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Weaning: When and How to Wean

Updated: Jun 19, 2023

Weaning a baby refers to the process of gradually introducing solid foods into their diet while gradually reducing their dependence on breast milk or formula. It marks the transition from exclusive breastfeeding or bottle-feeding to including complementary foods in the baby's diet.

The recommended age to start weaning can vary slightly depending on the baby's development, but the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) generally suggest starting around six months of age. By this time, most babies have developed the necessary physical and developmental skills to handle solid foods and extract nutrients from them.

Signs of readiness for weaning include:

  1. Sitting upright with support: Babies need to have good head and neck control and be able to sit upright with minimal support to safely and comfortably eat solid foods.

  2. Loss of tongue-thrust reflex: Babies are born with a natural instinct to push foreign objects out of their mouths using their tongues. When this reflex diminishes, usually around six months, it becomes easier for them to swallow solid foods.

  3. Showing interest in food: Babies may start showing curiosity about the food others are eating. They may watch intently, reach out for food, or try to grab and put objects in their mouths.

  4. Increased appetite and demand for more milk: Babies may start demanding more frequent milk feeds or seem unsatisfied after breastfeeding or bottle-feeding alone. This may indicate that they need additional nutrients from solid foods.

Baby-led weaning (BLW) and traditional weaning are two different approaches to introducing solid foods to infants.

Traditional weaning, also known as spoon feeding or parent-led weaning, is a method of introducing solid foods to infants. In this approach, pureed or mashed foods are spoon-fed to the baby by the parent or caregiver. It typically begins around the age of six months when babies start to show signs of readiness for solid foods.

The process involves preparing and pureeing a variety of fruits, vegetables, and other soft foods into a smooth consistency that is easy for the baby to swallow. The parent then feeds the baby using a spoon, controlling the pace and amount of food offered.

Spoon-fed weaning is often associated with the introduction of single-ingredient purees initially, gradually progressing to more complex flavors and textures. The parent decides what foods to offer and when, following a predetermined schedule or based on their perception of the baby's readiness.

While spoon-fed weaning has been a common practice for many years, there has been a growing interest in alternative weaning approaches, such as baby-led weaning.

Baby-Led Weaning (BLW) is an alternative weaning approach that emphasizes self-feeding and allowing the baby to explore and experience various textures and flavors of solid foods from the beginning, rather than relying on spoon-feeding purees. With BLW, parents offer appropriately-sized finger foods that the baby can grasp and eat independently. The baby learns to self-regulate their food intake and develop hand-eye coordination and chewing skills.

BLW encourages babies to join family meals and exposes them to a wide range of foods. It promotes independence, helps develop fine motor skills, and allows babies to explore different tastes and textures. However, it's important to ensure that the foods offered are age-appropriate, cut into appropriate sizes to prevent choking, and that the baby is supervised during mealtime.

The key differences between them:

  1. Approach: BLW involves letting the baby self-feed from the beginning, offering them appropriately sized and textured whole foods that they can grasp and eat independently. Traditional weaning, on the other hand, typically involves spoon-feeding pureed or mashed foods to the baby.

  2. Timing: BLW encourages waiting until the baby is around 6 months old and shows signs of readiness for solid foods, such as sitting up unassisted and displaying an interest in food. Traditional weaning often starts earlier, at around 4 to 6 months, with the introduction of purees or spoon-fed foods.

  3. Food Texture: BLW emphasizes offering the baby a variety of textures and allowing them to explore and experience different food textures from the beginning. In traditional weaning, the focus is initially on smoother purees and gradually transitioning to more textured foods over time.

  4. Independence: BLW promotes the development of self-feeding skills and encourages babies to explore and regulate their own food intake, fostering independence and autonomy. Traditional weaning, particularly in the early stages, involves the caregiver spoon-feeding the baby, controlling the amount and pace of feeding.

  5. Family Meals: BLW encourages the inclusion of the baby in family mealtimes right from the start. The baby joins the family at the table and eats the same foods as the rest of the family (with appropriate modifications), promoting social interaction and exposure to a wider variety of foods. Traditional weaning often involves separate meals for the baby, prepared separately from the family's meals.

  6. Choking Risk: One concern often associated with BLW is the risk of choking since babies are offered whole foods. However, proponents of BLW argue that babies have natural gag reflexes that help protect them from choking, and appropriate food sizes and textures minimize the risk. Traditional weaning may carry a lower perceived risk of choking since foods are pureed or mashed before being offered.

It's important to note that the choice between spoon-fed weaning and baby-led weaning is a personal one, and each approach has its advantages and considerations. They both have their merits, and parents can choose the approach that aligns best with their preferences and their baby's needs. It's always a good idea to consult with a pediatrician or a healthcare professional for guidance when introducing solid foods if your baby has medical needs, complex issues, or allergies.

Did you know Weaning, what you need to know and how to wean is a topic in our Postnatal Plus+ class held at Beyond the Bump Hub. Click below to book onto a session today


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