Have you heard of “baby led weaning” (BLW)? Many of my patients who have infants that are ready to start “solid foods”, also called complementary foods, have questions about this method. Most babies begin eating foods along with breast milk or formula somewhere around 5 - 6 months of age. So BLW is not really “weaning”, as your infant will continue to have breast milk or formula in conjunction with foods…so this really should more aptly be named “baby self feeding”.
In this method you never offer your baby “mush” or pureed foods, but rather offer them foods from the table. While I am a huge advocate of self feeding (old term is finger feeding), I also think that early on offering a baby “mushy” food on a spoon is an important milestone. In fact, for most babies at 5 -6 months, it is difficult to pick up a small piece of food to self feed as the pincer grasp has not developed. So, a baby is trying to get food to their mouths by cupping it or hoping it sticks to their hand while pushing pieces around their tray. Some parents will put the food into their baby’s hand. But, by 8-ish months most babies have developed their pincer grasp and the finger feeding should be preferred.
Parents are also concerned about starting solid foods and the possibility of choking. I am always discussing how to make sure that your child avoids choking hazards with foods. In other words, no whole grapes, or hot dogs, or popcorn or chunks of meat. Other hazards are raw carrots, apples, celery and any “hard” food that your baby might be able to bite a chunk of and then choke. But, if you cook the carrots and then cut them in small bites they are easily handled by a baby who is self feeding. It is really all about the consistency of the food as once your baby has lower teeth they can easily bite/pry off a big “chunk” of food that could lead to a choking hazard.
Interestingly, there was a recent study that looked at the incidence of choking in children who started with self feeding vs those fed traditionally with pureed foods from a spoon. In this study of about 200 children between 6 - 8 months of age the incidence of choking was similar, while there were more gagging events in the BLW group. Fortunately, “the choking events resolved on their own”. Gagging is quite different than choking. Some children will gag on pureed foods just due to texture issues.
I am an advocate of what I am going to call parent led feeding followed by early self feeding of appropriate foods. By the time a child is 9 months of age they should be able to finger feeding the majority of their meals. But there are some foods that are just not conducive to finger feeding at all….yogurt, apple sauce, puddings…and they will be spoon fed until your child is capable of using a spoon which is anywhere from 12 -18 months. But as a reminder, whenever you offer your child a finger food you should remember two things, #1 is the piece small enough that my child cannot choke and #2 is the food cooked well enough to not pose a choking hazard.
Several years ago there was a 1 year old in our practice who was given a piece of an apple to chew on… she bit off a chunk of the apple, aspirated and died. It was a terrible accident. I will never forget that….and re-iterate to all of my patients…a pork chop, or chicken leg or any number of foods can become a choking hazard if your child bites off a chunk. Children really don’t chew until they are around 2 years, they just bite and try to swallow so I pay a great deal of attention to what foods they are offered.
Old school and new school…the combo seems to make sense to me.