Baby-led Weaning- Book Review and Thoughts from Dr Paul
Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett published the book “Baby-led Weaning- Helping your baby love food” in 2008. I have recently had many parents quote this book as the reason they are not feeding their 6-9 month old anything but breast milk. This book adds wonderful ideas on how to avoid conflicts around food with your infant or child. I highly recommend parents read this book for that reason. This book was published in 2008, at a time when the prevailing wisdom was to delay solids until 6 months. We now have many studies showing that earlier introduction of solids reduces food allergies and that 4 months is a better time to introduce solids. Clearly at 4 months, the use of a spoon (which is portrayed as almost evil in the book) would be the way to go.
The opening paragraph in “The Baby-led Weaning Cookbook” summarized the philosophy: “Eating with your baby, at the same time, at the same table, and sharing the same food, is at the heart of baby-led weaning. There is no need for ‘baby food’, purees, or spoon-feeding. Your baby simply feeds herself, exploring and enjoying healthy family meals, from her very first taste of solid food. Baby-led weaning (BLW) makes introducing solids easier and more enjoyable for the whole family and encourages your baby to become confident and happy at mealtimes and to enjoy food as she grows up.”
The authors give great tips for how to get started with finger foods:
- baby sits with the family at the table
- baby picks up her own food when able
- offer foods in sizes baby can handle (not purees and mashed foods)
- she feeds herself from the start
- it’s up to baby how much she eats and the varieties of foods
- baby continues to have milk feeds (breast or formula) until she decides to reduce them.
The sad result for parents who follow this book’s guidelines when exclusively breast feeding and mom’s supply is not enough, is that the baby is undernourished or even starved. Sometimes for babies who have a gentle disposition, they simply accept this and do not complain, so parents are fooled into thinking their baby is getting enough. For breast feeding moms with plenty of milk, most will do fine following the guidelines of this book. You might say, just add formula for those mom’s where the milk supply is not adequate.
I offer a different option with many added benefits. Start feeding your baby real food (just blend or puree it and don’t add salt) as soon as they show interest, usually around 3-4 months. You follow all the rest of the guideline in this book, but you have added a spoon, yes I said it, the evil spoon! Starting solids early will reduce allergies, eczema, and asthma, and will allow you to have fun with your baby at meal time starting earlier when your baby actually is wanting to join in. I’m not sure what is so magical about 6 months anyway! I would sit my babies on my lap facing my plate with some pureed food on my plate or in a bowl next to my plate. Babies watch us and would watch me take a bite. One for me one for you – happy? – You bet!
I love the point made on page 52 about “Interrupting self-feeding”. The point is made that for breast feeding moms, babies feed themselves from birth and most parents wouldn’t expect to have to feed their child of age 2 or 3 years. It doesn’t seem natural to interrupt this self feeding by spoon feeding at 6 months, only to then go back to letting children feed themselves. The emphasis being made is that babies are happier when they are in control of what they eat and what goes into their mouth. Throughout the book, there are wonderful examples of how to avoid food battles. I wholeheartedly agree that food battles and the use of food as rewards or to control your child is a bad idea.
I once had a toddler walk in for a morning appointment with a Coca-Cola and donut. When I asked the mom why, her response was “that’s all he’ll eat”. Clearly baby or toddler led weaning involves offering your baby or toddler wholesome nutritious food. Often, mom’s milk supply doesn’t keep up with their baby’s needs in the first year. Rather than reaching for formula, I prefer organic fruits, vegetables and even nut butters, legumes, and meats. Puree and spoon feeding can be fun if you follow the same principles of letting the baby taste, try, and not force foods into their month.
Health benefits of reduced allergy, improved micronutrients (vitamins and minerals, phytonutrients) and providing another healthy source of calories, makes spoon feeding from 3-4 months until your baby can handle finger foods an important part of your infants nutrition.
It is my hope that there will be a revised version of “Baby-led weaning” so that the recommendations are not out-of date with the current medical knowledge. The advantages of spoon feeding nutritious foods for a time are just too great to be cast out by a nice sounding theory “BLW”. All the wonderful pictures are of infants over 9 months and toddlers enjoying real food, as it should be! Let’s not throw out the baby with the bath water. Babies under 6 months can enjoy all the benefits of real food and family meals, just use a spoon for a few months and let baby handle it as soon as she can.