Q. My daughter is 5 months old. I am considering starting solids through the Baby Led Weaning approach. What is your opinion of this?
A.” Baby Led Weaning” is a phrase that has been coined by former midwife Gill Rapley, who has written several books on the topic. The concept was initially formed, according to her own website, by her experiences with her own three children. Despite the lack of scientific basis, the idea has caught on, and her book has been translated into 12 different languages.
The backbone of Baby Led Weaning involves allowing your baby to feed herself, starting at 6 months, with finger foods- skipping foods in pureed form. There are several potential issues that arise:
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Baby Led Weaning forums and blogs spend a lot of time discussing the difference between gagging and choking because gagging is an expected part of Baby Led Weaning. Many babies will gag and vomit, and their mothers are posting the videos on YouTube to show that this is okay and an expected part of the process with Baby Led Weaning.
I would like to point out that gagging and choking are closely related. The gag reflex is a protective mechanism to prevent choking. Should it not work properly, then the next step is choking. Also, repeated gagging and vomiting can lead to food refusal.
Advocates of Baby Led Weaning boast obesity prevention as a reason to consider this method. However, most infants need the supplemental nutrients and calories that are in food by 6 months of age. Although most babies will reach for food at 6 months of age, less than half of them are able to eat the food.
Many parents are starting Baby Led Weaning based on internet searches and have not even read the book. Parents are giving raw, hard foods as first foods which can break off into huge chunks. The actual process of Baby Led Weaning (which I do not advocate) recommends starting with soft foods that are either naturally soft or cooked into a soft form.
In reality, the safest and healthiest feeding method for babies is to start with pureed foods around 6 months of age- advancing to finger foods by around 8 months of age. Some children may continue to eat a combination of finger foods and pureed foods for several months. For more information on introducing solids, visit www.aap.org.