Ok let’s dig into Baby-Led Weaning. 🙂 Besides sleep training, this is one of the hottest topics for new parent. Do we follow this method or do we not? For those of you who don’t know, I am a pediatric speech-language pathologist and I specialize in feeding therapy. I have experience using the Baby-Led the weaning technique for babies who cannot tolerate purees due to sensory intolerance or behavioral aversions. When it came to feeding my own son at 6 months, I decided to use a dual approach of purees and Baby-Led Weaning. Now that Luca is 14 months (and an amazing independent eater!) I wanted to share my thoughts on Baby-Led Weaning coming from the perspective of both a feeding therapist and a mother.
+ It promotes independent eating, which takes any pressure off of your baby. They are able to explore new foods at their own pace, and there is no opportunity for forced or pressured feeding from the parent.
+ It’s great for oral motor and fine motor skill development.
I am a huge believer in keeping mealtime as low stress as possible! At 6 months, your baby is still getting the nutrition they need through breast milk or formula, so when first introducing solids the focus should be more on exploration and toleration and less about calories (unless directed otherwise by your pediatrician). What I like the most about Baby-Led Weaning is that the baby is in control of the food. They choose what they want to do with the food (just touch and explore or put it in their mouth) and how much they are going to eat. There is really no opportunity for the parent to “push” more than the baby wants. Baby-led weaning promotes self-feeding and independent eating which I love. However, I do have some concerns with this method that I want to mention.
+ It can be very stressful for the parents.
+ Depending on the parent’s reaction to gagging episodes, it can also make mealtime stressful for the child.
As a professional, I am confident feeding babies from typically developing to medically complex. However as a parent, watching Luca gag was something that caused me more stress than I expected. It made me uncomfortable, and I found myself getting anxious at times watching him eat. I always remained calm, but if remaining calm is something that you don’t think you are able to do (it’s ok if you can’t!) then I would not recommend this method. Babies are not bothered by gagging unless they are signaled that they should be bothered (same idea as your baby might cry when they fall because you made a “gasp” noise, not because they hurt themselves). Feeding your baby should be something that is fun and enjoyable, and I find in the early stages of Baby-Led Weaning there is always an underlying fear of your baby choking (which I probably don’t have to explain- is not enjoyable).
To be honest, I’m undecided. Luca is 14 months now and a GREAT eater. By great I mean he eats basically everything that we give him, familiar and unfamiliar, completely independently unless I am helping him use a utensil.
HOWEVER, in my personal and professional opinion, I do not think Baby-Led Weaning is necessary for your baby to become a great eater! If you are more comfortable feeding your baby purees at 6 months, and then moving onto soft solids when they are more developmentally ready (in terms of their oral motor skills) around 8 months, it can lead to the same exact outcome.
It is still VERY important that we keep mealtime low stress and low pressure. As parents, we can look for signals that our baby is done eating (turning their head away, not opening their mouth anymore) and honor them. We can still provide our baby with opportunities to touch purees on their tray and explore foods for all of that positive sensory experience. We can have them practice feeding themselves purees or mashed foods with a loaded spoon (love the ChooMe and NumNum spoons!), and then when they are more developmentally ready to begin soft solids, we can give them the opportunity to continue to feed themselves. If they don’t have a pincer grasp yet for small pieces, you can load a fork for them or give them strips BLW style. If they don’t want it, it’s ok! Keep the pressure to eat it low, and you always try again another time. 🙂
And I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a very “do-you” approach to all things health, wellness, parenting related. You know yourself and your baby best, so choose whatever method you feel the most comfortable with. 🙂