Baby Led Weaning

I knew the day would come when my world as an OT would collide with my world as a mom. From day one I was always looking at my daughter’s development from my OT books and development charts. But that was the explicit worlds colliding. Me (OT) trying to make sure I was doing things the “best” way I could for my daughter. As an OT, I plan activities, and do things explicitly targeting skills to help others develop or remediate skills. But as a a mom….it seems like I just do what’s natural. But in the back side of my mind, I felt like the OT me would just kind of be apart of the mom me. Yesterday I had a realization of one of those moments…..most specifically in regards to our choice to do baby led weaning.

 So, here’s a little about why OT me supports the Mom me decision to do baby led weaning with my daughter

What is baby led weaning?

In basic terms, baby led weaning is allowing your baby to eat foods at their own pace, skipping the purees. Giving your baby bite sized pieces, they pick up these pieces and eat them as they wish. Nobody spoon feeds the baby or pressures the baby to eat a particular amount. The baby eats when they are ready. For more info, check out Baby Led Weaning.

VS.

Pureed Spoon Feeding                                                                       Baby led Weaning

So here is what OT me likes about baby lead weaning.

1. It promotes fine motor skills.

With spoon feeding, the parent/caregiver is in control of bringing the spoon to the baby’s mouth. The baby is a passive recipient of this food interaction. With baby led weaning, the baby picks up the food and in doing so develops many fine motor skills, such as the pincer grasp, in hand manipulation, grading, etc.

2. It promotes eye-hand coordination

When the baby sees a piece of food they want, they are motivated to reach out, pick up this piece of food, and bring it to his or her mouth. These are the larger movements, gross motor movements, required for the task. However, it’s not just the movements itself, it’s the coordination of the eye-hand-and mouth, developing depth perception. These skills are necessary for most tasks we do from day to day.

3. It’s a sensory experience

Yes, with any feeding method, meal times with babies are messy. But one thing any person who does baby led weaning knows, baby led weaning is extremely messy. The baby mashes food, mushes it in between his or her fingers, plays with it. They are exploring their food not with just the mouth but with their fingers, eyes, smell. It’s a true learning experience.

4. It promotes self-regulation

A baby that is given the opportunity to eat but is never has food placed in his or her mouth, learns to regulate their food intake. When they experience hunger, when this hunger is satisfied they stop. When someone else spoon feeds a baby, they are unaware of these bodily sensations the baby is feeling and in a sense override these feelings. By allowing the baby to be in control, they develop the ability to sense their body’s cues to respond in accordance with these cues. Self regulation is a task necessary for many interactions in life but in regards to food, we see so many people who have neglected their bodies’ cues. Could this be a contributing factor to our nations overeating/obesity epidemic?

5. It promotes oral motor skills

Manipulating a bolus within the mouth requires different skills depending on the texture of the bolus. When a baby swallows milk, the milk doesn’t require mastication or true manipulation. Yes, the baby has to manipulate it within the mouth in order to orchestrate a swallow. Purees are similar to this. They don’t require mastication. A baby is essentially able to “drink” purees. With baby led weaning, the baby is required to manipulate the food around in the mouth, masticate this food, and then swallow. Beginning with soft foods, such as avocado, steamed carrot, or banana. Allows a baby to experience and develop these skills as they begin the experience of eating foods. For a baby that learns to “swallow” purees, he/she has to relearn that a “piece” of food can’t just be swallowed. Lots of people ask my if I’m worried that my daughter will choke on her food. Honestly, I feel like in a lot of ways, feeding her foods which she can manipulate, without learning to just swallow food, she’ll eventually choke less because she won’t try to swallow chunks of food which are too big for her to swallow. Allowing her to munch on foods, allow her tongue to explore movements and patterns necessary to move foods around, as well as develop jaw strength and sensory awareness of food.

6. It promotes family meal times, social interaction, and creates an enjoyable occupation for the whole family

With parents not worrying about how much food the baby is eating, or spending the whole meal spoon feeding the baby, the parents and whole family can enjoy meal times together. The baby watches the parents (and other siblings) eating, interacting, and having a positive experience and will begin to imitate these skills (both for feeding and social interaction).

A few notes:

  • If your child has special needs or isn’t developing typically, I would recommend you use this approach cautiously or seek the help of a feeding therapist (speech or OT).
  • Baby led weaning experts will suggest giving regular table foods.  I tended to be a bit more cautious and gave my daughter foods I knew were soft enough that she could use her tongue to mash against the roof of her mouth.  I’d recommend this over just giving typical table foods.
  • Allowing you child to munch on long hard objects (i.e. a stick of carrot or celery) is beneficial for oral motor skills.  Just be sure you are sure the child can’t bite off a piece.
  • Not that I should have to say this but I feel obligated, make sure you supervise your child during feeding AT ALL TIMES!  As well, as your child should be in a well supported chair (that means hips, back and FEET are all supported with 90 degree angles at joints).

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