An explanation of baby-led weaning for grandparents
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I was a little alarmed one day during our FaceTime call to see my 8-month-old granddaughter gnawing on a large piece of pear. She only had four teeth, and those weren’t even good for chewing! Why wasn’t she being fed easy-to-swallow applesauce or something like that? Knowing that my son and daughter-in-law wouldn’t purposely endanger their child, I asked them to educate me.
“Have you heard of baby-led weaning?” my daughter-in-law asked. When I admitted I hadn’t, she shared a little information. After reading more about it, I realized she wasn’t the only parent faced with how to explain baby led weaning to grandparents.
One of the challenges of being a grandparent is accepting that the way we did things as parents might not have been the best way possible. Such is the case with baby-led weaning vs purees. It was the accepted standard to feed our babies smoothly pureed foods, usually starting with rice cereal. Research now shows there is a better way, and baby-led weaning is gaining in popularity.
Spoon-feeding purees to babies is something that became the norm in the late 1940’s, when the advice was to start solids at four months. Now we know that a baby’s digestive system isn’t ready for solid food until 6 months or later, and that earlier introduction to solid foods increases the likelihood of allergies.
So, what’s baby-led weaning?
First off, “Baby-led weaning” is a somewhat misleading name, because weaning is only part of the equation. Personally, I prefer the alternate term “baby-led feeding”, because that’s the main focus of the concept. The idea is that by providing a wide variety of appropriate finger foods, parents allow babies to choose what and how much to eat. This exposes them to a wide variety of tastes and textures, and allows them to form a healthy relationship to food. One study reported that “Baby-led weaning promotes healthy food preferences in early childhood, which may protect against obesity.”
Where does the weaning come in?
By offering solids to babies in addition to their regular intake of breast milk or formula, babies are in charge of how much of each they consume. A baby will naturally start relying more on solid foods and less on milk when they are ready, usually close to their first birthday.
Can baby-led weaning cause choking?
Choking can happen with any food at any age. It’s vital to understand and follow the guidance on when a baby is ready for solids and which foods to begin with. (See below for some resources on those points.) Following those guidelines will minimize the chance of choking, but will not eliminate it. Close supervision during meals is necessary, and parents and caregivers should be educated about how to help a choking child. (Start with this blog post to know why!)
But it’s also important to understand the difference between choking, when food blocks the airway completely, and gagging, which is a normal reflex to prevent choking. According to experts, the gag reflex is very close to the front of the mouth in a young baby, meaning they will gag long before the food is far enough back to block their throat. As the baby gets older, the reflex moves farther back in the mouth. Baby-led weaning helps them learn to chew and swallow while the reflex is still in a place in their mouth that helps prevent choking.
What if my grandchild’s parents aren’t familiar with baby-led weaning?
This blog post, like all information on our website, is meant to give grandparents insight into what parents want them to know. It’s not meant to provide information that grandparents should then use to try to educate parents. If your adult children are using a different feeding method, that’s fine. There’s no need to try to convince them that baby-led weaning is better. Depending on your relationship with them, it may be fine to ask if they’ve heard of it. Only if they show curiosity should you share what you’ve learned. It may be better to just share a link to a website and let them take it from there.
Are there other new trends that have left you confused? Let me know in the comments!
The definitive book on baby-led weaning by Gill Rapley, Baby-Led Weaning
A thorough explanation of baby-led weaning and what it entails.
More on baby-led weaning from the Cleveland Clinic, in case you want a more official site.
An interesting history of baby food.