Baby-led weaning (BLW) is an approach to introducing solid food to your baby that skips the step of traditional spoon-feeding. Throughout the US and Europe, BLW is becoming a popular “first food” approach to feeding babies.
Baby-led weaning was founded by Gill Rapley on the theory that letting the baby “lead the way” by eating whole foods from 6 months on is a natural way to improve a baby’s feeding skills while allowing the baby to regulate his or her own appetite.
BLW has two phases: the first phase is exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life; the second phase is from six months on, when baby begins to eat solid food. At this time, baby is given whole, unmodified food the family eats, in graspable pieces. First foods tend to be fruits like avocado and banana, soft-cooked vegetables, well-cooked eggs, breads, meat, cheese, pasta and fish.
Baby-led weaning is appealing because your baby is able to set the pace with eating, while naturally progressing through different foods and flavors. It also lets your child eat the same meal as the family, easing the burden of making separate food items.
The research on BLW so far has shown that baby is more satiety responsive (stops eating when full), less fussy at mealtime, and less likely to be overweight as a toddler. Other results show that not all babies are ready to start solid food at 6 months. A 2013 study found 56 percent of babies were reaching for solid food before 6 months, while six percent were still not reaching for food by 8 months of age. Readiness for solids is a key factor in BLW’s success, as starting solids too early may cause choking in some babies.
Baby-led weaning studies have also looked at food preferences of BLW babies compared to spoon-fed babies. A 2012 study in the British Medical Journal found BLW babies preferred carbohydrate-rich foods while spoon-fed babies liked sweets more. Overweight was more prevalent in the spoon-fed babies, and underweight was seen in some of the BLW babies.
One area of research that is currently lacking in BLW is the nutrient content and adequacy of the BLW diet. That is, are babies getting the nutrients they need using the BLW approach? While diet and nutrition knowledge will vary greatly depending on the parent, especially in infant nutrition, it is an important consideration when choosing the BLW approach to solid food. For example, babies still need critical nutrients for brain growth (total fat, DHA, and iron), bone development (vitamin D), and overall growth and development (zinc). If nutrition knowledge is lacking, babies may be at risk for nutrient deficiencies and growth disturbances that may have long-term impact.
Reviewed by Dr. Sara Connolly, December 2018
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