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Letting baby lead

An alternative approach to starting solids.

Article Author: Beverly Wong-Ken

Article Date:

photo for Letting baby lead article

"They grow up so fast!" said every parent, ever. And boy, is it true. In fact, in recent years, a feeding approach that encourages parents to skip so-called "baby food" has grown in popularity.

Danielle Gill Rocque, CCC-SLP, a certified speech-language pathologist with Wolfson Children's Rehabilitation, explained what baby-led weaning is, its benefits and the safety considerations parents should keep in mind.

Skip to the good part

Weaning – getting baby used to food besides milk or formula – typically begins around 6 months of age, when the infant is introduced to solids after being exclusively breast- or bottle-fed.

"Baby-led weaning skips purees and spoon-feeding by parents," Rocque explained. "This approach allows the baby to explore foods independently and to consume the amount of food he or she is comfortable with. For example, parents would start with soft, stick-shaped foods, such as avocado strips, for their baby to hold and self-feed versus starting with a puree 'stage one' baby food."

In addition to promoting good eating behaviors and helping little ones explore food on their own, Rocque said that baby-led weaning can help improve fine motor skills.

"With this approach, babies are in charge of picking up the food and feeding themselves from the very beginning," said Rocque. "Around 9 months, parents can offer a dip, like hummus, yogurt or oatmeal, with the soft, stick-shaped foods. This allows the baby to eat soft, runny foods without the need for a spoon, and it's also a good way for him or her to acquire the skills needed for using a spoon later."

But is it safe?

Giving a 6-month-old control of his or her eating habits may make some parents pause. Will the baby choke if given something that's not finely blended? Before beginning anything new, it's essential to understand the safety precautions.

"It's important to ensure your baby is developmentally ready. He or she should be at least 6 months old and be able to sit up unsupported with control of his or her head before starting solid foods," Rocque said. "Food choices are also extremely important. Parents should stick to foods that are soft and easy to mash once it enters baby's mouth. Remember, your baby doesn't know how to chew yet. Avoid foods that are hard or overly sticky."

Rocque explained that baby-led weaning is a great option for children who are meeting developmental milestones. For those who are delayed, a modified approach can be used.

"If your baby is having difficulty transitioning through the textures, isn't chewing or is delayed in reaching developmental milestones, parents should talk to their pediatrician to see whether the support of a speech-language pathologist who specializes in feeding could be beneficial," said Rocque.

Food and fun

All in all, if parents select the right foods and take necessary safety measures, baby-led weaning can be a great way to introduce little ones to a variety of healthy foods. Plus, it's fun for baby!

"Babies want to explore food because that's how they learn! Spoon-feeding isn't typically as fun for them because they're not in control of how much or how fast they eat," said Rocque. "It's important to remember that with this approach, it's up to your little one to decide how much they eat and how quickly the range of food they enjoy widens. Lastly, keep in mind that baby-led weaning involves a lot of food missing the mouth. Things will get messy, and that's OK."

Speech-language pathologists at Wolfson Children's Rehabilitation specialize in caring for infants and children who need help effectively communicating, eating or swallowing. To learn more about Wolfson Children's Rehab, call 904.202.4200.

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