Skip to 0 minutes and 5 secondsHello. I'm Dr Alison Spence, an infant nutrition researcher in the Institute of Physical Activity and Nutrition and the School of Exercise and Nutrition Sciences at Deakin University. An approach to feeding babies their first foods that has gained popularity in the last 10 years is baby-led weaning. What makes it different to the more traditional approaches is that the baby feeds themselves. There's no adult spoon-feeding at all. No need for purees or mash, no need for parents to sit for long periods coaxing children to eat. Mostly, it involves serving finger foods that the baby hold and feeds themselves. A key premise of baby-led weaning is that the child is mostly in control of their eating.

Skip to 0 minutes and 46 secondsThis approach reflects responsive feeding principles, which suggest that babies who are provided a range of nutritious foods and allowed to determine themselves what and how much they eat are more likely to have better appetite regulation than children who are pressured to finish their meals, whether that pressure is intentional or not. Such responsive feeding practices promote children to eat when they are hungry and stop when they've had enough, reducing the likelihood of overfeeding. In addition to promoting responsive feeding, baby-led weaning encourages parents to focus on the experience of introducing and trying complementary foods, rather than the quantity eaten. Some further benefits are that approach generally encourages serving of home-cooked, fresh, unprocessed family foods, especially fruits and vegetables.

Skip to 1 minute and 31 secondsIt promotes the idea that parents should serve their children texture-appropriate versions of what they are eating themselves, rather than complicated or expensive special infant foods. Additionally, by adopting the baby-led weaning approach, parents might be more likely to eat at the same time as their child, since they're not trying to spoon-feed the baby, which means they have two hands to eat their own meal. And we know there are numerous benefits of parents eating with their children. While there are a number of potential benefits to baby-led weaning, there are also challenges to consider. In particular, some health professionals and parents have been concerned that this approach might cause children to choke, not get enough iron, or not take in enough energy.

Skip to 2 minutes and 10 secondsTo address some of these concerns, a recent New Zealand trial tested a more guided approach to baby-led weaning. The trial focused on, one, offering iron-rich foods regularly such as meats and iron-fortified cereals; two, identifying foods that present choking risks, and serving foods of an appropriate texture, which are those that an adult could easily mash between their tongue and roof of their mouth; and three, sitting with the baby while they self-feed. The trial also named their approach baby-led introduction to solids, thereby removing the term weaning, which can incorrectly imply that when introducing more solid foods it's time to wean the baby from breastmilk or formula. Another potential challenge of baby-led weaning is that it's sometimes portrayed as avoiding the spoon.

Skip to 2 minutes and 55 secondsIn fact, there is no need to avoid nutritious foods best eaten with a spoon, such as fortified cereal, meat-based sauces, or yoghurt. Responsive feeding principles can still be used if the child remains in control of how much they eat and is encouraged to hold the spoon themselves when able. One further challenge of this approach is that baby-led weaning may seem like just another set of rules for parents to follow, and that it might not work all the time for every baby.

Skip to 3 minutes and 21 secondsTherefore, I would say that if a parent runs out of ideas for finger food, or is eating risotto or soup for dinner themselves one night, or has a child who decides there are some meals they really want to eat with cutlery, like their parents mostly do, then there is no need to dogmatically follow the approach of saving only finger foods. In my opinion, baby-led weaning should be regarded as an approach that makes child feeding easier, not more difficult. So overall, baby-led weaning provides parents with a different approach to feeding that may benefit growing children.

Skip to 3 minutes and 50 secondsBut as with all infant feeding, there are some important general principles about avoiding choking, providing iron-rich foods, and a nutritionally adequate diet that still always needed to be considered. In other words, baby-led weaning is a way to feed children. It doesn't replace the infant feeding guidelines, but can be a useful way to achieve them.

Baby-led weaning

Baby-led weaning is an approach to feeding babies their first foods that has gained popularity in recent years.

In this approach:

  • the baby feeds themselves (ie there is no spoon feeding by adults)
  • there are some benefits, such as promoting the child’s control of their intake
  • there are some challenges, such as a lack of evidence assessing nutritional adequacy of this approach.

In this video, Dr Alison Spence discusses a number of advantages and disadvantages of baby-led weaning and suggests some considerations for parents and health professionals using this method.

Your task

Watch the video and, in the comments, share your ideas and experiences about weaning babies.

  • Have you had any experience with baby-led weaning either as a parent or health practitioner?

  • Can you think of any other advantages or disadvantages of baby-led weaning not discussed in the video?

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This video is from the free online course:

Infant Nutrition: from Breastfeeding to Baby's First Solids

Deakin University

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