I just introduced solids to my 6 month-old. Like most new parents, I had lots questions. When? How? What? How much? After a bit of research, I decided to use the baby-led solids (or baby-led weaning) method in which baby feeds herself from the get-go with food that is suitably sized (not too small to choke on, big enough to hold, but not too big to fit in baby mouth, and not pureed).
I am a big fan of the logic behind the method. It recognizes and furthers baby’s developmental abilities (Palmer and pincher grasps, hand-eye coordination, budding decision making). It also acknowledges that breast milk (or formula) is baby’s primary source of nutrition for the first year of life. Nearly everything I read was very positive towards BLS and further convinced me to try it (although I was still nervous- I am a new mom, after all!) But, there was a study that was reviewed in several news sources that made me take a second look.
The title reads “Baby-Led Weaning Is Feasible but Could Cause Nutritional Problems for Minority of Infants.” True, it says minority, but no one wants to possibly cause nutritional problems for their infant! The article focuses on a study that is one of the first looks at BLS from a formal, research-based approach. The article lists some of the findings of the study (see link above), but I didn’t think the findings listed completely supported the researcher’s conclusion, which is: “BLW might be feasible for a majority of infants but could lead to nutritional problems for infants who were relatively developmentally delayed. A more pragmatic partial BLW approach would probably be the wisest option.” (Quoted from the original study.) So, I decided to track down the original study and analyze all of the findings.
I found some very interesting information that is not listed in the article. First of all, the data used was not collected with BLS in mind; it is from a survey of parents of over 600 infants from 4 to 12 months in the UK who were asked to keep a finger food journal for their babies. As such, all methods for introducing solids to infants were included, a fact I believe serves as a possible bias.
Next, the researchers found a “substantial discrepancy” between infants who were over 6 months in age and actively reaching for food and those that were allowed to grab the food. Even for infants who had been reaching for food for over 2 months, less than two-thirds were offered finger foods more than once a day; while 25% of parents reported their infants could not feed themselves at mealtimes. Sadly, these parents held low expectations of their infants’ abilities as they were never given a chance to eat finger food, although they had been reaching for finger food for at least 2 months! This is even more tragic given that the study also quotes research that says that in some countries, later onsets in social skills and self-feeding have been observed when infants are fed purees, in lieu of self-feeding.
Another interesting fact is that “15-month-old infants eating a finger-fed meal took 50% longer to eat only just over half the weight of food eaten at a comparison spoonable meal, but the average energy intake at both meals was the same.” A study found that even when self-feed babies took less bites than babies fed with purees, they gained just as much weight. So, babies are getting more bang for their buck with finger feeding versus purees. I imagine quite a few adults wish that they could find a way to take in healthy nutrients with half the Brussels sprouts.
Finally, in regards to the “minority of infants” for which BLS may not be feasible- this amounted to 6% of the study. These infants were observed to be developmentally delayed in other physical and mental milestones. As such, it makes sense that their ability to self-feed may also be delayed. This is a fact noted by the BLW community, and the BLW forum (www.babyledweaning.com) advises against this approach for such infants.
So, in the end, this study actually made me more interested in BLS! It highlighted everything that attracted me to BLS in the first place- an emphasis on recognizing my baby’s capabilities, likes & dislikes, and needs.
Here's what Q-ball's tried so far--
sweet potato, apple, pear, peas (this is the only thing she hasn't successfully eaten yet), blueberries, whole wheat toast, Cheerios, Chex cereal, broccoli (this was very easy because the stem was perfect for her to hold!), baby carrots, bananas
Aboud, F., Moore, A., & Akhter, S. (2008). Effectiveness of a community-based responsive feeding programme in rural Bangladesh: a cluster randomized field trial. Retrieved from http://www.psych.mcgill.ca/computing/aboud/MCN08.pdf.
Baby-Led Weaning Is Feasible but Could Cause Nutritional Problems for Minority of Infants. (2011, January 14). Science Daily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/01/110112081454.htm
Wright, C., Cameron, K., Tsiaka, M., & Parkinson, K. (2010). Is baby-led weaning feasible? When do babies first reach out for and eat finger foods? Maternal and Child Nutrition, 7(1), 27-33. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1740-8709.2010.00274.x/full#b3.