I have a bone to pick with baby-led weaning, literally. Baby-led weaning is a new feeding method in which children feed themselves independently from the first introduction of solid food – usually around 6 months. Rising in popularity, this new trend has babies forego “mush” (purées) and spoon feeding and go directly to solid foods from the get-go. Baby-led weaning can be summarized in one word to me: DANGEROUS.
And I only need one picture to prove my point.
This picture was taken from www.babyledweaning.com, the mothership of baby-led weaning. On the front page of the website they showcase this infant (probably about 8 months old) and even brag “check out the baby with the pork chop!” as a model success story.
I don’t know about you, but just looking at that picture makes my heart palpitate. Are you serious? Do you see that this child is gnawing on a bone? There are some days I don’t fully trust my husband with his plate of hot wings; I certainly wouldn’t take my infant and literally throw him or her a bone!
If that doesn’t kill the idea for you, let’s get into the meat of the issue a bit more.
Let’s play follow the leader. The baby-led weaning movement was started in the UK by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett. Gill Rapley is a “health visitor” who had a short stunt as a midwife. A health visitor is a term used in the UK to describe a registered nurse with midwife qualifications who has undertaken further training in child health, health promotion, and public health. Tracey Murkett is a freelance writer and journalist also out of the UK. Call me Negative Nancy, but I don’t think a health visitor and a journalist have the credentials to change the world of feeding infants as we know it, at least not without a boat-load of research. But wait a minute… On that note, where is the research? There is almost nothing! Seriously. Try looking up scholarly articles yourself. You will find very few. Now you will find plenty of forums on Babycenter, but remember, that does not qualify as actual evidence for supporting this method.
What’s the problem anyway? 3 major points:
- Choking: I am extremely concerned with the choking risk. One of the few studies I found reported that 30% of babies using the baby-led weaning method had at least one choking episode, usually on raw apple. That is simply scary! Baby-led weaning recommends all sorts of foods that have a much higher risk of choking. Even if you keep your eyes glued on your baby while he or she devours that pork chop (which, let’s be honest, it’s impossible to watch your baby every second of the eating process), all it takes is one choking episode that could lead to death. That is too much to risk.
- Decreased calories: A lot of babies (toddlers, and even some teenagers) prefer to play with their food rather than eat it. I have personally cared for infants that have fallen off their growth chart and stopped growing because mom insisted on baby-led weaning. Babies do not gain weight by sucking on a piece of avocado and then spitting it out. Because of this, babies on baby-led weaning are also at higher risk for iron deficient anemia.
- What’s so wrong with “mush” anyway? I have to be honest, mashed potatoes is still one of my personal favorites. There is simply no reason to treat purées like the plague. Infants and adults alike eat soft, puréed foods.
The longer I practice, the more I find all children at all ages need strong parental role models to model everything for them! Nothing comes automatically. Nothing. But that’s just life. And that’s why your job as a parent is so important! This is the case when it comes to feeding. You have already been in charge of your infant’s eating by breastfeeding or formula feeding since they were born. Transitioning slowly to solid food by starting with rice cereal, oatmeal, and veggie and fruit purees is safer and much more supported by research. Let’s skip giving bones to babies and continue leading our children in safe and effective feeding methods.