Baby-led weaning is a relatively new way of introducing solids to the baby. Many mothers who hear of this concept wonder about the benefits of baby led weaning over the traditional method. But before we get to baby led weaning benefits, lets first understand what exactly is baby led weaning.
Baby-led weaning is a method of weaning where the baby is encouraged to self-feed family foods. No spoon feeding and no purees and soups. Baby is offered family foods from 6 months of age.
What do you mean family foods? How do we modify family foods for baby? If you have more questions on this I would highly recommend you read my post on baby led weaning guide. For now, let us look at some of the benefits of practicing baby led weaning.
Benefits of Baby-Led Weaning (BLW)
- No making elaborate purées and soups: One step less when you start with baby led weaning. Your baby directly moves on to family foods. It’s much easier to remove a side of what you are preparing for family for the baby minus salt and sugar. You can cook baby’s version of the food simultaneously along with family food. There is no concept of making special soups and purées for baby. All you need to be concerned with is ensuring your family has a balanced diet so that baby also gets all nutrients needed for growth.
- Exposure to a wide variety of foods: Baby led weaned babies are exposed to wide variety of foods in the whole form. This helps to build a liking for different flavor profiles and textures. Since they eat food in the whole form example a steamed broccoli floret, steamed pumpkin strip or avocado slice. They learn to distinguish between flavors early on. Getting used to the individual flavors of foods. This helps immensely in the toddler years because by then they are accustomed to eating these foods regularly and thus less fussy.
- Less fuss at the table: As mentioned in the point above, early exposure to a wide variety of foods is a key component in building a healthy eater for life. Baby led weaning acts as a basis to introduce variety early on since you are not restricted to just purée foods and soups. Research also shows that baby-led weaning is in tune with responsive feeding practices where you let the child eat in a no pressure environment and follow child’s cues to check satiety. All of this leads to lesser fuss at the table and easier transition to family foods.
- Helps with motor skill development: The act of self-feeding requires a baby to practice hand-eye coordination and using pincer grasp promotes fine motor skills. These skills then help later in life to translate into better writing and drawing skills.
- Exploration of food leads to cognitive development: Getting messy with food as you eat has been shown to aid language development. Touching the food, playing with the textures, learning to grip onto different shapes of foods to bring to mouth; all these are important as a sensory feedback needed for development. In time the baby gets comfortable with different textures of foods, helping them become more confident eaters.
- Confidence and Independence: This is a very important benefit that most seem to forget. Practicing baby led weaning is a way to help build confidence. As a parent, your job is to provide a nutritious meal to your baby and your baby decides how much and what to eat. You are putting trust on the table. You act as a guide through the process by sitting together at meals to show how you eat. This ‘Do as I do’ philosophy works better when parenting than ‘Do as I say’. Through mimicking you and learning by trial and error your child’s confidence is built from a very early age. No distraction feeding methods are needed. And a correct eating behaviour and love for healthy eating once set, has a lifelong impact on confidence and independence of the child.
- Steady and healthy weight gain: Young children have sensitive appetite regulation skills, therefore the energy intake of babies following baby led weaning should match their needs for growth provided they have the motor skills to feed themselves and are offered appropriate foods. In fact, allowing a baby to control his own food intake may lead to better self-regulation of energy intake and thus lower the risk of being overweight.
Baby led weaning in the toddler years
A special note for any hiccups that come along the way with baby led weaning and how to manage them.
Baby led weaning sets the tone for the family in terms of what is expected at the table. But the toddler years (sometimes coupled with teething and illness etc.) can bring with them a few hiccups. Your baby led weaned child goes through the typical toddler stages of development that bring with them everything from obsession with certain foods or sudden changes in liking.
My advice as an experienced mother would be to continue on the baby led weaning path, respecting your child’s choices but at the same time stay consistent in how you have always offered food. Don’t change too much in a bid to appease your child.
Keep an eye on nutrient intake and become a little creative about consistently introducing nutrient dense foods. One way is to continuously offer on the plate the food your toddler now dislikes (especially if it is nutritionally important). Don’t force them to eat, but talk about it in other instances and tell them how you love that food. Eat with them; show them how you enjoy it. And slowly they will start trying it again. When they do, congratulate them this motivates them to try again.
Other ways to foster a positive environment surrounding food is to take them to the market and show them fruits and vegetables. Get them involved in helping cook simple dishes with you. This gets them excited about food which translates into a smoother experience at the dinner table.
Most importantly enjoy and celebrate good home cooked foods with your child through your baby led weaning journey. This helps a long way in setting them up for success with eating. I hope this article gave you some insight into the benefits of baby led weaning and helped you decide on the weaning path you want to take with your child. Happy feeding!
Guest Post By, Ophira
Ophira is a mom blogger at Easymommylife.com. With a background in Clinical research, she now merges her science education with raising her little one. She has always been passionate about family health and nutrition. And carries her passion into her writing at Easymommylife providing tips to new moms on breastfeeding, baby led weaning, health, and nutrition.