It's a familiar scene: Mom or Dad delivering sweet potato purée into baby's wide-open mouth via that special airplane spoon—complete with sound effects and announcements from the cockpit. But for the parents who practice baby-led weaning, the picture of Baby's mealtimes looks much different: The youngest member of the family sits in the high chair before a spread of finger foods, attempting to transfer the bits from tray to tongue all by himself.
Baby-led weaning, as this method of introducing solid foods is called, was popularized in the United Kingdom about a decade ago and has long been used by cultures around the world. Now, enthusiasm for bypassing purées and waiting until baby is ready to self-feed is also growing in the United States.
The benefits of baby-led weaning can be great, says registered dietician Clancy Cash Harrison, author of Feeding Baby. For one, it helps fine-tune motor development: "Baby-led weaning supports the development of eye-hand coordination, chewing skills, dexterity, and healthy eating habits," she says. "It also offers babies an opportunity to explore the taste, texture, aroma, and color of a variety of foods."
It's also an early—and very important—step for babies in learning self-regulation: learning to stop eating when they feel full. "Babies who self-feed cannot realistically be made to eat more than they need since they are feeding independently," says Natalia Stasenko, a pediatric dietician and co-writer of Real Baby Food. With spoon-feeding, she says, "Parents can sneak in a couple more spoonfuls even if the baby is full. Doing so frequently will teach the baby to routinely eat more than he needs and stop regulating his intake efficiently." Though few scientific studies have been conducted on the subject, experts see potential for baby-led weaning to have a lasting effect on a child's food preferences, eating habits, and palates.
If you're ready to push that baby food-making machine to the back of the pantry and give baby-led weaning a try, though, make sure you set the stage for a positive experience from the start. Here are some guidelines on how to get it right.
If spoon-feeding is what you or your baby are most comfortable with, there's no need to abandon it altogether before you introduce finger foods into the routine. "I am for the mixed approach, as it helps expose babies to finger foods and also minimizes the risk of nutritional gaps in the diet," says Stasenko. She recommends serving finger foods directly before or after purées, and to prepare purées with an increasingly lumpy texture to help advance your child's chewing skills.
It's also key, says Harrison, to encourage your child to start participating in the delivery of food early on. "Let your child reach for the spoon and guide it to his mouth with or without your help," she says. "Make sure the child is leading the process."
Copyright © 2015 Meredith Corporation.
All content on this Web site, including medical opinion and any other health-related information, is for informational purposes only and should not be considered to be a specific diagnosis or treatment plan for any individual situation. Use of this site and the information contained herein does not create a doctor-patient relationship. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.