Traditional or Baby Led Weaning?

As part of our Sunday Weaning Series, we started exploring the differences between traditional and baby led weaning. Last Sunday’s post discussed traditional weaning and it’s pros and cons.

This week, we’ll talk about Baby Led Weaning (BLW).

Part 2

Back in the days of my first baby, one health visitor described BLW to me as the plop it in front of them and see if they can eat it approach. And essentially, this is true.

BLW is really all about allowing the child to feed themselves. Once the baby reaches 6 months, the parents simply offer the child a selection of soft food, usually cut into a shape resembling a finger. The baby will then move the food around by raking it into their fist using their fingers. They eat what they eat and that is that. As time passes and their dexterity improves, the baby will become proficient at feeding themselves.

The Pros

Practice makes perfect, as they say, and learning to feed yourself is no exception. Babies who have been weaned by BLW, will definitely be practising their dexterity and coordination. It didn’t come as a surprise to me when my parents admired my 8 month old’s accuracy when eating. The hours I’d spent picking peas off the floor during the BLW portion of her meal, were hours unlikely to have been experienced by a generation who almost exclusively used traditional weaning.

BLW babies will enjoy exploring the taste, smell and texture of every bit of their food. As they experience and understand food in it’s natural form, there’s very little extra preparation required and no need for a transition to grown up food at a later date. This is thought to result in less picky eating habits later in childhood.

As the baby is in charge of putting the food in his or her own mouth, there’s little scope for over feeding. Children will naturally lose interest in the food once they are satisfied. BLW advocates suggest that babies who wean this way are less likely to learn to overeat and are, in turn, less likely to be overweight later in life.

Allergy/ Reflux Baby Specific Considerations

For allergy and reflux babies struggling with food aversion, BLW can help to get babies excited about eating. The laid back nature of BLW can help to diffuse any anxieties the baby is experiencing or sensing around food. There are few things more off putting when trying to eat, for example, than remembering the last time you vomited a similar food. Equally, having a tense parent holding a spoon as if it were a loaded gun is hardly conducive to happy dining. The independence afforded by BLW, as well as the opportunity to explore the textures and smells of food (not just the taste), can reinvent the baby’s perceptions of food.

The Cons

The waste, the waste, the waste! Everything I read about BLW prepared me for the mess. Yes, the time saved in preparation is definitely lost to cleaning up. Cleaning up food on the floor, food up the walls, food behind tiny ears and on the doors! But what I failed to expect (even though with hindsight it should have been obvious), was the shocking amount of waste.

For at least 3 months, I swear my youngest wasn’t actually trying to put the food in his mouth. Stones, dirt, his sister’s toys? Yes, they all made a beeline straight for the mouth. But the food? Not even a little bit. Which not only generates a lot of wasted food but also leads onto the next con:

It can be difficult for the baby to feed themselves enough to maintain/ gain weight. While so little food is making it into the mouth, the baby is heavily reliant on breast milk or their formula. Especially as the more difficult foods to chew, such as meat, invariably find their way onto the floor, the baby must be able to hold enough milk to meet their nutritional needs.

Even my reflux baby was no exception to this particular problem. Once he became excited about food, BLW bottomed out and traditional weaning traditional weaning came back into play. He, like his sister and her friends who came before him, developed an extraordinarily bad temper after around 10 minutes of BLW. His inability to eat enough to fill himself ended in frustration. If the spoon didn’t rapidly follow the finger foods, both children would simply melt down until they were offered extra bottles in place of the food. This led to overflow vomits and even more bad tempers. A cycle I was keen to not repeat.

The Bottom Line?

BLW has some very definite advantages. The messy aspect of this type of weaning is naturally appealing to children. It encourages their coordination and dexterity, and is thought to discourage overeating and pickiness. Food aversions associated with food allergies and severe reflux, can be also eased with the BLW approach.

On the downside, it is really messy and very wasteful and babies must be able to sustain themselves on milk beyond 6 months to meet their nutritional needs.

As with most things in life, moderation seems to be the key where weaning is concerned. A combination of traditional and BLW, might offer the baby the best of all worlds. They can explore their food in it’s real form as well as enjoying a full belly after a few spoonfuls of purée or mush. The preparation and the cleaning are in balance and all the nutrients can be offered in one meal.

Xx Allergy Mama

Coming Soon- First foods for your FPIES baby

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