Baby-Led Weaning - FAQs and Troubleshooting for the Care-Giver
This is part 2 of our series on Baby-Led Weaning. Read Part 1 here.
Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) is an alternate weaning method that follows and respects the baby cues, while introducing the baby to family foods as first foods. It bypasses the more conventional route of starting weaning with purees and mashed food, while also allowing the baby to control what and how much the baby eats. Baby led weaning allows the baby to self-feed from the age of six months when babies are ideally developmentally ready for solids.
However, BLW, for a new parent, is often an anxiety and self-doubt ridden path paved with millions of questions. Let’s address a few of those questions, shall we?
- My baby eats very few bits and pieces and then is done with the meal. Is that really enough? Your baby’s stomach is the size of their closed fist. Yes, it is that small! Re-align your expectations vis-à-vis quantity. If your baby eats about a tbsp for each year of their age, that’s a complete meal for them – that’s about 1 tbsp for a one year old, 2 tbsp for a two year old and so on. In BLW, we trust the baby to eat according to their needs and expect baby to self-regulate their intake.
- My baby won’t eat as much as they used to eat! Babies go through growth spurts. These are the time periods when your baby grows in leaps and bounds, before there is a lull. Contrary to the widely held belief that babies grow because they eat, the reality is that your baby eats because they are growing. So, they could be having a big feast one day, go down to a couple of baby spoons on another day and skip their meal altogether on a third day and ALL these scenarios are very much normal!
- My baby keeps throwing food or wanting out of the chair after a couple of spoons, what should I do? End the meal! If your baby’s cues indicates that the meal is done, please take them out of the chair and end the meal. BLW babies are very much in touch with the needs of their body and know their satiety signals well. Not reading or respecting their cues could lead to a food aversion or strike – which means they end up refusing to eat.
- My baby doesn’t touch the food I serve, but they eat when fed. Is it okay to feed my baby in that case? BLW helps the baby figure out how to handle the food themselves. By feeding the baby, you are delaying the process of letting the baby puzzle out how to handle the food so that it can make its way into their mouth. The delegation of duties is clear – our job as care-givers is to present a nutritionally balanced meal, and the baby’s is to choose what to eat. Check if you are offering food in an age appropriate manner and if you are, back off, and let the baby do its job.
- Help! My baby is not gaining weight as much as they used to! Your baby will NOT grow at the same rate they grew in the first six months. Your baby approximately triples his birth weight in the first year. Thereafter, the rate of growth slows down. IF they continued to grow at the same rate, hypothetically speaking, your baby would be clinically obese by the time they turn two. WHO has percentile charts which reflect the rate of growth from birth. As long as your baby growth curve stays around the same percentile, it is all good.
- My baby only wants to drink breastmilk/formula and does not want to eat food! In their first year of life, the baby’s primary source of nutrition is breastmilk or formula and not solid foods. Solids are started at six months and are only supplementary to breastmilk/formula. Breastmilk/formula is more nutrition dense compared to solids, so of course your baby is choosing the more convenient and better source of nutrition available. Until the baby turns one, offer to nurse the baby first, and then offer food, after 25-30 minutes of nursing. This way, your baby is calm and not frantic with hunger when she is presented with solids and hence, more receptive to the idea of eating solids. Also, you do not risk her overloading on solids and dropping her feeds when you nurse her first. Win-win situation for both you and baby, don’t you think?
- My baby is asking me to feed her! What do I do? I do not want to over feed her! It is perfectly fine to feed the baby when she is asking to be fed. However, do not take it as a sign to feed the whole meal. Be mindful of the baby’s cues, and feed one spoon, and wait. If baby explicitly requests to be fed more, then feed. However, let baby regain control of food whenever the baby so desires.
- Should I offer any supplements to the baby? We recommend that the baby has a blood test to determine deficiencies if any, before you supplement medically.
