The Start of Baby-led Weaning

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I can’t believe J is 5 months today. Time flies! He’s getting so big already- sitting up on his own, inch-worming backwards, and already in 9 month clothes. He seems to discover new tricks over night! We know it won’t be long until one of his “new tricks” is solid foods. As he gets bigger and more curious about food, we have started thinking about solids. We have started researching options, discussing our game plan, and deciding what makes sense for us.

Some well meaning friends, family and strangers alike have begun asking what J has started eating. When they discover he hasn’t had anything yet they ask when he will start. They are curious about our choice to forego cereals and skip the purees all together. We know it won’t be long before J is enjoying family meals with us, but we’re not in a rush to start. Here’s why.

Both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. The AAP recommends exclusively breastfeeding for about 6 months followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant.1 WHO recommends the “introduction of nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods at six months together with continued breastfeeding up to two years of age or beyond.”2

 

Why 6 months exclusively?

Support for the recommendation of exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months “is found in the differences in health outcomes of infants breastfed exclusively for 4 vs 6 months, for gastrointestinal disease, otitis media, respiratory illnesses, and atopic disease, as well as differences in maternal outcomes of delayed menses and postpartum weight loss.”1 Babies who exclusively breastfeed for six months or more have fewer cases of lower respiratory tract illnesses, ear infections, and diarrheal disease when compared with babies who breastfed exclusively for only 4 months, and breastfed babies have significantly fewer infections when compared to formula fed babies. So while 2 months doesn’t seem like a big difference, studies show it matters in regards to illness and overall health.

 

Why 2 years and beyond?

According to WHO “breast milk is also an important source of energy and nutrients in children aged 6 to 23 months. It can provide half or more of a child’s energy needs between the ages of 6 and 12 months, and one third of energy needs between 12 and 24 months. Breast milk is also a critical source of energy and nutrients during illness.”2 There are many reasons to continue nursing as long as mutually desired but I’ll save natural term breastfeeding for another post.

 

Why no rice cereal?

The AAP admits that further research is necessary but recommends limiting rice cereal and exposing babies to a wide variety of foods, especially red meats that are high in iron.5 Rice cereal has only been a popular first food in the last 30-35 years. New concerns over arsenic in rice warrant further research but “Consumer Reports’ findings show arsenic is present in quantities that might increase an individual’s lifetime risk of cancer when children consume typical amounts of rice products.”5 Other reasons to skip the rice cereal are plentiful. Nutritionally speaking rice cereal has little nutritional value to offer in comparison to the breast milk it is replacing. Choosing wholesome, nutritious foods such as red meats and colorful vegetables are nutritionally more beneficial. Also serving bland foods first may limit a babies palate later, leading to more picky eaters.

 

Why no purees?

After much research (and practice with a family I babysat for) we are choosing to forego purees and follow baby-led weaning. According to Merriam-Webster weaning means to start feeding (a child or young animal) food other than its mother’s milk. Weaning does not mean ceasing nursing as is often the American connotation. So baby-led weaning is simply following the child’s lead when beginning solids. By waiting until the baby is at least 6 months, sitting, and showing signs of food readiness, you are essentially waiting until the child is biologically ready for food – thus no purees are needed (kinda how the cavemen did it!)7

But won’t they choke?

By introducing soft foods (bananas, avocados, sweet potatoes) when the child is developmentally ready to eat you can let the child learn that they need to chew and swallow food (though, if they are truly developmentally ready they already understand this and may surprise you by immediately chewing the food!). When you spoon-feed purees first you are teaching the child that they can simply swallow the food that enters their mouth. Then when solids are introduced they need to learn to chew before just swallowing, making choking on the first chunky bits a serious concern. Regardless of the weaning method you choose, careful and close supervision is necessary during all feedings.

 

So where does that leave us?

We are starting our weaning journey now by gathering all the information we can from new research and other mamas. We are beginning to tune in and watch J for signs of readiness. We will begin introducing solids when he is at least 6 months of age, sitting unassisted (check!), and showing signs of food readiness (reaching for food (check!), making chewing motions with mouth, pincer grasp developing, etc.)  But we’ll know for sure that J is ready when he grabs food off my plate and enjoys some dinner with us!

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J “helping” Mama cook Zucchini Bread Muffins.

Some day soon he’ll be eating them too!

Show 7 footnotes

  1.  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full#content-block
  2.  http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs342/en/index.html
  3.  http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full#content-block
  4.  http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs342/en/index.html
  5.  http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/09/19/aapnews.20120919-2.full?rss=1
  6.  http://aapnews.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/09/19/aapnews.20120919-2.full?rss=1
  7.  http://nourishedkitchen.com/baby-led-weaning/

1 Comment

Heck yah! I followed both kids leads, though admittedly did some purees to switch up their foods or with a few ones that skins or peels made me nervous on. Overall we pretty much just gave them our food and went from there. And people have always Commented about how well they do with food!

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