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  • Writer's pictureDr. Amy Fan Conrad

What is Baby-Led-Weaning, and why it's not all-or-nothing

We seem to love picking sides-

  • Breastmilk vs. formula.

  • Cat vs. dog.

  • Sleep training vs. attachment parenting.

I get it, there is some comfort in the allusion of certainty in black-and-white decisions, especially in the vast maze of raising children, from which nobody emerges feeling solid conviction on 100% of their choices (but if you do, share your secret with us!).

But very few things are actually black and white, and very few choices are all-or-nothing. Today I want to talk about introducing food to babies, and why Baby-Led Weaning vs. Pureed/staged baby foods is not necessarily an either-or situation.

First, what is the recommendation for introducing food to babies?

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends officially introducing solid foods to babies at 6 months of age. By 1 year, we hope kids are getting close to all their nutrition from foods, and any breastmilk/formula feeding is a supplement.

Many pediatricians, myself included, recommend starting to take notice of babies' interest in foods starting at 4 months, and allowing them to try some food (including from parents' plates) if they seem very interested, as long as the texture is soft and not a choking hazard.

Anything eaten between 4 to 6 months is considered a "bonus" for practice, not for nutritional value, and we don't scale back breastmilk/formula during this time.

What's baby led weaning (BLW)?

The concept for BLW is to observe babies' cues for physiologic and psychologic readiness to begin eating foods, and to respond to that interest instead of implementing staged feeding plan 6 months, moving progressively from purees to mashed foods to beyond.

With BLW, babies are often eating finger foods right away according to their own interest.

Benefits include

- allowing more room for infants to experiment with textures, flavors,

- practicing coordination

- earlier exposure to more variety of foods

- a more active, independent approach to learning to eat

Potential downsides:

- Messy!

- Less control over quantity and exactly what is eaten

- Potential iron deficiency since bypassing stages of fortified baby foods

What do I recommend?

You might have already figured it out - the recommendation to start letting kids try foods as bonus practice between 4-6 months is already in accordance with BLW.

The only difference, starting at 6 months, would be to routinely offer solid foods in regular meal times FIRST, before finishing the meal with breastmilk or formula.

BUT, I also recommend staying open and flexible, taking cues from your baby. There are many possible reasons why a BLW alone might not work for a particular child:

- Becoming ready or showing interest/initiative later than 6 months

- Falling off the growth curve and needing some additional nutrition

- Scheduling of meal times around the home requires a different format of feeding

- Baby only choosing one particular food instead of a variety

The point is, it's perfectly okay to combine BLW with staged purée foods! It's not a failure of BLW, and certainly not a failed approach to feeding.

In a later post we will discuss all the tips and tricks around feeding and mealtimes. For now, remember there is rarely only one way to do something in baby feeding land. Keep track of their progress on the growth curve with your pediatrician, consider if BLW works for your family, and rest assured there are many options to combine baby-led and staged purée feeds to create a healthy, balanced diet!

Much love,

Dr. Amy and the Kinder Team

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