- I am concerned that my baby isn’t eating enough of some food groups. Babies need high iron foods. We recommend that you always offer a iron + Vit C pairing at every meal that is offered to the baby. However, for all other food groups, since the baby’s intake is minute, it would be a good idea for us to see the foods eaten over a week’s period by the baby, instead of seeing the foods eaten in a day or in a meal. But, this also means that, you, as a caregiver, need to present meals that are varied in nutritional values and textures, so that baby is exposed to a huge variety of sources of nutrition.
- Are solids just for fun before one? NO! This is such a widely held untrue belief, and leads to babies not being given enough exposure to solids before they turn one. The window between six months to one year is great for introduction of varied textures, foods and tastes. When you fail to introduce enough new foods at this stage, it just sets your baby up for fussy eating due to a lot of the foods being unfamiliar, due to not enough exposure. Remember, sometimes, a baby will need repeated exposure to a particular food multiple times before they take to eating it.
- My baby does not want to mix dal with rice, just wants to eat everything separately. Sometimes, it is just white rice! What do I do? Nothing! It is perfectly fine if the baby wants to eat just white rice, or not mix gravies or dal with the rice. Babies go through food jags where they just want to keep eating just one type of food – sometimes butter, sometimes rice, just about anything that catches their fancy. While you don’t need to be needlessly worried about it, do not stop offering mixed rice alongside plain rice, for example. Repeated exposures help to minimize fussiness sometimes.
- My baby does not want to eat food at all! Food-strikes are more common than you think, in toddlers. They could be teething, about to fall ill, recovering from illness, or maybe just plain not in the mood to eat. Continue offering food through the refusals, but do not force or coerce to eat. If the food strike continues endlessly, or you generally notice a major drop in appetite, a blood draw to test iron levels may be called for, because iron deficiency (anemia) causes loss of appetite
- My baby refuses to eat at mealtimes, but snacks and grazes all day long. What do I do? Limit the number of times food is offered. Do not offer food during play time. Offer food only during planned mealtimes. Older toddlers can be told that food would be offered at a particular time only and not at other times.
- My baby refuses to eat what is made, but demands a different item. What can I do? The ideal way to deal with this would be to plan the menu efficiently. Keep one unfamiliar food on the menu and offer it with a well liked food – say, an unfamiliar vegetable gravy with white rice. Do not make the whole meal unfamiliar, it leads to toddlers being neophobic and refusing to eat the meal and demanding a different menu item. And never ever cook what the toddler demands at that meal. You will turn into a short-order cook, while your baby becomes fussy as well.
- My family is not convinced – they feel I am starving my baby by letting her eat on her own. In India, where babies are widely traditionally weaned, and sometimes not in a respectful manner, this is a common issue. Joint families are widely prevalent, and it does mean that it is everybody’s business to parent and give advice on weaning to the care-givers. Even in nuclear families, there is no consensus often between partners on the method of weaning. In some cases, giving the baby food with not many overenthusiastic members present might help, as will showing family evidence – videos of small kids being BLWed are a big hit, you know? J Every family is different, and once you take a well researched call on starting BLW, stick to your guns and you will figure out an appropriate way to deal with the well meaning advice and criticism.
- My caregiver/school/day care insists on feeding my baby. What can I do? There are also situations where the care-givers or schools are not in sync with BLW, mostly due to anxiousness caused by perceptions that baby remains hungry. Educating the care-giver or school can help, as will providing appropriate instructions to them on not forcing baby to eat.
- Ugh, BLW is so messy! How do I stick with it? Mess is good. Even traditionally weaned babies will cross the messy stage at some point. BLW babies just cross it sooner and get to play with food and experience the textures earlier, that’s all. Do not over police them when they eat, hold back the urge to keep cleaning after them as they eat and give them unbridled access to explore food in all its glory. This mess will help them overcome any texture aversions and eventually they will get better with the mess. Embrace the mess is all we are saying!
- My Baby Won't Eat!: How to enjoy mealtimes without worry by Carlos Gonzalez