Parents always look forward to the six-month mark when their little bundle of joy finally gets their first taste of solid food, and that’s when parents get to choose whether to go about this the traditional way or the baby-led weaning(BLW) way. Regardless of which method parents prefer, the goal remains the same: to start weaning their little bubs to accept other sources of nourishment. Here are some of the differences between baby-led weaning and traditional feeding to help parents decide what’s works for them.
The most significant difference between traditional feeding and baby-led weaning is how food is prepared. Parents who choose traditional feeding tend to start with purees or baby cereal, whereas baby-led weaning babies would begin with whatever the family is eating right away. There is no separate preparation, and the food is prepared just as adults would eat it, minus the spices and salt. Food would be cut into safe, bite-size pieces, and if necessary, parents can experiment with varying food textures to allow easier swallowing.
Studies have also shown that those exposed to various textures and flavours from a young age tend to be less picky overall and are more likely to make healthier food choices when they are older.
Expect the Mess
One of the biggest downsides of baby-led weaning is the mess. However, it is only temporary and will improve once your little one gets better at feeding themselves. Parents will need to be extra patient during this exploration period until then. It helps to remind ourselves that all this is part of learning and development, even if it means food will get strewn everywhere else, go to waste and miss their mouths completely.
Self-feeding is a very tactile experience for them. Your baby will learn various food textures through touch, and allowing them to feed themselves would help them develop fine motor skills like hand-to-mouth coordination. Naturally, with traditional feeding, the mess is kept to a minimum because parents would be the ones feeding their children.
Unfortunately, with traditional feeding, eating times tend to differ. One parent will always have to feed their little ones first at mealtimes, unlike baby-led weaning, where your little one can help themselves, and everyone can enjoy dinner simultaneously.
Traditional feeding babies also follow a step-by-step transition from puree to lumpier mushy food before moving to solids. On the other hand, baby-led weaning babies get to skip all of these steps because they eat whatever the family eats starting from day 1. This offers flexibility when eating out because there is no need to cook and lug their porridge in a heavy thermos. Instead, parents who adopt BLW can simply cut the food into bite-size pieces and let them tuck in.
How much is too little, and how much is too much?
We have to admit traditional feeding allows parents more control which would undoubtedly ensure that your little one eats. Feeding is faster and easier too when parents are armed with a spoon of their own.
There’s no telling how much baby-led weaning babies eat, especially during the first few tries when they are just starting to get a feel of the food in their hands. On good days they may successfully feed themselves some food, and on other days, they may just be content to throw it everywhere without eating any at all. When babies do not get enough food to tie them over, this could result in sleepless nights for parents.
That being said, food play doesn’t last forever. Baby-led weaning allows your little one more freedom, and it teaches your little one to eat based on their hunger levels. As a result, there’s less chance of overfeeding compared to those who are spoon-fed.
Baby Led Weaning Safety Tips
Before starting, here are some baby-led weaning precautions for parents and caregivers:
Gagging is not the same as choking
The biggest concern when it comes to baby-led weaning is the possibility of choking, which is why parents should always learn the difference between choking and gagging. When first introduced to different food textures, your little one might gag, but it is not the same as choking. The gag reflex is normal and is part of learning how to control food in their mouth.
Do not be alarmed when babies gag. Remain calm and keep a watchful eye. Panicking will only deter them from trying the next time. Your little one will not gag as much once they learn to handle the new texture.
However, if your baby looks terrified, seems to be gasping and isn’t breathing well or isn’t able to make any audible sounds, they might be choking. Another clear indicator is when they turn pale or blue, which indicates that they are not getting enough oxygen.
Offer Safe Foods Only
Remember to offer safe foods only and avoid choking hazards like nuts, whole grapes or any small round-shaped fruit. Be sure to cut food into bite-size bits, making sure that they are cooked through, soft and de-boned.
Parents should start with food that is soft enough for them to mash between their fingers and continue to prepare food as per your child’s developmental age. For example, at 6 months, food should be soft and cut into thick strips of sticks so that your baby can hold them easily. At 9 months, your baby should be quite apt with their pincer grasp, so bite-sized pieces make good practice.
You’d be pleasantly surprised by how quickly your little foodie adapts because those gummy smiles not only melt hearts, they can “chew” too! However, gums are still gums, not teeth, so remember to stay away from hard and crunchy snacks: they can always enjoy chips, granola and popcorn when they are much, much older.
Make sure you never leave your child to eat unattended. This includes other caregivers because they should follow the same safety steps as you. Although baby-led weaning is relatively safe, it should still be done under the watchful eye of an adult.
Remember not to feed your child when they are crawling, playing or lying down and do not resort to distraction when they are eating. This means no mobile phones or cartoons on TV. It should be about food and nothing else. Make sure your child is seated upright in the high chair.
Both feeding methods are excellent choices for weaning, and parents only need to choose which method works better for them. Although baby-led weaning doesn’t avoid any particular food when it comes to allergies, parents can still apply the 3-day wait rule. Learning to recognise symptoms of an allergic reaction is also important. Seek help immediately if this happens, and speak to your family doctor or paediatrician if you have more questions about introducing allergens into your child’s diet.