Feeding Little Ones
Updated: Jul 11, 2018
Feeding your itty-bitty one with love & care is a primary concern for moms & dads, especially a first baby. Transitioning from breastmilk or formula to solid foods is an exciting phase of your baby's growth. A growing approach to transitioning infants to solid foods is a method called Baby-led weaning (BLW).
Baby-led weaning is an approach to introducing solids whereby the baby is allowed and encouraged to self-feed soft, bite-size finger foods instead of receiving purees by spoon. For those of us very comfortable with the airplane-spoon approach, this concept may feel rebellious or ridiculous. Why bother with BLW? When should solids be introduced? What types of foods can be offered? What are the signs of readiness? What about choking risk and food allergies?
What is BLW?
Baby Led Weaning is NOT weaning baby off breast milk or formula, but rather weaning baby ON solids, which he or she self-feeds. Infants skip over the puree -on-the-spoon and go directly to soft easy to chew solids. Parents continue to nurse or bottle feed just as frequently. The solid finger foods are intended to complement the milk feedings, not replace it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends beginning solid food at about six months of age. Prior to this, the digestive system is immature and may lack the ability to break down food. According to the AAP feeding baby too soon (before around six months) is associated with increased weight gain in infancy and childhood. At around six months of age, most babies are developmentally ready for eating. Other signs of readiness include sitting up without support, picking up food between thumb & forefinger, and showing interest in eating, such as grabbing food off plates and putting it in the mouth. The baby is learning how to pick up small pieces, learning the chewing motion, squishing food around the mouth, and developing the skills to swallow.
Those who practice BLW tout the many benefits. For example, babies are encouraged to join in the family meal, rather than having a separate feeding time. Babies learn by watching, so involving baby at mealtime fosters his development as well. In addition, babies are given some freedom to explore new foods, new tastes & new textures. The baby also gets to choose which foods to try, how much, and at what pace. BLW allows baby to explore self-regulation.
WHAT SHOULD I FEED BABY?
First foods should include soft cooked and chopped or minced vegetables, fresh fruits, healthy whole grains. These foods may include banana, avocado, ripe peaches, pears, plums, melon, sweet potato, potato, well-cooked carrots, beets, zucchini, pieces of cooked pasta, brown rice, pieces of whole grain bread. All foods should be chopped or minced into small pieces.
GAGGING and CHOKING?
In infants, the gag reflex is triggered toward the front of the mouth, unlike adults which is further back towards the throat. Therefore, babies gag more easily, and the gag-reflex acts to propel food back into the mouth to be chewed before swallowing. Close supervision is important to prevent choking and ensure the baby's safety. Most hospitals offer classes on choking & CPR, which is priceless for parental peace of mind. Some foods pose more of a choking risk and should be avoided such as grapes, raw vegetables, popcorn, raisins, chunks of meat or cheese, nuts, and hot dogs.
Most have heard the phrase "Food before one is just for fun" and that's because breast milk or formula is the primary source of nutrition for your infant. They are more caloric and nutritionally dense than the amount of solid foods baby will initially be able to consume. Recognizing that breast milk & formula is the most important food takes the pressure off and allows the baby to just explore and try foods without the pressure to finish the meal.
For years experts thought that delaying the introduction of allergic foods would prevent the development of food allergies. However, there is a new guideline from the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Disease. The experts say there is no benefit to delaying the introduction of allergic foods such as peanut butter. In fact, a study in 2015 showed that early introduction and regular feeding of peanut butter prevented the development of peanut allergy in infants at high risk (meaning infants who had severe eczema and or an egg allergy). Please note that whole nuts are a choking hazard and should not be given to infants.
Experts also recommend introducing one new food at a time and waiting about two to three days before introducing another new food. Pay attention to any adverse reactions like diarrhea, rash, and vomiting. If any of these occur, stop feeding the food and consult with your child's pediatrician.
Discuss baby led weaning and traditional feeding practices with your child's pediatrician before starting any solid foods.
RoseAnn Dogas, RDN
is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and founder of TheWellNourishedLIfe.com, nutrition & lifestyle coaching for women and families. Inspiring women and men to bring health and wellness into their home and onto their dinner table