A new study came out and is being reported in the news today about baby-led weaning and prevention of obesity.
Haven’t heard of baby-led weaning (BLW)? It’s an approach to introducing foods to infants that revolves around letting the infant feed him/herself. So instead of spoon feeding purees, give your infant finger goods that are either too big or too small to pose a choking hazard and let them have at it.
Proponents say the benefits are that infants will grow to be less picky as kids when they can explore a range of tastes and textures early on, instead of just pureed veggies. Also, because the baby can control what and how much he/she eats, it may prevent over-feeding, and thus decrease risk of obesity. While not much scientific research has been done on the topic, the article in the news today does find benefit of BLW over spoon-feeding.
Baby-led weaning in action: Mabel at 6 months old munching on a Granny Smith apple
Here is the link to the actual study: Baby knows best? The impact of weaning style on food preferences and body mass index in early childhood in a case-controlled sample by Townsend and Pitchford in British Medical Journal.
Here is some of the news coverage: From Scientific American and from AFP.
The article’s authors conclude:
Compared to the spoon-fed group, the baby-led group demonstrated (1) significantly increased liking for carbohydrates (no other differences in preference were found) and (2) carbohydrates to be their most preferred foods (compared to sweet foods for the spoon-fed group). Preference and exposure ratings were not influenced by socially desirable responding or socioeconomic status, although an increased liking for vegetables was associated with higher social class. There was an increased incidence of (1) underweight in the baby-led group and (2) obesity in the spoon-fed group. No difference in picky eating was found between the two weaning groups. Townsend and Pitchford.
I think it’s kind of funny that BLW is considered some kind of ‘movement’ or ‘technique.’ Growing up, my mom fed me the way her mom had fed her- cut up or mush up whatever was being served and give it to the baby. No particular thought behind it.
When we were introducing solids to Mabel, I did what my mom and grandmother had done before me, only in 2010 is was known as baby-led weaning! As with most parenting ‘techniques’ we adapted this one to suit our family, I say we took a BLW-ish approach. I didn’t buy a single jar of baby food. It seemed expensive and unnecessary when she could just eat/try what we were eating. The other thing that made me take a relaxed approach to what and how much she ate was that she was still nursing and/or getting a bottle as her main source of nutrition. Whatever little bit of food she got into her mouth on her own was just for practice and fun, not really for nutritive value.
Her first foods were indeed purees- rice cereal, pureed peas, carrots, etc. and things that were naturally mushy- yogurt, apple sauce, mashed potatoes However, I let her spoon feed herself. We then quickly moved on to stuff like Gerber Puffs and Kix cereal or Cheerios, as well as shredded pieces of meat, deli meats, cheeses, etc.
The tools that were most valuable to us in those early days were this baby spoon:
Sassy Less Mess Training Spoon
This spoon was great because of the holes and because of those large things at the base. The holes meant the purees stuck better to the spoon- so when your infant/toddler up-ends the spoon more of the puree will actually stay on there! Those large flat parts are good because they keep your little one from shoving the spoon so far into his/her mouth that he/she gags. It being 2 sided was also useful since kids that age aren’t exactly pros in the use of a spoon and get twice as much success if both ends hold food!
I only had one of these spoons, but my way to use purees for BLW was to have two spoons in play. I would put a scoop of food on the spoons, put them on Mabel’s tray and when one was ‘empty’ I’d ‘refill’ it while she was busy with the second spoon. So, while she was getting purees, she wasn’t exactly spoon-fed since she was doing it herself.
Unfortunately they don’t seem to make this exact spoon anymore, this is the replacement which doesn’t have the handy-dandy ‘don’t shove this down your through until you gag’ preventing part. However, Gerber makes this one that’s similar.
This “teething feeder” was also great:
Sassy Teething Feeder
This was great because we could put whatever kind of food in the bag and not worry about Mabel choking since everything stays in the mesh bag. The handle for it was also useful because we used tethers meant for pacifiers to clip it to her bib or placemat (see below) which meant it wasn’t always falling on the floor.
And this placemat that we used at restaurants, or anyplace we didn’t have a highchair with a tray:
Summer Infant Tiny Diner
This placemat is made of silicon- the sides fold in, you roll it up, and tuck it in the little tray portion so it fits nicely in a diaper bag. It was great to know that the surface she was smearing all her food on at restaurants was cleaned, by us, at home, and not with a filthy rag by a less than thorough, time-pressed bus boy. It was also useful because, as mentioned above, we used pacifier clips to clip toys and the teething feeder to the placemate and keep them from falling on the floor. The tray portion caught a fair amount of food, but by no means minimized the mess. On that front we opted to just leave a REALLY nice tip.
The only down side to the placemat was that it did stain easily. Any tomato sauce or anything like that left a mark. So, even when it was clean, it looked dingy and brownish.
Early on, Mabel was a very adventurous eater. She’d basically eat, or at least try, anything we gave her- from venison to lemons. I was so relieved to have an easy to feed kid. We didn’t have to make sure to bring food with us when we went out, she’d surely eat something from our plates. However, that didn’t last. As she got older, she exerted herself and expressed food preferences. Foods that were once favorites (salmon, quiche, tomatoes) were soon flatly refused.
Now she’s 2 and we pretty much bring food for her whenever we go out. Firstly, because we’re cheap and it’s really annoying to pay for a kid’s meal that she then refuses to eat. Secondly, because her tastes change on a whim, there isn’t any sure-fire foods (except maybe french fries) we could order at a restaurant and know she would eat. So, now we make sure there’s stuff like PB&J, banana, cereal, raisins, cheese, etc. in the diaper bag whenever we know we’ll be eating out.
We keep offering her different things and encouraging her to try things, even if she refuses, in the hopes that one day she’ll come around (since there is sound science that it takes many tries to get kids to like certain foods). I definitely don’t want to make meals a power struggle, but I don’t want to indulge her every whim. There’s some healthy middle ground where she can eat what is served (so I’m not a short-order cook) and still feel that she’s got some control over her own food choices.