I’m a first time mom, so of course I worry, over-analyze and read about doing what’s best for my daughter. I’m also a trained scientist, and before I had my daughter I was a high school science teacher. Put those things together and you get a woman who obsessively researches pretty much everything!
I started researching how and when to introduce solids when my daughter was around four months old after my pediatrician said I could start her on rice cereal. I had already heard from numerous mothers at the local Beaumont Breastfeeding Coalition (BBC) meetings that infant cereal was BAD and that infants should be exclusively breast-fed or formula fed until six months (1). Rice cereal contains an alarming amount of arsenic (2), and according to Dr. Greene, it’s like feeding your child a spoonful of sugar (3). I had also heard some of the moms discussing this concept of baby-led weaning and it sounded promising, so I decided to investigate it further.
So what is baby-led weaning (BLW)? The term was coined by Gill Rapley (a former health visitor and midwife) to describe a method of solid food introduction in which infants feed themselves table foods from the beginning instead of spoon-fed purees. Babies sit with the family at meal times and join when ready. They are encouraged to explore different foods and textures, and it is up to them to decide what and how much they eat. (4)
TEN benefits to BLW (4):
- It’s enjoyable. Early exposure to happy meal times will likely give a child a healthy attitude towards food for life.
- It’s natural. It allows your infant to explore food at her own pace. It allows her to learn about different tastes, textures, and smells and also how different flavors work together.
- Learning to eat safely. She can learn what’s chewable and what isn’t. It also allows your infant to judge the amount of food that can be placed in her mouth without gagging. Plus, she learns how to manipulate food with her tongue before swallowing.
- Development of fine motor skills. Your infant can practice hand-eye coordination and improve dexterity by gripping foods of different sizes and textures. She can also refine and develop her pincer grasp (using her pointer finger and thumb to grasp objects). Plus, chewing food helps develop facial muscles that will be needed as she learns to talk.
- Trusting Food. Babies are more willing to try new foods because they are allowed to decide whether or not they eat them. This hopefully leads to less picky toddlers and prevents parents from having to “hide” foods or be tricky in order to get their children to eat them.
- Being a part of family mealtimes. Since your baby is eating the same food as you, it allows her to copy mealtime behavior. She can learn how different foods are eaten, how to share, and experience the social aspects of mealtime. She can naturally move into using utensils and learning table manners as she grows.
- Appetite control. Babies are allowed to decide when they’ve had enough, so they are less likely to overeat when older, thus preventing childhood obesity.
- Easier less complicated meals. As long as you eat a healthy diet, you don’t have to prepare separate meals saving you time. You also don’t have to worry about spoon-feeding and your meal getting cold. You do need to avoid nuts, added salt and sugar, and processed foods in your meal preparation.
- It’s cheaper. Letting your baby share in your meal is so much cheaper than buying baby food.
- Eating out is easier. There’s usually something on the menu of any restaurant that your baby can eat, so no need to prepare food ahead of time or to bring along a jar of baby food.
So is there a down side to BLW? It’s messy. I won’t sugar coat it. My daughter had more food on the floor, her face, hair and high chair than she ate, especially during the first few experiences. I’ve had to experiment with different bibs and I go through multiple baby washcloths each day. Luckily we have tile floors, so I don’t have to worry about food stains. However, I feel that the mess is worth all the benefits.
If you like what you’ve read so far, look for my next post “Adventures in Baby-Led Weaning: First Foods Do’s and Don’ts.”
- Rapley, Gill, and Tracey Murkett. Baby-led Weaning: The Essential Guide to Introducing Solid Foods and Helping Your Baby to Grow up a Happy and Confident Eater. New York: Experiment, 2010. iBooks.
Jana Curry is a babywearing, exclusively breastfeeding, baby led weaning, cloth diapering, organic food consuming, crunchy, mother of one beautiful little girl. She has her masters in biology and taught high school science before she decided to be a full time mommy. She loves photography, camping, cooking, reading, and spending time with family and friends.