Children's Nutrition Blog: Baby-led weaning, lower obesity risk?
In the news a couple of months ago was a report that babies whose parents choose a 'baby-led weaning' feeding style may be at a lower risk of obesity than those who are spoon fed.
This makes sense. It's early days yet for research backing baby-led weaning (BLW) over any other style of introducing solids. If the link exists, it's likely to work by allowing the baby to develop a better sense of when he or she has eaten enough. This feeling is called satiety.
A more finely-tuned sense of satiety is also one of the likely mechanisms for the protective effect of breastfeeding against obesity. Just like with bottle-feeding (expressed milk or infant formula), babies who are spoon fed are often given fixed amounts and expected to finish it.
I would expect that any effect of baby-led weaning in reducing obesity would be more pronounced with babies who are fed primarily commercial infant foods. Why? These all come in a single package size according to the type of food and the age group it's aimed at.
Parents being parents, sometimes it's hard not to worry whether your baby is eating enough. If a baby regularly doesn't finish a serving of food that is supposedly appropriate for their age, a parent who spoon feeds may be more likely to prompt them to keep eating.
A parent who allows their baby to feed themselves (brave souls) never really knows how much their child is eating, because a baby's style of self-feeding regularly involves putting food in the mouth, gumming it, pulling it out, throwing half of it on the floor and squishing it into hard-to-clean crevices in the furniture! Baby-led weaning has always been more about exploring new tastes and refining motor and oral-motor skills than getting a baby to eat a fixed amount of food.
Green ginger may not really be a food, but boy is it a taste!
One finding of the paper was that babies whose parents practised baby-led weaning were slightly more likely to be underweight. While the reasons for this were not explored, it is important to remember that infants who are delayed in reaching developmental milestones may have a reduced ability to feed themselves and are at potentially higher risk of underweight as an outcome if baby-led weaning is the sole means of solid food consumption.
While baby-led weaning offers a great way to encourage all infants to hone their gross and fine motor skills, infants with developmental delays should always be regularly followed up by the appropriate medical professionals. It may be recommended by a child's paediatrician or dietitian that developmentally-delayed or underweight infants are fed solid foods by their parents in addition to trialling baby-led weaning when developmentally appropriate.
When is it developmentally appropriate to try baby-led weaning with your baby? I'll include a checklist, plus some foods to try, in the next post.
Sarah Officer. Nutritionist, PhD Candidate.
Children's Nutrition Research Centre (Brisbane parents- don't forget to check out the Raising Healthy Eaters seminars!)
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