Friday, February 10, 2012

Baby Led Weaning

At just 5 months of age, in an attempt to get Owen to sleep more than an hour and a half at a time, I started feeding him pureed food.  He had shown interest in eating and we, quite honestly, needed sleep.  Badly.  To my frustration, and Owen's, when I tried to feed Owen the pureed food, I could never feed him fast enough, and he would want to shovel it in himself.   I would end up dreading feeding him because of the mess it would make and the fuss he would make when his *large* bowl of pureed sweet potato/brown rice slop was gone.  Have you ever tried to clean dried sweet potato puree off of a high chair leg?  I then remembered that my sister in law, Robyn, did something called Baby Led Weaning with her daughter and it seemed to have worked out pretty well.  The first chance I got, I asked Robyn more details about Baby Led Weaning (BLW).  She gave me some pointers and I started Owen on BLW the next meal!

In case you were wondering, Baby Led Weaning is when you forgo the traditional pureed baby foods and exclusively let your baby feed themselves finger foods.  When I first heard of this approach, I thought, "What?!?!  Won't they choke?!?"  But, as I observed my niece's eating habits, I realized that as long as you keep an eye on your child as he or she eats, it is highly unlikely your child will choke.  Basically, the finger foods you give them at first are soft and "gum-able."  I was very surprised with the variety of foods Owen can chew with his gums!  He is a few days away from 9 months and still has doesn't have any teeth, yet he eats everything from broccoli to beans to turkey and everything in between.  Not only does he like a variety of foods, he eats more than I have ever seen any other baby eat!  I've introduced him to so much more than I did with my two other children who were on pureed food.  I am starting to see that Owen is not picky about what he eats, and my guess is that this is because he has been given the opportunity to try so many different types of food.  His favorite foods are broccoli and blueberries.  I don't know many 9-month olds who LOVE broccoli!  

Along with the convenience of BLW, i.e., letting your infant feed his/herself, there are heath benefits, as shown in a recent study.  A study published in the BMJ Open compared a group of infants who followed the BLW approach to feeding with the infants fed with the traditional pureed food.  The study showed that the BLW infants seemed to like carbohydrates more than sweets, and that the pureed-fed infants seemed to like sweets more.  The study also noted that the Body Mass Index (BMI) of the BLW infants was lower than the pureed-fed infants at the end of the weaning period.  (Find a summary of the study here.)  The website, recently requested a statement from one of the doctors that participated in the study and she was kind enough to comply.  Dr. Ellen Townsend summarized the study as follows:

“We conducted a survey-based study with parents. Some of whom had used traditional spoon feeding and some who had used a baby-led approach. We asked them about their child’s food likes and how often they ate 151 different foods.
We then compared the groups on their liking for foods in the major food categories (carbs, proteins etc). What we found was that children weaned using a BLW approach like carbohydrates more than the spoon fed children. (In fact they liked carbohydrates the most as compared to the spoon fed children who like sweet foods the most.)
This is interesting because carbohydrates form the building blocks of healthy nutrition (being found at the bottom of the food pyramid). We also looked at health outcomes and found that BLW children generally had lower BMI compared to spoon-fed children. There was a small incidence of underweight in the BLW group but a larger incidence of obesity in the spoon fed group.
Carbohydrates are an ideal first finger food – so what we may be seeing here is an ‘age on introduction effect’ where BLW children are exposed to these foods in their whole food format earlier on. In relation to the BMI findings it could be that BLW learn to self regulate their intake because they are given control of the feeding process. We need longitudinal studies now that can tease apart our findings further.” (

I actually saw a brief news segment on this study before I looked it up online.  I was glad to see Baby Led Weaning go a bit more public.  Owen and my niece are the only children I know who did BLW. Owen thoroughly enjoys mealtime because it is fun for him.  On top of three very full meals a day, Owen still nurses every 3-4 hours during the day.  He is also the healthiest of all my children at this age in regards to bowel movement.  My first two children would regularly have problems with constipation.  Let's just say that Owen is very, very, very regular!  As for sleeping longer, he is just starting to 
regularly sleep decently and he only wakes up once to feed between 3:30 and 5am.

I would absolutely recommend the Baby Led Weaning approach to any parent!  Not only is my child a healthy eater, but my bank account isn't feeling constrained by large purchases of "jarred" baby food and my time isn't being consumed with making the purees myself.  Owen basically eats what we eat at every meal.  And he is happy with that.  Everyone wins!  

If you would like more information on the Baby Led Weaning approach, the following sites are excellent resources:

No comments: