10.08.2022

What is baby-led weaning?

Introducing food to your baby can seem overwhelming, especially with your first child. How do you do it? Should you make your own purees? Buy canned baby food? Hand them a piece of pizza?

Fear. Excitement. Stress. All feelings you may experience when your baby’s pediatrician gives you the thumbs up to begin solid foods.

One method that’s grown in popularity over the last decade is baby-led weaning, or baby-led feeding, which involves promoting self feeding of finger foods rather than parents spoon feeding purees.

“Baby-led weaning allows the child to have control over their hunger and satiety (fullness) cues,” says Joci Schumann, pediatric dietitian at Advocate Children’s Hospital. “We’re all born with the ability to eat when hungry and stop when full. It generally isn’t until a bit later that we realize eating doesn’t only have to occur when we’re hungry.”

Those in support of baby-led weaning point to these potential positive outcomes, among others:

Baby can eat what you eat (if appropriate)

Baby begins to learn independence and practice fine motor skills

And perhaps the most widely discussed potential benefit: a decreased likelihood of future picky eating.

But is that valid?

“I don’t think baby-led weaning on its own is going to prevent picky eating,” says Schumann. “Regardless of how you provide foods, you will likely have to present some things 12-15 times before a child is willing to give it a shot. New things are scary for many kids, and while adults don’t think of foods as scary, they are a big change for an infant. Multiple presentations of foods is the key to success and avoiding the brunt of the picky eating phase that most kids go through.”

She says that during the first few presentations of a food, the goal is for the baby to play with and explore it.

“Food will eventually work its way into your baby’s mouth,” she said. “Remember – we eat with all of our senses, not just taste. It’s important for kids to explore the smell, color and texture of food. That’s what baby-led weaning is particularly good at, considering babies have complete control of all five senses, not just tasting the food on the spoon as it comes to their mouth.”

Schumann suggests the foods to start with, whether trying baby-led weaning or purees, will always be fruits and vegetables.

“I generally tell parents that kids seem to enjoy fruits and orange vegetables the most or green vegetables the least because they are the most bitter, but that doesn’t mean we should only offer foods that kids enjoy immediately.”

As always, talk with your child’s pediatrician before introducing solid foods.

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