So, the days of bottle-feeding are finally winding down, and your baby is ready to open up his/her palate to something more... well, substantial. That's exciting and all, but moving from a liquid-only diet to solids is not always easy.
That's where you need to step in and get him/her acquainted with spoon-feeding, right? Well, not so fast. Baby-led weaning is now considered the best way to introduce your little one to solids and skip the whole spoon-to-mouth phase.
But, the real question is: How safe is it to let your baby take the lead? These two science-backed reasons prove baby-led weaning is as safe as it gets.
What is Baby-Led Weaning?
Baby-led weaning(1) (BLW) is a fairly new, alternative feeding approach during which infants are encouraged to feed themselves foods in their whole form. That means that your little one can choose what and how much he/she can eat without having you stuff purees inside their mouth.
According to experts(2), only babies that are 6 months and older are eligible for BLW because they have adequately developed the skills to self-feed including the ability to sit up unsupported in a high chair, pick up, chew and swallow small bites of food.
Is Baby-Led Weaning Safe? Debunking the Myths
Falsely associated with choking and malnutrition, baby-led weaning is often demonized. But, in an ironic twist of events, research proves that BLW comes with multiple long- and short-term benefits. So, to set the record straight, here are the two myths you need to stop believing about baby-led weaning safety.
Myth #1: Baby-Led Weaning Induces Choking
When it comes to baby-led weaning, the most common concern among mommas (myself included!) is choking. However, one recent study(3) showed that babies who feed themselves solid foods tend to choke as often as spoon-fed infants, proving that both methods are equally safe.
And for those wondering, yes, infants tend to gag when they first start to self-feed. But, that's not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, there is a huge difference between gagging and choking. Gagging is a somewhat helpful body reaction that prevents foods from slamming into your baby's throat and causing him/her to choke.
The study also mentions that infants who are fed using this alternative method may tend to gag more often when they first start out at 6 months of age, but they quickly hone their skills. So, as they get older (say: 8 months old), they gag less than their spoon-fed friends.
Myth #2: Baby-Led Weaning Limits Nutrient Intake
Malnutrition is also an issue that many mommas associate with BLW. However, research(4) proves that self-fed babies receive as much energy through foods as infants following a traditional spoon-feeding approach. What they do lack, though, is the sufficient intake of zinc, iron and vitamin B12. So, make sure you choose the foods you put in your baby's high chair very wisely.
The Dos & Don'ts of Safe Baby-Led Weaning
Even though research proves baby-led weaning is as safe as any other method, you may still negate its worth by making all the wrong decisions. To avoid causing more harm than good, these are the five things you need to do when introducing your little one to BLW.
Always Serve Soft Foods
Make sure you always give your baby foods that are soft enough to chew and swallow. A general rule of thumb to determine whether a particular food is safe for BLW is to squish it against the roof of your mouth.
If it's soft enough to be mashed, then it's 100% safe for your infant to consume. Some of the most popular options include ripe fruits, puffed cereal, and cooked pasta or veggies.
Cut Food in Small Pieces
Another easy way to make your baby's self-feeding sessions much safer is to chop his/her food into small, bite-sized pieces. That said, you can either slice it in long, thin strips, cut it into coin-shaped bites or use a crinkle knife to shape it into small, curvy pieces that are easy to grab and handle.
Opt for Nutritious Foods
Experts claim that self-fed babies often receive insufficient amounts of specific nutrients with an emphasis on iron, zinc and vitamin B12. Make sure your baby gets all the necessary nutrients by providing him/her with foods that are high in calories and packed with healthy fats and protein.
Avoid Choking Hazards
Between his/her soft gums, narrow throat and inexperience with chewing and swallowing, your soon-to-be-weaning baby is at risk when exposed to chunky or hard-to-bite pieces of food.
Use a Mesh Feeder
A mesh feeder is a BLW-friendly tool that allows your baby to gnaw on his/her favorite foods without posing a risk of choking. Thanks to its unique design, this pacifier look-alike keeps the food “trapped” inside the specially designed mesh bag while your little one nibbles on it.
By drenching it in saliva, the baby turns the food in puree and then absorbs all the necessary nutrients without having to chew and swallow the food. So, there's zero chance of choking or gagging.
This ingenious baby tool is also a great way to numb the sore gums of your teething tot. Simply add your go-to frozen bites inside the mesh bag (think: frozen peas, carrots, etc.), and let your little one get his/her munch on.
Research and everyday practice agree: Baby-led weaning can be safe, but only if done right. So, to rule the BLW game and keep your baby safe at all times, make sure you:
- stock up on nutrient-dense and soft foods,
- keep away from choking hazards, a.k.a. hard-to-chew foods,
- cut food into bite-sized pieces (a crinkle knife will help you a lot in this quest) and
- keep a mesh feeder around.
So, what do you think? Do you believe that baby-led weaning can be safe? Please, share your stories, questions and/or tips in the comment section down below.