLP who focuses on pediatric feeding, I view feeding as a developmental process.  Whether I’m working with a child experiencing delays in development or offering advice to a parent whose child is meeting milestones with ease, I always ask myself “How can I respect and support this family’s mealtime culture while guiding this child safely through the developmental course of learning to eat?”  Thus, for families who are interested in following the BLW method, whether their child is in feeding therapy or not, I try to support their wishes if the child is capable,  while offering the following BLW points to consider:

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Starting Solids in a Positive Way

Starting Solids in a Positive Way
By Jennifer McGurk, RDN, CDE, CEDRD, CDN

Photo Credit: kate_dave_hugh via Compfight cc

If you ask a hundred pediatricians or dietitians how to start feeding your baby, I can almost guarantee you’d get a hundred different responses.  Some professionals believe in baby purees, while others believe in baby-led weaning.  Some professionals say start with rice cereal, others say avocado or even sweet potato.  Even when to start feeding your baby solid foods is debatable (although most people would agree between 4–6 months).  I felt confused as a new mom—and I’m a dietitian!!

I got the go-ahead to start feeding from my pediatrician at my son’s four-month checkup, and we started a week later.  I knew with my mom’s intuition that it really didn’t matter what food we started with—we would eventually figure out a good plan.  However, I really wanted to start off with feeding in a positive way, knowing that these were amazing habits to keep for the whole family. I’m definitely not perfect, but here are some guidelines I’m attempting to follow:

1.  Just like breastfeeding or bottle feeding, I’m trying to learn his hunger and fullness cues when it comes to solids.  I remind myself that when he gets annoyed and doesn’t open his mouth, he’s full and the meal is over (even if there is a lot of food left).

Photo Credit: Parker Knight via Compfight cc

2.  I’m doing my best to limit distractions like having the TV on in the background or toys nearby.  Just like adults, children get distracted by their surroundings.

3.  I’m usually eating with my baby during a feeding.  When he sees me eat, he tries to grab what I’m eating.  It’s never too early to start sharing meals together, even if (for now) we’re eating different foods.

4.  I’m dedicated to spreading positive messages about food, including what I say about my own food choices and my own body in front of my child. My five-month-old may not understand this, but other people I’m with everyday certainly do.  I want my son to grow up learning about health in a way that makes him feel good about his choices and confident about his body.  It’s never too early to make this a priority.