Baby-led weaning … okay, but then what?!

baby led weaning pic 2

Baby-led weaning (BLW) – or offering your baby a wide variety of finger foods to feed themselves instead of the traditional method of spooning pureed food into their mouth – is becoming more and more popular. Even the NHS now suggest it on its own or alongside spoon-feeding because they recognize the benefit of it, which is:

BLW allows for natural, developmentally appropriate interaction and play with food, which has the potential to develop a lifelong curiosity with food. When an adult takes control of the activity, the inherent love of exploration and discovery is lost. 
(as explained by Joel Voss, neuroscientist at Northwestern University)

To which I say, yep, great … BUT OH, THE IRONY!

Why oh why aren’t parents told to apply this same psychology BEYOND weaning? Because that’s when the trouble starts! That’s when the fussiness and stressy mealtimes start to creep in. That’s when it really matters. (After all, most babies are good eaters however they’re fed – and I know I get contacted for help with fussy eaters by as many parents who did BLW as didn’t!).

If the NHS gave clear and consistent guidelines telling parents to continue with a BLW approach throughout their child’s childhood, it would make a world of difference – because the principles of BLW are exactly the same principles that would stop children becoming fussy eaters in the first place!

Instead, parents are allowed to muddle along as best they can. They are bombarded with differing advice from their health visitors, mothers, mother-in-laws, friends and so often end up encouraging, cajoling, pushing or bribing their children to eat. THEY TRY TO TAKE CONTROL OF THE ACTIVITY OF THEIR CHILD’S EATING, which squashes the child’s natural desire to explore and enjoy food – and creates battles, tears and tension at the dinner table.

Let’s take a closer look at the principles and advantages of baby-led weaning (as listed by the NHS) and insert the word ‘child’ instead of ‘baby’. It works perfectly! It is exactly what I and paediatric dietitians would advise for children too:

  • The baby child can explore the taste, texture, feel, colour and smell of the foods.
  • The baby child sets their own pace – they should not be hurried.
  • The baby child can choose which foods to concentrate on.
  • The baby child may choose to focus on foods with nutrients they are slightly lacking.
  • The baby child decides how much it wants to eat. No ‘fill-ups’ are offered at the end of the meal with a spoon fork.
  • The baby child is allowed to reject food, but should be offered it again at a later date.
  • The baby child is offered foods at the same time as the parent is eating so they can learn by mirroring their behaviour.

So let’s not restrict this approach to weaning. After all, weaning is only a short-lived part of the whole process of feeding your child. It’s nothing compared to years of fussy eating and ugly mealtimes. Let’s take the BLW principles and apply them to the whole of childhood to prevent fussy eating. We could give it a name – if we need a snappy name for it! How about Child-led eating (CLE)?

As I always say, children are not naturally fussy, but they will be if the conditions are right. So let’s create the RIGHT conditions. Let’s not let it all go wrong once they’re weaned!

If you would like individualized, step-by-step advice and support to undo your child’s fussy eating, please visit my consultancy page.