I am getting more questions about baby led weaning recently. I must admit, the first time I heard the term, I was not sure what the parent was referring to exactly. If you are unfamiliar, baby led weaning is really baby self feeding, with infants 6 months and above offered the opportunity to feed themselves from the start of transitioning to solid (complementary) foods. There is much more detail here on a website all about it.
Are there advantages and disadvantages to transitioning to solid foods this way? This is not easy to answer as there has been VERY limited scientific research into the area. My biggest three questions are: 1. Is it a choking hazard? 2. Will the infants who do self-feeding eat a well balanced diet that allows them to get all the nutrition, vitamins, and minerals that they need? 3. Are these children more or less likely to develop food allergies than a child who does another feeding strategy?
Although the concern for this strategy leading to choking issues, this article reviews a recent study that showed it could be done safely. Having said that, I remain worried about infants choking with baby led weaning.
The answer to the question about balanced nutrition is not answered yet. I have seen at least two 9 month old infants who have done a baby led weaning strategy who were anemic. I remain concerned, as do other pediatricians, that there may be some important things missing from their intake. Trusting that the baby's instincts will lead them to good nutrition makes me nervous. Toddlers, for instance, might eat bananas, cheese, and noodles all day if left to their own choices -- not bad nutrition, just not all that one needs.
The answer to the food allergies question also is unanswered. We seem to be headed in the right direction by now introducing those foods most likely to trigger reactions. I would hate to lose this momentum. Items like the Osum Bamba Peanut Snacks are a terrific way to introduce peanuts into the diet for children who can self-feed.
So much time and research has gone into pediatricians feeling confident about traditional transition to solid foods with purees. If you are interested in following a baby led weaning plan, I encourage you to keep the above issues in mind. Ask your pediatrician if you have more questions or concerns.