“Oh, so you’re not Baby-Led Weaning?”… The comment may have been genuinely out of interest, and perhaps there was no condescending intent. However, the tone suggested that is was one of those ‘my way is superior to your way‘ parenting moments.  The kind of comment that makes parents feel judged, that we aren’t doing what is best for our child.

I heard about this comment second hand. I do not know the lady who said it. She had said it to a good friend of mine in a conversation about homemade pureed pears. My friend was able to genuinely laugh it off with no lost sleep, no mother guilt or panic. She had 4 children  and was, rightly so, feeling pretty confident in her ability to make decisions that worked for her, her family and her much loved little one.

But it got me thinking. What if the comment had been directed to a first time mum, and an anxious one at that. A comment like that could cause some serious stress and crisis of conscience. “No, I’m not doing that, should I be?… Am I doing the wrong thing?… Have I ruined everything with those pureed pears?”

Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)

Here is my brief run-down of ‘baby-led weaning’:

“Weaning” is the UK term for introducing solids. In Australia (and the US) we tend to use the term “weaning” to mean stopping breastfeeding.

Baby-led Weaning is based on the philosophy that babies should be in control of what goes into their mouths from the start. Baby-led weaners never place a spoon or food directly into a baby’s mouth. Everything baby eats is self-fed. No puree, no mash, no ‘here comes the aeroplane’. Hit them up with some chops and sandwiches. For more info check out www.babyledweaning.com

It is a way of introducing solids that has its strengths and weaknesses.

Strengths of BLW

  • It can be less fiddly and less labour-intensive for parents.
  • There is lower (or nil) reliance on commercial baby foods.
  • Parents are less likely to go too slowly in upgrading texture.
  • It can reduce stress for mums of those head-turning bubs who refuse to be fed with a spoon.
  • It can get bubs on family food and learning associated table manners sooner.
  • There is some evidence that babies who have greater control over their food intake are less likely to become overweight children and adults.

Weaknesses of BLW

  • Young babies can miss out on iron rich foods (like rice cereal), which are important from 6 months old, since their iron stores decline but they are not coordinated to enough feed themselves with a spoon.
  • It can lead to a general low intake of solids – this may be fine if bub is a good feeder and mum has good supply, but this is not always the case.
  • It can be very messy. This stresses some mums unnecessarily.
  • Young babies can’t do it. At four-months old, when many babies are now starting solids, they simply do not have the coordination to self-feed.

Who needs one more stress?

There is enough for parents to feel stressed by as they do their best for their children. Second only to sleep, food seems to be a major cause of stress and confusion.  Any hardline philosophy presents another opportunity for parents to feel judged and second-guess themselves. While proponents of BLW might not think they are ‘hardline’, comments like ‘oh you’re not baby-led weaning’ and never put food into a child’s mouth’ do suggest that if you aren’t BLW you are doing it wrong.

There is not a lot of good research into BLW, comparing it to other ways of introducing solids.  One of the most in-depth reviews concluded that it is ‘probably feasible for many infants’. This is hardly a glowing recommendation or enough to stoically swear by BLW as the only way to do things. It is certainly not enough evidence to suggest that choosing a different way is wrong.

There is a middle ground.

Your baby

Do you have an obedient little one who opens her mouth wide for every mouthful and fills her little tummy quickly with minimal fuss?  Then feeding her purees and mashed food will probably be easy and low-stress for you both. In this case, make sure you continue to also expose her to a variety of solid textures and give her a go at self feeding for skill development. When she signals that she has had enough, stop feeding. Don’t always try to coax ‘one more mouthful’ and never force feed.

On the other hand, if you have a head-turning, jaw-clamping, spoon-grabber, don’t force feed her or get super-stressed. Simply put some soft, ‘pick-up-able’ sized foods in front of her and see how she goes. This will be less stressful for everyone. Many children will go through a stage of refusing a spoon, or refusing to be fed, at some point. Encouraging self-feeding can be a way to get through this stage without pulling your hair out.

Read your baby

Read your baby first. Read the baby books, theories, philosophies,  blogs, guidelines, calendars, clocks,  recommendations, Facebook pages second.

Whether BLW or spoon feeding, if you are concerned about your baby’s growth and food intake, talk to your GP or arrange to see a paediatric dietitian for individualised advice.

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