BLW: Transitioning to solids at the baby's own paceMarch 02, 2021
You might be wondering what is BLW?
Your bub might be 4, 5 or 6 months and you're venturing into the solid food world. We're here to help you out through that process and hopefully bring some clarity so you can decide which approach is best for you and your family.
So, first of all, what is Baby Led Weaning?
According to Gill Rapley, author or 'Baby-Led Weaning: The Essential Guide', "baby-led weaning is an approach to weaning in which the baby is allowed to direct and control the process from the very beginning". You might be wondering: wait what? Let the baby direct and control? This is going to be a mess! And yes, it's going to be a mess and it's OK. Cause having a baby means letting go sometimes, and especially with food.
So, during the introduction of solid foods, the parents decide what to offer but it is the baby who decides what they will eat, how much and how quickly.
The key features of BLW are:
The baby sits with the family at mealtimes [if possible]
The baby is offered the same (healthy) food as everyone else, in pieces appropriate to their developmental level (large at first, then smaller)
The baby feeds themselves from the beginning, first with their hands and later with cutlery [yep, this is the messy part]
Milk feeding (of breastmilk or formula) continues on demand, unconnected with mealtimes.
So when should you start solids?
The current recommendation of the World Health Organization (2002) is that solid foods should be introduced at around six months. At this age, the infant’s immune system, digestive tract and oral motor skills have developed sufficiently to allow them to cope with foods other than milk. At the same time, the infant’s body stores of some important nutrients are beginning to reach the point where breastmilk (or formula) alone cannot replenish them sufficiently.
And here's the fascinating part. Rapley states that it is unlikely that hunger is the primary driver for infants in the move to solid foods. When babies of around five months appear fascinated by their parents’ eating, and gesture excitedly toward their parents’ plates, they are showing an interest in sharing their activity. They're not necessarily interested in the food itself. That's why if babies are given food to handle, they will use their mouths to explore it but are unlikely to eat any. Only much later will they discover that eating reduces their hunger. In the meantime, milk is what they ask for, and expect, when they are hungry.
Early exposure could prevent picky eating
The early weeks of weaning are a chance for the infant to discover a variety of textures and flavours, so that they develop a repertoire of foods from which they will later be able to select the nutrients they need. Breastmilk (or formula) should continue to be the main source of nourishment until the baby is around one year old. Daily milk intake should normally remain unchanged until about 9 months, and then be reduced gradually. If solids are introduced too rapidly, milk feeds may be reduced prematurely and overall nutrition compromised as a result. A gradual start enables solid foods to complement milk feeds, not replace them.
To conclude, some key points for parents trying BLW:
Baby-led weaning refers to the introduction of solid foods using a self-feeding approach, and it is developmentally and nutritionally appropriate for most infants
Breastmilk (or formula) should continue to be the main source of nutrition up to one year
From six months, babies need to practise the skills involved in self-feeding
Provided basic safety rules are followed, self-feeding does not present any greater risk of choking than spoon-feeding
This method of feeding during the weaning period has the potential to influence the infant’s dietary choices and relationship with food for the remainder of their life.
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