Baby-led weaning for introduction to complementary foods – Part 1

A growing alternative method throughout several countries for introducing solid foods to infants.

Baby Led Weaning (BLW) is an alternative method of introducing solid foods to infants. It is a growing practice in areas such as United Kingdom and New Zealand, and interest is increasing in the United States. Features of BLW include:

  • Complementary foods (foods and liquids other than breast milk or formula) are introduced when the infant is six months of age
  • Infants feed themselves with hand-held foods instead of being spoon fed by an adult
  • Infants share family foods and meal times
  • Infant is offered milk (ideally breast milk) on demand until they self wean

Supporters of BLW describe that this method allows infants to learn self-regulation of their food intake leading to healthier body weight. Parents who have done BLW describe it as healthier (fewer processed foods with added salt and/or sugar), less expensive and more enjoyable for the infant compared to the traditional method of spoon feeding purees. Additional possible benefits include a greater acceptance of a wider variety of foods by the infant. Some researchers believe that spoon feeding an infant “overrides the child’s internal hunger and satiety – cues, causing the child to lose the ability to respond to their own physical hunger signals.”

Concerns from some health care providers include choking hazards of hand-held foods, iron deficiency and inadequate energy intake, but there is no research to confirm or contradict these concerns. Another possible disadvantage is that BLW is not practical for parents who do not wait until their infant is six months of age to start solids, because the infant must have the motor skills to feed themself, which may not develop until six months (see part two of this article). Though some research has been done on BLW, there are still many questions; there is a great need for studies to examine the possible benefits and disadvantages of BLW.

Michigan State University Extension health and nutrition programs offer lessons on how to feed your infant from six months to one-year. Contact your local extension office for additional information on MSU Extension breastfeeding programs.

This is Part 1 of a series. You can find Part 2 here.

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