Many Australian mothers are stopping with the purees, putting down the spoon, moving away from the blender and following the lead of their babies.
Make no bones about it, the popularity of baby-led weaning is on the rise. After decades of using rice cereal and purees as a way of introducing solid foods to infants, many mothers are experimenting with this relaxed and unstructured follow-your-baby approach. To some, this may seem to be a far more natural and logical alternative to scheduled weaning methods. However, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of baby-led weaning as a holistic approach to the introduction of solid foods.
The NHMRC Infant Feeding Guidelines and World Health Organisation Infant and Young Child Feeding Guidelines suggest that solid foods be introduced to infants after 6 months of age. It is universally suggested that milk (preferably breast milk), be the major source of nutrition during the first 12 months of life. Introducing solid foods has historically meant serving up common ‘first foods’ which consist of rice cereal and pureed fruits and vegetables, fed vigilantly from a purpose-built spoon by anticipative parents. Baby-led weaning, a term coined by midwife and child health nurse Gill Rapley, suggests benefit in letting a baby feed themselves from the outset of a baby’s inauguration into the world of grown-up food. Baby-led weaning encourages seating an infant at the table during mealtimes, providing chunks or pieces of family food and allowing the infant to self-feed, deciding the pace, amount and types of food they wish to consume.
At six months of age, self-feeding with age-appropriate foods is possible due to gut maturity, an ability to sit upright, grasp objects, chew and move food from the front to the back of the mouth.Rowan H, Harris C. Baby-led weaning and the family diet. A pilot study. Appetite. 2012.58:3,1046–1049 Baby-led weaning capitalises on these abilities and is proposed to foster a healthy relationship with food by encouraging family mealtimes, familiarisation with food via exploration and play and allowing the infant to regulate their own intake. It is postulated that the early introduction of the baby to hunger and satiety cues through on-demand milk feeding and subsequent baby led weaning is beneficial in fostering better response to these cues throughout life, thus reducing rates of obesity.Rowan H, Harris C. Baby-led weaning and the family diet. A pilot study. Appetite. 2012.58:3,1046–1049 The literature has also suggested that less controlling maternal feeding styles lead to improved nutrition outcomes for children as well as less fussiness associated with eating in general.Brown A, Lee M. Maternal Control of Child Feeding During the Weaning Period: Differences Between Mothers Following a Baby-led or Standard Weaning Approach. Matern Child Health J. 2011. 15:1265–1271
Baby-led weaning is a stark contrast to traditional spoon feeding methods, which encourage the use of baby rice cereal and pureed fruits and vegetables as a first foods, fed by spoon at times and quantities dictated by the caregiver. This method of introduction generally follows a loose schedule, by which lumpier textures are introduced around 9 months of age and infants are happily consuming family foods by 12 months of age.
The NHMRC have no specific recommendations on the order in which to introduce first foods and acknowledge that there is wide cultural diversity in the types of foods and how they are offered. One point, which is universally agreed upon, is that iron is an important consideration as breast milk ceases to become a sufficient source of iron to infants beyond 6 months of age.Reeves S. Facts behind the headlines: Baby-led weaning. Nutrition Bulletin. 2008. 33, 108–110 The NHMRC recommend that whatever method is used to introduce solid foods, iron-rich foods should feature. It is acknowledged however, that purees can be a more controlled and therefore effective way of ensuring that essential nutrients are provided.Reeves S. Facts behind the headlines: Baby-led weaning. Nutrition Bulletin. 2008. 33, 108–110
There is little available literature to support the proposed benefits of baby-led weaning. Much of the research has been carried out by Gill Rapley herself and whilst her studies back her observations, the small sample sizes used prompts one to question their efficacy. A larger subsequent study reported a less controlled maternal feeding style in mothers who used baby-led weaning. However, the study fails to ascertain whether baby-led weaning fosters a feeding style which is low in control, or whether mothers who use baby-led weaning are naturally less controlling.Brown A, Lee M. Maternal Control of Child Feeding During the Weaning Period: Differences Between Mothers Following a Baby-led or Standard Weaning Approach. Matern Child Health J. 2011. 15:1265–1271
However scant the literature is to support the benefits of baby-led weaning, it can be demonstrated in current literature that breastfed babies are more likely to eat a wide variety of foods and adapt more readily during the weaning process. This is suggested to be due to exposure to a wider variety of tastes through breastmilk. Fruit and vegetable consumption in later childhood is also correlated with exposure to home cooked food during the transition to solid food. Repeated exposure to foods also reduces neophobia in children. Therefore, exposure to a wide variety of healthy foods early on, accompanied by breastfeeding for as long as possible, is what is currently known to foster healthy eating in later childhood.Reeves S. Facts behind the headlines: Baby-led weaning. Nutrition Bulletin. 2008. 33, 108–110
More research to support the benefits of baby-led weaning is required. However, a review of the available literature concludes the adage we hear time and time again in nutrition science: a balanced approach is best. A variety of pureed, spoon-fed foods as well as finger foods is likely to give a developing infant the nutrients they require. Current evidence suggests that exposure to a wide variety of foods lends itself to better nutrient intakes and healthier diets throughout life. It is the exposure to different textures and flavours which the child can explore that dictates positive long-term dietary outcomes, rather than whether it is offered in solid or pureed form.Reeves S. Facts behind the headlines: Baby-led weaning. Nutrition Bulletin. 2008. 33, 108–110
References [ + ]
|1.||⇪ab||Rowan H, Harris C. Baby-led weaning and the family diet. A pilot study. Appetite. 2012.58:3,1046–1049|
|2.||⇪ab||Brown A, Lee M. Maternal Control of Child Feeding During the Weaning Period: Differences Between Mothers Following a Baby-led or Standard Weaning Approach. Matern Child Health J. 2011. 15:1265–1271|
|3.||⇪abcd||Reeves S. Facts behind the headlines: Baby-led weaning. Nutrition Bulletin. 2008. 33, 108–110|